Covenant is to be used as litmus test of Anglicanism

by
22 April 2009

by staff reporters

“Waiting in hope”: Lord Carey, who was at the Anglican Communion Partner bishops’ Houston meeting PA

“Waiting in hope”: Lord Carey, who was at the Anglican Communion Partner bishops’ Houston meeting PA

CONSERVATIVE BISHOPS in the United States are preparing to challenge their church hierarchy over the Anglican Covenant, it emerged this week.

A group of conservatives, known as the Anglican Communion Partners, met in Houston earlier this month and agreed a statement that is expected to be published this week.

In it, they express concern that the the Episcopal Church as a whole will resist signing the Covenant — the document that has been drafted to regularise belief and practice in the Anglican Communion in the wake of the consecration of the Rt Revd Gene Robinson, an openly gay bishop, in 2003.

The statement asserts the right of individual dioceses to sign the Covenant. Failure by the Church to sign the Covenant, or any attempt to prevent dioceses’ signing, “would be decisive”.

At the same time as producing this statement, the Anglican Com­munion Partner bishops have been planning to test the waters of diocesan autonomy. In a series of emails, they have discussed a potential request for alternative episcopal oversight by a priest in the diocese of Colorado, where the Bishop is a liberal (see further news).

The Anglican Partner bishops have declared themselves to be loyal to the Episcopal Church and to the Anglican Communion. Their move can be seen as an alternative path to that taken by the Common Cause Anglicans in the United States, who last year established the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) under the deposed Bishop of Pittsburgh, the Rt Revd Bob Duncan.

None the less, their latest move to use the Covenant as a test of orthodoxy parallels moves by the ACNA last week. The Covenant has been criticised by conservatives in the past, and the first version of a communiqué issued by the GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) Primates in London last week appeared to be sceptical about the latest draft of the Covenant (the “Ridley draft”, News, 17 April): “While we support the concept of an Anglican Covenant . . . if those who have left the standards of the Bible are able to enter the Covenant with a good conscience, it seems to be of little use.”

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This was later changed to: “We welcome the Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant and call for principled response from the provinces.”

Interviewed at Heathrow on Thursday of last week, Bishop Duncan said that the Covenant would be debated at the ACNA provincial assembly in June. “We imagine that, while we as the Anglican Church in North Ameri-can ratify the Covenant, neither the US Church, when it meets three weeks later, nor the Church of Canada, when it has its next general synod, will be in any hurry to ratify it. The question will be for the Communion: ‘Who actually are the partners?’”

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Revd Lord Carey, was at the Houston meeting of Communion Partner bishops. Interviewed afterwards by The Living Church, he expressed concern for the future of the conservative bishops remaining in the Episcopal Church. “All signs suggest that, over time, they are likely to be cleaned out of the Episcopal Church.”

He was none the less hopeful that the Communion Partner bishops would be able to act as bridge-builders, speaking of “that day — should it come — when new leaders will arise in the United States and Canada who will value the Communion and align [the Episcopal Church] and the Canadian Church with the rest of us. We will be waiting in hope.”

US contingency plan asserts diocesan authority
by Pat Ashworth

FOURTEEN conservative bishops in the United States have declared that the Episcopal Church consists of autono­­mous but interdependent dio­ceses, “not subject to any metro­political power or hierarchical control”.

The national Church has no power to speak for them, says a statement expected to be published later this week. The document lays the ground for individual dioceses to sign the Anglican Covenant.

It is written largely by a retired lawyer, Mark McCall, and is endorsed by conservative theologians from the three-member Anglican Commu­nion Institute (ACI). They include the Revd Dr Ephraim Radner, a member of the Covenant Design Group.

A flurry of emails among the instigators, seen by the Church Times, demonstrates how the bishops, most of whom are members of the Communion Partners net­work, are planning a strategy to be used in the event of a bishop’s not signing up to the Covenant. The strategy will be tried out in a parish in Colorado, and its details are set out in the email exchanges, which began on Saturday 18 April, the day the statement is dated.

The statement argues that, in the “recent controversies surrounding the withdrawal of dioceses from the Episcopal Church”, the Presiding Bishop, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, did not have the constitutional authority to speak on its behalf in civil-litigation cases.

