Non-approval of proposed covenant could ‘make or break’ Anglican Communion, warns design group chair

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Anglican Consultative Council delegates listen to an introduction to the proposed Anglican Covenant, which they are being asked to commend to member churches of the Anglican Communion for consideration.
Anglican Consultative Council delegates listen to an introduction to the proposed Anglican Covenant, which they are being asked to commend to member churches of the Anglican Communion for consideration.

Kingston, Jamaica
Archbishop Drexel Gomez, chair of the Covenant Design Group (CDG), Monday urged delegates of the 14th Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) to send out “for consideration and adoption” the third and final draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant to the member churches of the Anglican Communion, saying “what is decided here is likely to make or break the communion.”

Archbishop Gomez, who recently retired as primate of the Church of the Province of the West Indies, warned that while at least three provinces have questioned whether there was a need for a common covenant among Anglican churches worldwide, “I have to say to you in all seriousness, the communion is close to the point of breaking up.” He did not identify which provinces are cold to the idea of a covenant, which was recommended by the Lambeth Commission on Communion as a way to address deep fissures among Anglican churches worldwide triggered by the issue of homosexuality.

Archbishop Gomez added: “If we are not able to commit ourselves to this sort of being a communion, the break up of its life is staring us in the face. Either we are a family, which means that each member of the family has care for and respect for the other members of the family, or we will have to learn to go our separate ways. The question is, do we wish to remain a communion?”

Archbishop Gomez, who introduced the Ridley-Cambridge draft to the ACC delegates, said the principle that the Covenant Design Group adopted in writing was “the communion guides, each church decides.” He said that the new draft “firmly states that each church decides for itself,” adding that it “says quite clearly that nothing in the covenant can or should change the constitution and canons of any province.”

Section 4 of the draft, he added, “gives clarity over the processes of joining and leaving the covenant,” and it provides ” a method of dispute resolution” which is “not coercive but advisory.”

He also said that the new draft “opens out the covenant, making it open-ended and open to others for joining,” an issue that has remained unclear to many ACC delegates and are expected to be questioned in “discernment group” discussions that are not open to the media.

A draft resolution on the new draft of the covenant has been prepared by the Joint Standing Committee (JSC) of the primates and the ACC, which commends it to provinces “for a decision,” and which requests a response to the secretary general of the Anglican Communion “by December 2014 on the progress made in the processes of adoption and response to the covenant text.”

Asked what the reason was for pegging the 2014 deadline, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, primate of the Church of the Province of Australia and JSC member, said it was because governing bodies of some member churches would not be able to meet until that date. He also said that the polities of at least three or four member churches requires two meetings of their general synod to render a decision on the covenant.

Dato Stanley Isaacs, who represents the Anglican Province of Southeast Asia, expressed that the 2014 deadline was “too long,” adding that the “urgency of the situation” in the communion requires an earlier response. He said that, while he recognized the constitutional difficulties that some provinces might have “if we all recognize this urgency, you can always have an extraordinary meeting to consider this for adoption.” His own church, said Mr. Isaacs, was “ready to adopt it.”

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.

Another ACC delegate asked what would happen to member churches who choose not to sign on to the covenant. Bishop Gregory Cameron, former deputy secretary general of the Anglican Communion, said the Covenant Design Group (CDG) had “wrestled hard” on this matter but felt that “we’re still entering a period of transition.” He said that it remained to be seen how many would adopt it. Bishop Cameron, who served as secretary to the CDG “at the moment, there is no linkage” between adoption of the covenant and participating in the life and activities of the communion. He said that if 15 or 20 member churches approve the covenant “it might move quite quickly and give it more gravity…”

Bishop Cameron’s statement was in contrast to a statement made earlier at a press briefing by Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, who said that the membership and participation in the communion of provinces which decided to opt out of the covenant would not be altered.

In urging the ACC not only to commend the covenant for consideration but approval, Archbishop Gomez said “the chance that the covenant offers to give something to the communion as a description of what Anglicans care about, in which we can agree a basis for future discussions, and which puts something in place that could really hold us together won’t last much longer.”

He said that The Episcopal Church’s General Convention was set to meet this summer, while the Primates’ Council of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), a global group of conservative Anglicans, “has been asked to recognize the Anglican Church of North America.” The Common Cause Partnership, a coalition of conservative Anglicans who have left the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church, is seeking to be recognized as a new province in North America.
“A number of primates have spoken to me about how their synods are beginning to become impatient with the communion’s life if the communion can’t say something clear at this stage of its life,” said Archbishop Gomez. “I believe that the CDG has done the work it was asked to do, and done it well; the 660 bishops gathered in Lambeth have delivered their verdict, and were positive in what they said. Those provinces which have responded have largely said that they recognize the importance of the task. Where criticism has been offered, we have sought to address it.”

He acknowledged that “there is not unanimity across the communion, and I don’t want to pretend that there is.” But he said, “there is a real opportunity, and my hope for the covenant is that it gives us a basis on which to go forward. I ask that ACC won’t let this opportunity pass.”

Archbishop Gomez explained that when it recommended the creation of a covenant, the Lambeth Commission on Communion had wanted the communion to address two issues: “If the communion is a fellowship of Anglican churches, what does it mean to be Anglican? And, if we are bound together by the ‘bonds of affection,’ what actually are those bonds?”

He acknowledged that there “were problems and dangers” in addressing those two issues. “There was, and remains, very little appetite for the Anglican Confession or Statement of Belief; there is certainly no appetite at all for the centralization in the life of the communion.”

He said that the CDG has tried to address all concerns that have been raised in the two previous drafts. “We have managed to produce a document in which we have all been able to find agreement,” he said. “Every member of the CDG is able to say of the present covenant draft: we recognize the Anglicanism we hold dear in this document. That is not to say there haven’t been big discussions, and even compromise, and that members of the group would have reservations about some wording or some ideas, but it is to say that the broad diversity of the CDG has been able to come up with a document which we all believe represents a way forward as an adequate description of our common faith and the bonds of affection which hold us together.” (The Canadian Anglican church is represented in the CDG by Eileen Scully, co-ordinator for worship and ministry.)

The draft contains three sections: the Anglican inheritance of faith, on Anglican vocation and mission, and on Anglican interdependence. Archbishop Gomez said the first two sections have been “largely straightforward and non-controversial.”
But “where it has got harder is in the question of how Anglican churches relate to one another,” he said. “None of the provinces wants to be ruled from abroad ? each wants to be free as possible to organize its own mission and life.” Still, he said, “we can only be a communion ? be in communion with one another ? if we are able to see in one another faithful discipleship to Jesus Christ, and a common Gospel, a common mission, and if we want to live as a family together.”

He said that CDG thought that its task was, therefore, “to write something which preserved the autonomy of the churches, but which provided for a strong glue that held us together.” The draft “had to reflect the fact that as Anglicans we do not believe in one authority structure, but in dispersed authority ? the whole people of God bearing witness to the truth found in Jesus Christ, and each church rooting its witness in its own mission context.”

The new draft, he said, “tried to articulate the principles of how exactly our churches relate, which is definitely not by way of central authority, but as a family of equal churches.”

 

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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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