Monday 4 May 2009

Covenant anxieties expressed in first ACC Plenary

The tensions and anxieties present in the Communion surfaced this morning in response to the presentation by Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the Ridley Cambridge draft of An Anglican Covenant at an Information Plenary session. Asked if there were any questions arising from five minutes of small table discussion following the Archbishop’s 30 minute presentation, there were none.

Five minutes later, after Bishop Phillip Aspinall had presented the Draft Resolution on the Covenant prepared by the Joint Standing Committee last week, questions were voiced. The issue is time scale. The fifth point of the draft resolution “requests ... member Churches to respond to the Secretary General by 2014 on the progress made in the process of adoption and response to the Covenant text.”

Bishop Mouneer Anis from Jerusalem and the Middle East asked why 2014 and not 2012 – why couldn’t churches complete their own process more quickly? He was told by Kenneth Kearon that Provinces had been asked after the St Andrews draft was circulated to say what time scale they needed to follow for the adoption process. Some Provinces indicated the need to hold two meetings of their General Synod, which would take them beyond the next ACC meeting in 2012 to ACC16 in 2014.

Stanley Isaacs from South East Asia pursued the question, asking why there should be a delay of five years. This is a long time scale given the urgency of the Communion’s problems. Why not have an extraordinary meeting of the legislative body to shorten the time scale. His Province is among those ready to adopt the Covenant now.

There are those in the Communion who want closure, not simply on the process of formulating an Anglican Covenant, but on disciplining, censuring or excluding The Episcopal Church and any other Province which decides formally to bless lesbian and gay relationships or ordain non-celibate lesbian or gay bishops (and, I suspect, priests).

The anxiety to adopt the Covenant within a short time scale has to be driven by the determination to foreclose discussion on the inclusion of LGBT people in the Communion.

Archbishop Drexel Gomez had emphasised urgency in unscripted remarks at the end of his presentation. It is now or never, he said it is this Covenant or there will be splits. He asked the ACC not to let this opportunity pass. Bishop Philip Aspinall reinforced this – no matter is more important this week than the Covenant, the focal point of concerns and anxieties dating from 10 years and more. A solemn responsibility falls to us, he said.

The reasons for the anxieties from those who have been arguing for an Anglican Covenant with teeth sharp enough to discipline and exclude ‘wayward’ Provinces became evident in Archbishop Gomez’s presentation. Reaction to the Nassau draft said the Primates had been given too much responsibility and that was changed. The St Andrews draft gave more responsibility to the ACC and added an appendix setting out rules of arbitration and resolution. That was criticised and has gone from the latest Ridley Cambridge draft. In this, the Instruments are not organs of government but consultation. Churches have to be able to be mutually accountable and responsible.

Section 3 says we are a family of equal churches committed to relationship. Nothing in the Covenant can or should change the constitution or canons of any Province.

The Ridley Cambridge Covenant draft, said Archbishop Gomez: “offers to give something to the Communion as a description of what Anglicans care about, un which we can agree a basis for future discussion, and which puts something in place that could really hold us together.”

Changing Attitude and other LGBT advocacy groups in also have anxieties about the Covenant, at the other end of the spectrum. Will it be used to discipline or exclude Provinces which already fully include LGBT people or are working towards full inclusion? Individual lesbian and gay people wonder whether a message will be sent, that their membership of the church and the love God has for them is conditional, dependent on them conforming with a conservative moral code and reading of scripture.

As I write, the ACC delegates have been meeting in smaller discernment groups to begin to formulate a response to the draft Resolution. No doubt some delegates will bring pressure to reduce the time scale. The Windsor Continuation Group is the focus of Tuesday’s sessions. Delegates return to the Covenant on Wednesday and on Friday in two decision making plenaries.


  1. why is it taken as a starting assumption that there has to be a covenant?

  2. Thank you, Dennis. My question precisely. It seems to me that the communion anxieties are all about finding a simple solution to a complex problem, and the Covenant is what has been fixated upon. It may, for those who sign it, keep change at bay. But it will not bring life or recovery.

  3. Colin,

    It would be a great service if you could post "the Draft Resolution on the Covenant prepared by the Joint Standing Committee last week."

    In particular about: "The fifth point of the draft resolution “requests ... member Churches to respond to the Secretary General by 2014 on the progress made in the process of adoption and response to the Covenant text.”" Is there anything in the resolution that says the covenant is only for provinces? Or that for now only provinces would be requested, but other would not be permitted?

    As to what is more important, I concur with Dennis and Tobias above -- especially given what Cameron said in the same session according to AJ: Another ACC delegate asked what would happen to member churches who choose not to sign on to the covenant. Bishop Gregory Cameron, deputy secretary general of the Anglican Communion, said the Covenant Design Group 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. He said “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…”