EPISCOPALIANS IN SCOTLAND AND AYR
There has been an Anglican presence in Scotland since the time of the Reformation, the great reform movement of the 16th century, but the term ‘anglican’ itself did not come into general use until the 19th century. Up till then, Anglicans in Scotland were (and still can be) referred to as ‘episcopalians’ - episkopos being the Greek for overseer or bishop.
This is one of the most complex periods in British history, covering as it does the Reformation, the Union of the Crowns, the trial and execution of Charles I, the Civil War, the Commonwealth, the Restoration, and the ‘Glorious’ Revolution of 1688. Because church and state were regarded as indissolubly linked, changes in the way the Church ordered its affairs became entangled with political questions, often with disastrous and tragic consequences.
The Reformation in Scotland came much later than in the rest of Europe (including England) and took a more extreme form. The Anglican ideal of moderate change, retaining government by bishops and removing the worst excesses of doctrine and devotional practice, was soon swept aside. The old church was seen as totally corrupt, and a return to the ‘primitive’ church (as it was thought to exist in the time of the apostles) was called for. In 1560 the Scottish Parliament passed an Act taking away the authority and jurisdiction of the Pope in Scotland, and all persons were forbidden to say or hear the Roman Mass under severe penalties, including banishment and death. The office of bishop was abolished and government by presbytery (local committee) was introduced, with a General Assembly exercising oversight at national level. This development alarmed the king (James VI), since it meant that the state would lose control over clerical appointments. Such control was considered essential, since the Church was regarded as a kind of national moral police force. Clergy were expected to preach loyalty to the crown, obedience to all legitimate authority, and unquestioning acceptance of the political and social status quo. From an administrative point of view, it was easier if there were bishops, who would be appointed by the crown and could therefore be trusted to ensure acceptable appointments at local level. The extreme reformers wanted the best of both worlds - a Church protected and supported by the state with many attendant privileges, but at the same time totally free to order its own affairs. The stage was set for conflict. A purely religious question had become political.
Twice - in 1610 and 1662 - bishops were reintroduced into the Church of Scotland, and there was hope that the Church might develop as an episcopal Church in fellowship with the Church of England. However, popular feeling against bishops was strong and was made worse by the crown attempting to impose uniformity in doctrine and worship, often backed by military force. Matters came to a head in 1688 when James VII (who had become a Roman Catholic) was forced to flee the country, and the crown was offered jointly to his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange. The Scottish bishops felt that, since James VII had not actually abdicated, they were unable to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary. In consequence, the national Church of Scotland was established in the presbyterian form, and the bishops and those loyal to them became a persecuted minority who were regarded as potential traitors.
Those who continued to regard James VII as the rightful king became known as Jacobites - Jacobus being the Latin version of James. They were always a minority, although a strong one, especially in the north-east. In religious terms they were nearly all Episcopalians or Roman Catholics. After the rebellions of 1715 and 1745, penal laws were passed against episcopalians and they were so severe that it was not possible for an episcopalian priest to minister at one time to more than five persons without running the risk of transportation for life for the second offence. And yet, through all these bitter years, the Scottish Church kept itself in being and maintained not merely the episcopal succession but also its own liturgical tradition and a strong consciousness of its own independent existence.
As a concession to those episcopalians who did not have Jacobite sympathies, and to meet the needs of members of the Church of England who had taken up residence in Scotland, Parliament eventually allowed the setting up of ‘Qualified Chapels’. These congregations were exempt from the operation of the penal laws, on condition that they prayed publicly for King George and did not recognize the authority of the Scottish bishops.
In 1788, on the death of Prince Charles Edward, the last serious Stuart claimant to the throne, the Scottish bishops made their surrender to the house of Hanover, and the penal laws were gradually relaxed. But by that time the Episcopal Church had been reduced, in the words of Sir Walter Scott, to the shadow of a shade, with no more than four bishops and about forty priests. The diocesan and parochial systems had collapsed. Everything had to be begun afresh in the organization of a church which had lived for many years without a clear confession of faith, with a confused order of worship, and with hardly any discipline.
The bishops took the initiative. In 1811 a Synod was convened and declared to be the National Synod of the Episcopal Church in Scotland. A number of important Canons (laws of government for the church) were passed, and the ‘Qualified Chapels’ were gradually incorporated into the new national body.
During the 19th century, membership of the Scottish Episcopal Church grew at a phenomenal rate. The old episcopalian/Jacobite families were joined by immigrants from Ireland (in the wake of the famine in the 1840’s) and from England (joining in the economic boom brought about by the Industrial Revolution). Within Scotland new members were gained from other churches - mainly those who found presbyterian worship and doctrine excessively severe. The high point was reached by about 1918. Since then, in common with other mainstream churches, there has been a slow decline in numbers, although the Anglican ideals of tolerance and inclusiveness still attract those who find a narrow, sectarian approach to the faith less congenial.
AND IN AYR . . .
In 1688, the year that King James fled the country and William of Orange came over, the episcopalian clergy, who were then ministers of Ayr Auld Kirk, were driven out. From then until 1744 no public episcopalian services were held, but in that year, through the efforts of Sir John Kennedy of Culzean, the Revd Robert Forbes (later Bishop of Ross and Caithness) came to Ayr and assembled a congregation of nearly one hundred.
The following year saw the disastrous ‘45 Rebellion, after which the Episcopal Church was rigorously suppressed. However, services did continue in Ayr, albeit under great difficulties, led by clergy who had ‘qualified’ by taking the oath of allegiance to the House of Hanover. The congregation maintained a precarious existence under a succession of incumbents, but it was not until the appointment of the Revd William Scot Wilson in 1832 that is really took root and gained in confidence. This remarkable man was to be Rector for the next fifty-two years and, from 1859 to 1888, Bishop of the Diocese. The first permanent church was built in Fullarton Street in 1839 and enlarged in 1852. The school (now the Church Hall) was added in 1860. Such was the growth in numbers that the old building became too small for the needs of the congregation, and it was decided to build a larger one on the same site. John Loughborough Pearson, one of the leading architects of the Gothic Revival, was commissioned to draw up plans. The foundation stone was laid in 1887 and by 1900 the whole church was complete and opened for worship. The final consecration (after all the debts had been paid off) took place in 1908. Holy Trinity is the only complete example of a Pearson church in Scotland and is Grade A listed.
The second half of the nineteenth century was a time of great expansion throughout the Episcopal Church generally, and Holy Trinity played a leading part in the South West. Four mission ventures were undertaken: St Oswald’s, Maybole (1847), St John’s, Wallacetown (1893), St Ninian’s, Troon (1913) and St Ninian’s, Prestwick (1915). St John’s was reunited with Holy Trinity in 1954, but the other three went on to become flourishing independent congregations.