Philip Aspinall reported that Archbishop John Chew presented a report as a member of the Covenant Design Group. The deadline for sending responses to the St Andrews draft is 9th March. A further revised draft will then be produced and presented to the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica in May.
Phillip Aspinall said there is a general warming to the possibilities that might be offered by the Covenant and an increasing realism about what the Covenant can and cannot do. There is a pulling back from language about sanctions and teeth. The Covenant is instead being seen as a framework for koinonia, fellowship, communion and relationships. If there were to be a failure of process in the Communion, the response should be to invest more in fellowship and koinonia, not to impose sanctions or exclude a Province, Primate or bishop from a meeting. The Provinces are committed to the process of the development of the Covenant.
David Virtue asked how it was possible to have discipline in the Communion without a theological framework and with no content. Phillip Aspinall responded that there is indeed a theological framework in the Covenant – the creeds, sacraments and scriptures are there.
He said that the Australian Church had looked at three ways in which the Covenant might be adopted.
1. It might be added to the Constitution of the church, but given the number of years it had taken to formulate the Constitution, this was highly unlikely.
2. It might be passed as a Canon in General Synod. The Canon would need to be adopted by each diocese. It was likely that not all dioceses would vote to approve the Canon and it would fail, so this route is also unlikely.
3. It might be adopted by a resolution in General Synod, and this is the most likely option. The Canon would have no legal force and would be dependent on moral obligation to be effective
Each church makes a gift to the others by freely choosing to limit its autonomy where a course of action might be gravely problematic for the rest (my interpretation). The prime investment is in mutual respect and courtesy. The only sanction available is non-invitation to meetings and that would be counter to the need to work through communion and koinonia.
The Lambeth Conference pulled back, and the reflections showed concern about the language of sanctions. The Primates are also pulling back though some would still like to press the discipline question.
The message from yesterday’s press conference is that the direction the Covenant is taking in response to Lambeth and the feedback the Covenant Design Group has received is a move further away from a Covenant with sanctions. The conservative Primates, bishops and opinion formers such as David Virtue have been clamouring for a Covenant with teeth. Wiser council has prevailed, reinforced by the bishops who met at Lambeth and encouraged by the wisdom of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
As I have predicted, the Covenant will encourage the Communion to be more rather than less Christian in its relationships. It will encourage deeper communion, the profound primary value of human relationships, koinonia and fellowship. It will not seek to exclude but include. It will not seek to punish but nurture and draw people and Provinces together. It puts relationships with God and one another, in love, at the centre of our common life.
As I read today’s lesson, 1 Corinthians 13, this morning, I was reminded that for all that St Paul addresses details of behaviour, his primary focus is on love, followed by faith and hope. St Paul trusts love to be patient and kind, never boastful, rude or conceited. A Covenant moving in this direction could be welcomed by those who at present still fear it might give teeth to Primates who will use sanctions abusively.