The Rt. Rev. Sally Foster-Fulton, who grew up in South Carolina, compares the Scottish church with its U.S. counterpart
January 26, 2024
The Rt. Rev. Sally Foster-Fulton, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, recently took her turn in front of the “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” microphone, chatting with hosts Simon Doong and the Rev. Lee Catoe about some of the ways the “Mother Church” and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are similar and yet different. Listen to their 53-minute conversation here. Foster-Fulton is introduced at the five-minute mark.
Born and raised in South Carolina and married to the Rev. Stuart Fulton, a fellow Church of Scotland minister, Foster-Fulton shares at least one thing in common with Catoe: Both hail from South Carolina. “I expect my accent’s going to get thicker and thicker as we talk,” she joked early on in the conversation.
Like the PC(USA), the Church of Scotland is working to be “as ecumenical as we possibly can be,” Foster-Fulton said. Seven years ago, the Church of Scotland and the Church of England signed the Columba Declaration, which Foster-Fulton described as “a declaration of friendship and partnership and an acknowledgement of our desire to move closer together and to work more intentionally in partnership.”
It’s also signed the St Margaret Declaration with the Catholic Church of Scotland. “We are meeting more regularly together, and we are working more closely together,” she said.
The Saint Andrew Declaration signed during the most recent General Assembly “moves us toward ecumenical partnership and working very closely together” with the Scottish Episcopal Church. “We have a similar partnership with the United Reformed Church,” she said.
“I’m incredibly inspired by this,” Foster-Fulton said. “What lights my fire is there’s a lot of potential for interfaith work.”
The Church of Scotland is moving from 43 presbyteries to 12, “and we’re moving the resourcing from the center into those more local spaces,” she said. “That’s not without its challenges. It also means that buildings will be closing, and churches will be amalgamating. It’s not a very good witness to our environmental commitments to have five Churches of Scotland you could throw a rock and hit from one place.”
“It’s about making those difficult decisions so that we can kind of put our money where our morals are,” Foster-Fulton said.
Denominations on both sides of the Atlantic are in different places on their journeys to environmental justice, she said. The Church of Scotland has divested from fossil fuel companies and is “trying to get our carbon footprint down to zero” in the next few years. “We’re trying to get our own house in order because the big house is on fire,” Foster-Fulton said. It helps that “the climate targets for the Scottish government are well ahead of other spaces.”
She said churches must be “on the forefront” of racial, gender and climate justice. “It matters what we do and what we say. That makes us relevant and gives our voice accountability and authenticity in those spaces. If we’re not actively working to bring justice for the poorest and most marginalized, then what are we about?”
In the runup to the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, Foster-Fulton helped create space for respectful dialogue between campaigners on both sides of the debate.
In conversations that can become “quite fraught,” it’s important to say, “We are never going to find common ground if we spend too much time defending our corner,” she said. She told the story of one facilitator who asked everyone gathered to stand up if they could, telling them, “In your mind, think of all the baggage you’re bringing here with you. And he said, ‘Put it down. Let’s come clean into this space and really deeply listen to each other. There are so many things we are not going to agree on, but there are many things we do agree on already.’ It was a phenomenal experience.”
Find previous episodes of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” here.
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: ‘A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast’
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Shelby Andrews, 1001 Apprentice, 1001 New Worshiping Communities, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Jeffrey Arnold, Executive Director, Association of Presbyterian Colleges & Universities (APCU)
Let us pray
Loving God, we know that the church is not a building but the congregation that worships within. Help us to live this truth. May we honor you by giving what we have while trusting that you will provide what we need. Amen.