ACC’s close vote delays debate on Covenant

13 May 2009

Pat Ashworth reports on the ACC meeting in Jamaica

Commended for achieving “small things”: grasping hands at the closing service of the ACC meeting in Jamaica on Tuesday ACNS

Commended for achieving “small things”: grasping hands at the closing service of the ACC meeting in Jamaica on Tuesday ACNS

THE Anglican Covenant will not be sent out to the provinces of the Communion for adoption until there has been consultation on the controversial section 4, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) voted by the narrowest of majorities at its meeting in Jamaica this week. Sec­tion 4 deals with the enforcement of the terms of the Covenant.

The chairman of the Covenant Design Group, the Most Revd Drexel Gomez, the recently-retired Arch­bishop of the West Indies, had urged delegates not to lose the opportunity to take decisive action on the Cov­enant in what was considered to be its final form, the Ridley Draft (News, 8 May). He had predicted breaks in the Communion if it did not vote to send it out.

The outgoing deputy secretary general of the Communion, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, commented on Monday of the vote: “Many will feel that any delay in the adoption of the Covenant inflicts further damage on the Communion; others feel that to take matters deliberately and with consultation can only strengthen the process overall.

“I myself believe that the Ridley Covenant Draft is mature, and feel that delay will allow more radical groups to agitate for more pre­cipitous change or realignment.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury urged Anglicans not to put off discussing the Covenant. He told the ACC: “The text is on the table. Begin the discernment, begin that intel­ligent engagement as soon as you can.”

The complicated debate taxed delegates to the full. It involved 18 amendments to the resolutions, and four personal interventions by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Ridley draft had been discussed before the meeting by the Joint Standing Committee (JSC) of the ACC. The JSC had asked Dr Williams and the secretary general to develop a text for a resolution reflecting their discussions, which could be offered to discernment groups once the ACC was under way.


The groups fed back to the Reso­lutions Committee, which produced a revised text. There were also questions about whether section 4 needed further consultation. The main sticking points were un­certainty about what the term “Churches” meant — “It shall be open to other Churches to adopt the Covenant” — and whether groups not currently recognised by the Instruments of Communion could sign; and also the fact that the systems of dispute-resolution had not been assessed by the provinces.

So the Resolutions Committee drafted a resolution (Resolution A), which would have detached section 4 and referred it for further con­sultation. Also on the table was Resolution B, which was to send out the entire draft, including section 4.

Debate followed, and Resolution A was decisively rejected in the light of a further proposal (Resolution C) by the Archbishop of Brisbane, Dr Philip Aspinall, that rather than separating out and referring section 4, sending the Covenant out for adoption should wait until a short period of consultation on section 4 could be completed. Resolution C was accepted by 33 to 30, with two abstentions.

Bishop Cameron acknowledged on Monday that the voting pro­cedure had been “confusing at times, but I suspect that, had the vote gone the other way on the crucial vote, no questions would have been raised.”

He had reviewed the recording of the session, and concluded: “I am convinced that the chair handled matters duly and in order. I cannot say whether all members were fully conscious that Question 16 was the crucial vote, but that everything was done correctly as far as rules of procedure are concerned.”

Dr Williams admitted: “One thing we’re not terribly good at is resolution-passing.” He suggested that the next ACC should have advance briefing about procedures. Canon John Rees, legal adviser to the ACC, told a press conference that none of the delegates had complained to him.

The excitable comments that had ensued came from those who did not witness the debate, he said, raising once again the questions of selective reporting that have sur­rounded this ACC meeting. Apart from the Episcopal News Service from the United States, and the Canadian Anglican Journal, whose reporting has been conscientious, the ac­credited press representatives at the meeting have been made up mostly of lobbyists (Press, 8 May).

A statement from five theologians of the Anglican Communion In­stitute (ACI) called for a re-vote on the grounds that members had been given complex resolutions just before the vote, without sufficient time to study them. They described the procedures as “improper, con­fusing and manipulative”, “an em­barrassment to Anglicans every­where”.


This was the group that endorsed the declaration by a group of conservative bishops in the US that laid the ground for individual dioceses to sign up to the Anglican Covenant (News, 24 April).

Consultation on section 4 will now take place, led by a small working group, in the period leading up to the next meeting of the Joint Standing Committee (which takes place before the end of the year). At that meeting, it is expected that a revised section 4 will be approved, and the whole Covenant sent out to the provinces for adoption.

Text of the adopted resolution

The ACC:

• thanks the Covenant Design Group for their faithfulness and respons­iveness in producing the drafts for an Anglican Communion Covenant and, in particular, for the Ridley Cambridge Draft submitted to this meeting;

• recognises that an Anglican Communion Covenant may provide an effective means to strengthen and promote our common life as a Communion;

• asks the Archbishop of Canter­bury, in consultation with the Secre­tary General, to appoint a small work­ing group to consider and consult with the Provinces on section 4 and its possible revision, and to report to the next meeting of the Joint Standing Committee;

• asks the JSC, at that meeting, to approve a final form of section 4;

• asks the Secretary General to send the revised Ridley Cambridge text, at that time, only to the member Churches of the Anglican Consultative Council for consideration and decision on acceptance or adoption by them as the Anglican Communion Covenant;

• asks those member Churches to report to ACC-15 on the progress made in the processes of response to, and acceptance or adoption of, the Covenant.

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