Disputed parts of Anglican Covenant redrafted

by
06 February 2008

Pat Ashworth reports on the changes

Making the draft: the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Covenant Design Group chaired by the Most Revd Drexel Gomez, at St Andrew's House, London, last week ACNS/ROSENTHAL

Making the draft: the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Covenant Design Group chaired by the Most Revd Drexel Gomez, at St Andrew's House, London, last...

THE design group in charge of steering the Anglican Covenant through its various stages has produced a new draft, the St Andrew’s Draft, in the light of suggestions by provinces.

The group, which met in London last week, has outlined a possible disciplinary process for provinces that any other province deems to have threatened the unity of the Communion (details below).

Just 13 of the 34 Anglican provinces submitted a formal response to the first draft of the Anglican Covenant (the Nassau Draft), something that the Covenant Design Group (CDG) suggests might be attributed to “lack of translation” or indeed “other foci in the life of Provinces”.

The St Andrew’s Draft, produced at a meeting last week in St Andrew’s House, London (the Anglican Communion Office in Westbourne Park), defends the Covenant as “a basis for mutual trust and reduced anxiety” at a time of fragmentation.

It states that, while “habits of civility and mutuality” have taken the Communion a long way in the past, it is now in a place of greater accountability, where “our structures must provide a framework for the context of our belief”.

The CDG says that it resisted making the three-part Covenant a more definitive statement of Anglican ecclesiology, preferring it to be more open-ended. It has given a fuller theological rationale in the introduction, as requested by the Church of England, among others.

There is no longer a separate section, “Our Commitment to Confession of the Faith”, contained in the first section, “Our Inheritance of Faith”. The document takes the more “minimalist” approach to doctrinal argument sought by many respondents. The group says in its comments on this section, Clause 1.1.2: “Some provinces do not formally recognise the Thirty-Nine Articles within their canons and constitutions. We accepted one suggestion, that the realities of scripture, creed and formularies be more closely linked, but in a way that did not transgress the particular canonical and historical diversity of Anglican Churches with respect to the last element.”

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The Covenant now says that each Church affirms that it “professes the faith which is uniquely revealed in the holy scriptures . . . and which is set forth in the catholic creeds, and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear significant witness”.

Also added to this first section is a clause referring to the importance of common prayer as a defining characteristic of Anglicanism and its common bonds.

Clause 1.2.3 asserts the obligation to work to sustain eucharistic communion, even where there is conscientious objection. Contentious phrases such as “biblically derived moral values” have gone. Churches are now committed to upholding and proclaiming “a pattern of Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of holy scripture and the catholic tradition and reflects the renewal of humanity and the whole created order. . .”

They also commit themselves to ensuring “that biblical texts are handled faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively and coherently, primarily through the teaching and initiatives of bishops and synods, and buildings on habits and disciplines of Bible study across the Church and on rigorous scholarship, believing that scriptural revelation continues to illuminate and transform individuals, cultures and societies.”

The ecumenical dimension of Anglican witness and mission is expressed more explicitly in section 2, “The Life We Share with Others”.

In section three, “Our Unity and Common Life”, much concern had been expressed about the perceived growing influence of the Primates, and the over-importance accorded to Primates’ Meetings in decision-making. The Archbishop of Canterbury is “accorded a primacy of honour and respect as first among equals” and as “a focus and means of unity”. He exercises his ministry “collegially with his brother primates”.

The Primates’ Meeting — called for “mutual support, prayer and counsel” — now comes fourth in a chronological list of the Instruments of Communion, after the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, and the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC).

The commitments in this section, which seeks to “articulate a model for interdependent life that is faithful to the Windsor report”, are acknowledged by the CDG to have been the most contentious section of the Nassau Draft. The section has been completely rewritten. Any province, Instrument of Communion, or national and regional Church can now identify matters that “threaten the unity of the communion or the effectiveness and credibility of its mission”.

