Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Anglican Covenant - at least we know what we're going to be voting on.

No comment from me on the actual text at this time, but it is worth reading what Rowan Williams said in his video message that came with it. My own comments are in bold!

"The covenant text sets out the basis on which the Anglican family works and prays and lives and hopes. The bulk of the text identifies what we hold in common, the ground on which we stand as Anglicans. It’s about the gift we’ve been given as a Church and the gift we’ve been given specifically as the Anglican Communion. All those things we give thanks for, we affirm together, and we resolve together to safeguard and to honour. (it's bland and unexceptionable, so no problems with sections 1-3)

The last bit of the Covenant text is the one that's perhaps been the most controversial, because that’s where we spell out what happens if relationships fail or break down. It doesn’t set out, as I’ve already said, a procedure for punishments and sanctions. (Really?) It does try and sort out how we will discern the nature of our disagreement, how important is it? How divisive does it have to be? Is it a Communion breaking issue that’s in question - or is it something we can learn to live with? And so in these sections of the covenant what we’re trying to do is simply to give a practical, sensible and Christian way of dealing with our conflicts, recognising that they’re always going to be there. (If it doesn't actually DO anything, WTF have we been wasting the last few years drafting? And why bother signing up to it?)

So what happens next? This Covenant is being sent to all the member Churches of the Anglican Communion. Each church will, within its own processes, decide how to handle it, and by the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in three years time (ANOTHER 3 YEARS OF ANGST! NOOOOO!!) we hope that many provinces will already have said yes to this and adopted it into their own understanding and identity. Clearly the process won’t all be over by then, but we’re hoping to see some enthusiasm, (dream on!) some general adoption of the principles. We hope to see a new kind of relationship emerging. (Oh, it already is!!) We hope to see people agreeing to these ways of resolving our conflicts .(I rather doubt it mush!)

Beyond that, what’s going to happen? It’s hard to say as yet, but the Covenant text itself does make it clear that at some point it’ll be open to other bodies, other Ecclesial bodies as they’re called, other Churches and communities to adopt this Covenant, and be considered for incorporation into the Anglican Communion. (So we can reabsorb all those Conservative Yanks and their pals who legged it in Continuing Anglicanism over women in Orders, the Prayer Book and gays - why am I ever so slightly underwhelmed by this idea?) Meanwhile, it’s open to anybody that wishes to affirm the principles of the Covenant - to say that this is what they wish to live with.

So in the next few years we expect to see quite a bit of activity around this. (No s**t Sherlock?) We hope, as I’ve said, that many provinces will feel able to adopt this. We hope that many other bodies will affirm the vision that’s set out here, and that in the long run this will actually help us to become more of a communion - more responsible for each other, presenting to the world a face of mutual understanding, patience, charity and gratitude for one another. In other words, we hope and pray that the Covenant for the Anglican Communion will be a truly effective tool for witness and mission in our world."

I really wonder if anyone with half a brain is actually going to vote for this. Of course some will, especially if they're told it's the only show in town for keeping in Communion with the Global South (liberal guilt is a serious motivator). I'm not impressed. The SEC had strong and historic links with the US, India and South Africa before the 1st Lambeth Conference. Those can and will be maintained. I suspect it won't fly in Scotland because we let a wider proportion of the laity discuss and debate these issues than in the C of E. The threat of an effect on our relationship with the English Church might sway some. But the question is this: if we don't sign ,will the free traffic of clergy between Scotland and England be affected? If not, then it has zero practical impact and ought to be ignored. If it does, then we face a tricky problem about recruiting clergy to staff charges and that might be a factor to consider. But personally I suspect we 'll find plenty of Yanks and Cannucks to replace the English, so we could live with that in an age of global communication.


  1. I don't agree that the first three sections are bland and unexeptional. The first section tommits us to focus our unity around liturgical and doctrinal texts of another age and other controversies.

    As someone who works in a sectarian city I could never affirm anything that saw the anti-catholic 39 articles as a focus for unity. They are historic answers to other problems.

    We also have a preamble which reintroduces the use of the bible as though propositions can be justified with proof texts.

    That isn't bland and unexceptional it is an unanglican abuse of Scripture.

  2. As someone who spent a few years in an Episcopal church that joined the Province of Conservative Yanks (or whatever they call it today), I wonder if keeping even a tenuous unity is possible. I am afraid that a split is a de facto reality; it just need to become "de jure." (Does that sound right?) Both sides of this problem believe they have the right take on the situation, but the conservative side will not tolerate any dissent or variety. As a Roman Catholic today, that sounds like a stand that our conservative hierarchy would take. I guess the denomination is secondary to the main problem: the intrasigence of doctrinaire conservatives.

  3. That's "intransigence". This happens when you try to use those 25 cent words!


  4. Well, Kelvin I read the committment to the 39 Articles like NP Williams did, likening them to the Oxford Gasworks: I acknowledge their existence, I don't like them but I am not currently plotting to blow them up!

    Ditto the preamble: given that I intend to vote against the beastly Covenant, the contents thereof are irrelevant.

    David, you are right on the intransigence of conservatives.

  5. 'The only show in town'. The only Covenant that matters is the New Covenant in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who refuse to share the Lord's table with those with whom they disagree are the ones who are 'breaking Communion'.

  6. Absolutely, Eamonn! So sayeth those of us who remain in the Episcopal Church USA.