Through a glass darkly – 11

The Scottish Episcopal Church

It is a curious fact that when I was ordained into the Scottish Episcopal Church, by Bishop Richard Holloway in St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, in June 1988, I had scarcely ever been in an Episcopalian church service. I was born in London, had lived all my life in England or in France, and I had been sponsored for ordination training in the Church of England by the Diocese of Oxford in which we lived. My wife Susie was from Edinburgh, and we were often in Edinburgh for holidays, but on those occasions when we went to church we usually went to Mayfield Church, the local Church of Scotland [Presbyterian], where we had been married. 

After getting ordained I was a curate for two years at St Thomas’s, Corstorphine, on the west side of Edinburgh. As a newly ordained curate I was expected to attend Post-Ordination Training, usually a couple of nights residential, which included some [but not a lot of] general background stuff on Scottish church history and culture. One thing I soon learnt was that St Thomas’s was definitely not a typical Piskie church. St Thomas’s was a big, family oriented, evangelical congregation. My training Rector was Denis Lennon, the best week-in, week-out preacher I have ever heard. Under the inspiration of Denis Lennon, St Thomas’s had planted two new congregations in the previous seven years. [One was a transplant at St Paul’s and St George’s, York Place, which has subsequently grown to be one of the biggest and most ‘successful’ churches in Edinburgh. The other plant, on a smaller scale, at Emmanuel Clermiston has now merged with the local Nazarene church.] Biblical preaching and church planting were certainly not standard features of Piskie churches. Anyway I started to acquire a few books on the Scottish Episcopal Church, some of which until now have remained unread.

So, during this lock-down I have been turning the pages of Marion Lochhead’s The Episcopal Church in Scotland in the Nineteenth Century. And I noticed that my second-hand copy was presented by the author to Alistair Haggart, onetime Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Marion Lochhead: The Episcopal Church in Scotland in the Nineteenth Century

Lochhead’s book begins with a summary history of Episcopacy in Scotland. [She does rather like capital letters.] In 1560 the Scottish Parliament formally severed links with the Church of Rome, and developed a predominantly Calvinist national Kirk [church] which was essentially presbyterian. The same parliament approved a Protestant confession of faith, rejected papal authority, and the Mass, and many of the practices of the medieval church. A valid episcopate was restored in 1610. The Diocese of Edinburgh was founded by Charles I in 1633, and the High Kirk of St Giles became a cathedral. After the Cromwellian interlude and the Protectorate, Charles II restored Episcopacy in both Scotland and England. But after the flight of James II in 1688, following his becoming a Roman Catholic, and the arrival of Mary and William of Orange, the situation of the Episcopal Church worsened. An Act of Parliament in 1689 established the Church of Scotland as Presbyterian. The allegiance of Scottish Episcopalians to the Jacobite cause led them into the wilderness. Their Jacobite sympathies in 1715 and in 1745 provoked Penal Acts and persecution. Episcopalian clergy were forbidden to officiate unless they took the oath of allegiance to the Hanoverian dynasty and abjured the Stuarts, There were few churches or chapels.Tiny congregations met in houses or stores or in the open air. According to Anthony Mitchell’s The Story of the Church in Scotland, by the end of the eighteenth century the Episcopal Church now had some four bishops, forty priests, and roughly one twentieth of the population of Scotland. Episcopacy survived. But only just.

At the start of the nineteenth century, Aberdeenshire was the centre of Episcopacy. In the early decades of the century all her bishops came from that region. Alexander Jolly was born in Stonehaven in 1736, studied at Marischal College, was ordained in 1777, and ministered at Fraserburgh for fifty years. He was consecrated as Bishop of Moray in 1799. Bishops at that time retained their parish charges. Jolly bought a new wig for the visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822. Robert Chambers visited Jolly three years later, and wrote of “the beautiful old man … in his neat old-fashioned black suit, buckled shoes, and wig as white as snow, surrounded entirely by shelves full of books, most of them of an antique and theological cast”.

There is an interesting link with the wider church in 1825. Matthew Luscombe, an English clergyman living in Paris, sought consecration as a bishop to exercise pastoral oversight over all Anglicans on the continent, especially in France and Belgium. There were difficulties about his being consecrated by English bishops, as this might have caused offence to French Catholics. So, like Seabury forty years earlier, Matthew Luscombe came to Stirling where, on Palm Sunday, 1825, he was consecrated by three Scottish bishops. And the chaplains of Paris, Caen, and Ostend subsequently took an oath of canonical obedience to him.

Glenalmond College

In 1847 the College of the Holy Trinity was founded at Glenalmond in Perthshire; intended to be both a theological seminary and a school on the model of the English public schools. The first Warden was the Revd Charles Wordsworth, nephew of the poet and son of Christopher Wordsworth, the Master of Trinity  College, Cambridge. Wordsworth had a strong talent for Latin verse and for cricket; he was sent, not to Winchester like his brothers, but to Harrow, and played for Harrow against Eton in 1825, and for Oxford in the Varsity match of 1827. We see that the Church is moving on from the days of persecution and penal acts. Wordsworth’s brief Wardenship at Glenalmond was marked with storms and stresses, and he soon moved on to be a disputatious Bishop of St Andrews. After his departure the school grew in numbers, but the theological college struggled, and eventually moved to Edinburgh.

The Episcopal Church had no strong tradition in Edinburgh. But Daniel Sandford, Bishop of Edinburgh from 1806-1830, was a friend of Sir Walter Scott; and instrumental in Scott’s change from Presbyterianism to Episcopacy. New Edinburgh congregations were developed under Bishop James Walker [1830-41] and Bishop Charles Terrot [1841-72].  Their policy, according to Dean Ramsay was “to preach a somewhat harmless gospel, and to win cultured people through the quiet beauty of the Prayer Book services”.  I am not sure if Lochhead intends this as a compliment.