The principles of consultation, Communion-wide evaluation, and mediation are explained. Churches commit themselves to being “willing to receive from the Instruments of Communion a request to adopt a particular course of action in respect to the matter under dispute.

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“While the Instruments of Communion have no legislative, executive or judicial authority in our provinces, except where provided in their own laws, we recognise them as those bodies by which our common life in Christ is articulated and sustained, and which therefore carry a moral authority which commands our respect.”

“Any such request would not be binding on a Church unless recognised as such by that Church. However, commitment to the Covenant entails an acknowledgement that in the most extreme circumstance, where a Church chooses not to adopt the request of the Instruments of Communion, that decision may be understood by the Church itself, or by the resolution of the Instruments of Communion, as relinquishment by that Church of the force and meaning of the Covenant’s purpose, until they re-establish their covenant relationship with other member Churches.”

The draft thus stresses that there is no intention to erect a centralised jurisdiction, and that the Instruments of Communion cannot dictate with juridical force the internal affairs of any province. The CDG observes, however: “As our Communion is founded on the mutual recognition that each Church sees in the other of our communion in Christ, we recognise it cannot be sustained in extreme circumstances where a Church or province were to act in a way which rejects the interdependence of the Communion’s life.”

The process to be followed when a Church is in dispute with another comes in an Appendix, described as a “framework for the resolution of covenant disagreements”, but with the insistence that this is only “a tentative draft for the possible shape such a procedure might take”.

The appendix says that no process shall affect the autonomy of any Church of the Communion. No process shall exceed five years from the date of consultation. Any matter “involving relinquishment by a Church of the force and meaning of Covenant purposes” is to be decided solely by that Church or the ACC.

Is the St Andrew’s Draft acceptable? Vote here

Four routes for discipline

Four routes for discipline

THE PROCESS for disciplining a Church is graded according to whether there is a threat to “the unity of the Communion or effectiveness or credibility of its mission” and how urgent this is.

Informal conversation is the first resort, Route 1. If that fails, the next step is to consult the Archbishop of Canterbury. He then has a month either to resolve the problem by issuing pastoral guidance, or to refer it to three Assessors of his choice. The Church that is getting the guidance has a month to respond. If the outcome is unsuccessful, it refers it to the Assessors. The Assessors have a month in which to choose one of four routes, depending on the perceived urgency of the dispute.

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If a threat to unity is clearly involved and is considered to be a matter of real urgency, the Archbishop requests action by the Church involved. The Church has six months to consider: if it doesn’t respond after that time, it is considered to have rejected his request. The Church can appeal to the Joint Standing Committee (JSC) if it does not believe that it is threatening unity and mission. The JSC decides whether there is a threat. If the appeal is lost, the matter goes to the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC).

Route 2 comes into play if it is unclear whether there is a real threat to unity or not, but the matter is still considered urgent. If so, it can be referred by the Archbishop of Canterbury to another of the Instruments of Communion to decide whether there is a threat. The Instrument makes a request to the Church, and then the matter proceeds as with Route 1.

Route 3 takes a longer view. The Archbishop refers longer-term issues that “would benefit from rigorous theological study” to a commission for evaluation. He chooses the commission in consultation with the secretary general of the Anglican Communion. The commission studies it for 18 months, and then pass on its judgement to an Instrument of Communion. If rejected, it then goes to the ACC.

Route 4 provides mediation, if no threat to unity is perceived. This is a three-year process. The mediator has no decision-making authority, and cannot compel the parties to accept a settlement. The matter is declared closed after three years.

The ACC is the final arbiter over Routes 1, 2, and 3, and whether a Church’s action is compatible with the Covenant. “If the Council decides the rejection is incompatible, the Church can declare voluntarily that it relinquishes the force and meaning of the Covenant; or the Council decides it for them.”

If either declares relinquishment, the ACC must initiate “a process of restoration with the Church of the Communion and other Instruments of the Communion”.

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