Delegates weigh ‘tighter time frame’ for covenant approval process

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Kingston, Jamaica
Bishop Gregory Cameron, former deputy secretary general of the Anglican Communion and secretary to the Covenant Design Group said he detects that many delegates to the 14th Anglican Consultative Council meeting here would like a “tighter time frame” for the approval process of the proposed Anglican Covenant rather than the recommended 2014 deadline.

The question of when member churches of the Anglican Communion should state whether they would be signing on to the Covenant “is obviously surfacing” and he has heard from some council members “that they would like to see a tighter time frame for the reception of the covenant than that proposed,” Bishop Cameron told a press briefing. “Obviously it’s too early to say where the mind of the council will settle. But there are certainly some that say a tighter time frame would be more appropriate.”

Reacting to Bishop Cameron’s statement, the lay delegate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Suzanne Lawson said, “Interesting.” She added, “I think that would be difficult for the Canadian church. I actually spend a good deal of time thinking about how change comes about and time is an important element in that. If we are to be looking in Canada at something that will take seriously the Covenant and reframe our thinking, we need some time to talk about it at General Synod in Nova Scotia and we may need more time three years from then.” General Synod, the Canadian Anglican church’s governing body, which gathers every triennium, is scheduled to meet in Halifax in 2010.

Ms. Lawson said, “We need to respect the provinces where that is a required amount of time.”

The goal of 2014 was recommended because governing bodies of some member churches would not be able to meet until that date, explained Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, primate (senior bishop) of the Church of the Province of Australia and a member of the Joint Standing Committee, an international body that includes the primates and the ACC. He also said that the polities of at least three or four member churches require two meetings of their governing bodies to render a decision on the covenant.

Archbishop Aspinall said there was “nothing to prevent a church moving very soon should it wish to” but the process recognizes the principle in the draft that “the communion guides and each church decides,” while being mindful of the implication of the matter to the communion. The Anglican Communion, composed of 80 million Anglicans in 44 regional and national churches in more than 160 countries, has been deeply divided in recent years over the issue of sexuality.

Bishop Cameron, who is the newly consecrated bishop of the Church of Wales’ diocese of St. Asaph, also said that it remained unclear about what would happen to provinces that choose not to sign on to the Covenant, but that it would be up to the church’s Instruments of Communion to decide the issue. “We’re feeling our way,” he said. (The four Instruments of Communion are the primates’ meeting, the ACC, the Lambeth Conference of bishops, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.)
Earlier, Bishop Cameron and Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, gave conflicting statements about whether there was any connection between adoption of the covenant and participation in the life and Instruments of the Communion.

Canon Kearon said that the membership and participation in the communion of provinces which decided to opt out of the covenant would not be altered, while Bishop Cameron had said, “at the moment, there is no linkage” but added that if 15 or 20 member churches approve the covenant “it might move quite quickly and give it more gravity.”

Asked to clarify, Bishop Cameron said, “we’re talking about a dynamic process … a process which is evolving and there’s no doubt that in the original vision for the covenant, it was envisaged that all the provinces of the communion would sign up to the covenant and that it would govern the life of the Anglican Communion in participation in the instruments of the communion.”

As the covenant process has evolved, said Bishop Cameron, “some have started to ask questions about what happens if others don’t sign up.” He added that it was the view of the Covenant Design Group that “at this stage of the covenant’s life, it didn’t want to link those two things – participation in the covenant with membership of the Instruments of Communion. It wanted to keep the two distinct.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, he said, has articulated in two papers – Challenge and Hope for the Anglican Communion and Towards an Anglican Covenant – that “if we get to the stage of the life of the Anglican Communion where there were large numbers of churches signed up to the covenant and other provinces that weren’t signed up we will have to talk about some sort of two-tiered Anglican Communion.” The two tiers would be an inner fellowship based around the covenant and a broader fellowship of churches which have not signed the covenant.

Bishop Cameron added, “The Archbishop of Canterbury is on record as saying that he would prefer a stronger covenant text even if it meant that not all provinces could sign up rather than a weak covenant text which really didn’t have any substance to it.”

He said that the positions that he, Mr. Kearon and the Archbishop of Canterbury have articulated are not to be seen as definitive policy statements. “We’re trying to explore what the world what might look like if some provinces signed up to the covenant or not.”

Archbishop Drexel Gomez, retired primate of the Church of the Province of the West Indies and chair of the Covenant Design Group, said if the ACC accepts the covenant proposal in its final form, and the covenant comes into force, “there is a provision in the text that opens the possibility for dioceses or entities other than the provinces signing up. That’s going to be a second level issue.”

One paragraph of the proposed covenant says, “It shall be open to other churches to adopt the covenant.” It does not, however, define “other churches.”

Asked whether it meant that other entities, including those groups that have left their dioceses or provinces could sign up to the Covenant, Archbishop Gomez said, “it wouldn’t be our job to put teeth into that.” He said it would be up to the Joint Standing Committee of Primates and the ACC to determine which groups other than member provinces of the Communion can adopt the Covenant. “They’re the gatekeepers as it were of the covenant process,” he said.

Bishop Cameron said that the Covenant Design Group had expressed its own opinion on who may sign the agreement, stating, “where it is not ruled out by the constitution and canon of any particular province, there’s no reason why a diocese should not express its solidarity with the covenant.”

The bishop also said the crucial question before the ACC now is whether they believe the final draft of the proposed covenant, called the Ridley-Cambridge Draft, is “mature enough” to be offered to the provinces for adoption.

He said delegates would spend the entire day Wednesday in discernment groups. After that, the ACC members are expected to determine the next step of the covenant process. The question before the meeting, said Bishop Cameron, is can the ACC confirm or affirm that the covenant process and the Anglican Covenant is the right way to strengthen promote common life in the communion.
The final draft resolution will reflect what comes out of the discernment group discussions, he said.

“The whole process is designed to allow people to take a reflective, discursive, consensual approach as a way to conduct Anglican Communion business,” he said. “It’s worth pointing out the process rather than assuming that the council now will make a swift judgment either way on this resolution.”

 

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Marites N. Sison
Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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