Bishop Alexander Forbes

The name to conjure with among Victorian bishops is Alexander Penrose Forbes; clearly Lochhead’s favourite son. Forbes was born in Edinburgh in 1817, a brilliant student at Haileybury and Glasgow, whose Sanskrit and Arabic marked him out for a glittering career in India. But when he was invalided home in 1840, he went up to Oxford, where he came under the influence of Keble and Pusey and Newman. He was ordained in 1844 and served in Aston Rowant and the slum parish of St Thomas the Martyr, both in the Oxford Diocese, and in Stonehaven and in the  new Tractarian church of St Saviour’s, Leeds, before his consecration as Bishop of Brechin in 1847. He also held the charge of St Paul’s, Dundee, meeting at that time in a private house. Forbes was the first of the social missionaries in the Scottish Episcopal Church; a tireless visitor in the slums of Dundee, who like Disraeli was aware that there were two nations with a great gulf between them. His biographer records that his day began at seven with private prayer and rarely ended before midnight.

Bishop Alexander Forbes

Forbes, like Keble and Pusey, taught his people the Catholic doctrine of the adoration of Christ in the Eucharist. Teaching of which Lochhead clearly approves. In consequence of this ‘Romish’ teaching Forbes was formally  summoned to trial before his fellow bishops in Edinburgh in 1860. Bishop Wordsworth spoke at the trial for three hours, which some thought was punishment enough ! And Forbes was let off with a mild censure. During his episcopate the church grew, largely with an influx of professional men and the wealthy middle class.But his health was never strong, and he died in October 1874, loved and mourned far beyond his diocese. Many people including Marion Lochhead would gladly see him canonised.

Bishop Alexander Ewing

My own preference would be for Forbes’ near contemporary, Alexander Ewing, Bishop of Argyll and the Isles. Ewing was born in Aberdeen in 1814, studied in Edinburgh, and was ordained deacon into the congregation in Elgin in 1838. He subsequently transferred to Forres and, in spite of periods of ill-health which caused him to winter in the warmth of Italy, he was elected as Bishop of Argyll and the Isles in 1847.Ewing’s ministry was also full of pastoral and practical concern for his scattered flock. But, unlike Forbes, he was an old-fashioned evangelical, who worked tirelessly for closer relations with the Church of Scotland. “Let us arise from systems”, Ewing wrote in his charge of 1868, “whether of Episcopacy or Presbytery, above all material apparatus …”. Ewing too struggled with his health, particularly in winter, and died on Ascension Day 1873. Lochhead concludes: “not the most loved, venerated, or influential Bishop … but the most enigmatic”.


There are some good stories in this book, which is essentially a collection of biographical sketches. And Lochhead’s own prejudices influence her choice of material. There is virtually no mention here of the Drummond schism. DTK Drummond was Priest in Charge at Holy Trinity, Dean Bridge, who resigned from the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1842. This led to the planting of St Thomas’s English Episcopal Chapel on Rutland Place; and subsequently to the planting of a sizeable group of evangelical, Anglican congregations outwith the structures of the Scottish Episcopal Church. [St Thomas’s, Edinburgh, and St Silas’s, Glasgow are the two surviving congregations from this schism. Both eventually rejoined the Scottish Episcopal Church, but have in recent times now left again.]

St John the Evangelist, Jedburgh

Staying in the Edinburgh Diocese,  Lochhead gives thanks for the building of the Tractarian church at Jedburgh and notes that Keble, Hook, and Wilberforce all came to its consecration in 1844. But there is no mention of the building of Christ Church, Duns, in 1853, nor of the subsequent planting of two congregations, in Coldstream and Eyemouth, by the distinctly evangelical rector, the Revd James Beale.

Some of these bishops might have been saints, and some clearly were not. The Scottish Episcopal Church exists as a small, minority church in a predominantly Presbyterian country with a strong Roman Catholic minority. It exhibits both the merits and the defects of a minority church; on the one hand emphasis on congregational fellowship and personal devotion, on the other hand a certain narrowness of outlook and a defensive mentality. It would be difficult for Lochhead to write a book about the life of the church in more recent decades. [She died in 1985.] With the striking exception of Richard Holloway, a gifted communicator and a prolific author, there would be little to say.

Bishop Richard Holloway

And what Lochhead would find difficult is that the thriving churches tend to be gathered, evangelical congregations, often led by English clergy, rather than churches in the Tractarian/Jacobite/Scottish Communion Office tradition to which she was evidently so attached.

June 2020

Published by europhilevicar

I am a retired vicar living on the south side of Edinburgh. I am a historian manqué, I worked in educational publishing for 20 years, and after ordination worked in churches in the Scottish Borders and then in Lyon in the Rhône-Alpes. I have a lovely and long-suffering wife, two children, and four delightful grand-children

3 thoughts on “Through a glass darkly – 11

  1. I like the subtle links with the path of your career. Diocese in Europe. Oxford. Minority congregation.
    A journey through time this post.
    Thank you.


  2. Thanks, Virginia. The Scottish Episcopal Church is very much the smaller brother [sister] of the Church of Scotland [Presbyterian] and the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland.Both of which are considerably bigger. I am from south London. But I was ordained in the Scottish Episcopal Church when I was offered a curacy at St Thomas’s, Corstorphine, on the west side of Edinburgh.


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