 It argues, moreover, that there is no central hierarchy; that the part played by the General Convention is secondary; and that the use of the word “acceding” to describe the act of dioceses’ accepting the Constitution is “treaty language”, allowing them to retain their sovereignty, freedom, and independence.

It argues that the Episcopal Church lacks the structures and mechanisms of a central hierarchical council, and has no language that makes it the “supreme” authority. With reference to the Pittsburgh dispute last year, when the Presiding Bishop deposed the Bishop, the Rt Revd Bob Duncan, the statement calls Dr Jefferts Schori’s inter­pretation of the Church’s law “novel”. In the US, unlike the C of E, priests’ vows contain no pledge of obedience to a metropolitan or central hierarchy.

It declares that it is a diocese’s constitutional right to maintain membership of the Anglican Com­munion, and says: “We have noted with increasing concern statements by leaders and bodies of the Episcopal Church questioning our participation in the proposed An­glican Covenant and opining that dioceses may not sign the covenant if the Episcopal Church as a whole were to refrain from doing so on behalf of all its dioceses.”

Failure to maintain membership of the Anglican Communion “would plunge The Episcopal Church into a constitutional crisis. . . We must speak plainly here. Any attempt to prevent willing dioceses from signing the covenant would be uncon­stitutional and thereby void.”

 It concludes: “We intend to exercise our episcopal authority to remain constituent members of the Anglican Communion and will continue to speak on these issues as necessary.”

Almost all the 14 signatories are Anglican Communion Partner bish­ops: the Bishops of Texas, Central Florida, Springfield, Dallas (diocesan and suffragan), Western Louisiana, Rhode Island, Western Kansas, Al­bany, Tennessee, South Carolina, Rio Grande (provisional bishop), and the retired bishops of South Carolina and Pittsburgh.

The three theologians who make up the ACI, Canon Christopher Seitz, the Revd Dr Philip Turner, and Dr Radner have endorsed it.

In an email to Mr McCall, Canon Seitz outlines the plan for Colorado. A Colorado priest “will request of [Mark Lawrence, Bishop of South Carolina] as a Communion Partner bishop, a ‘visitation’, the purpose of which is to prevent his parishioners from concluding that the only route for them is joining ACNA (which will be happening in Colorado soon) because their Diocesan is not fore­grounding his covenant commit­ments and indeed has ordained an openly homosexual priest, etc., but also has said he means to create space for others’ views, etc.

“[Mark Lawrence] will phone [Robert O’Neill, Bishop of Colorado] and ask that his request be honoured and seek to persuade him of its importance. [Mark Lawrence] will ask [Bishop Ed Salmon, retired Bishop of South Carolina] to visit. . .

“At issue here is said parish understanding that they have some connective tissue to a covenant their Diocesan may wish to avoid, without challenging the Diocesan as to his authority, and so underscoring a way to remain in the Episcopal Church and not leave for ACNA but to affirm Communion life and differentia­tion.”

Canon Seitz emphasises the role of Pastoral Visitors, who “need to come into play in time as independent of deal-making and/or mild forms of extortion”.

Canon Seitz counsels against seeking permission from the Presiding Bishop. “She does not have the authority, and should not be given it, to endorse or be asked to approve of things like this, and we need to avoid giving it to her or continually to reinforce a perception she and her agents are cultivating that she is a metropolitan. . .

“I would be loathe [sic] to negotiate a single thing with her. The tide, in my view, is not running in her direction, and we must in all things avoid the idea that she is giving gifts or has any to give. . .

“The ACI statement with ten or so signatories will signal where our principles are in this matter and by what logic we are defending the polity of this Church and so of the Church in Communion.”

Mr McCall replies, speculating on who will sign or could be got to sign. He suggests Bishop Gary Lillibridge, who also serves on the Windsor Continuation Group, who “would be a big plus given his Communion work”. Bishop Lillibridge did not sign. More exchanges follow.

US contingency plan asserts diocesan authority
by Pat Ashworth

FOURTEEN conservative bishops in the United States have declared that the Episcopal Church consists of autono­­mous but interdependent dio­ceses, “not subject to any metro­political power or hierarchical control”.

The national Church has no power to speak for them, says a statement expected to be published later this week. The document lays the ground for individual dioceses to sign the Anglican Covenant.

It is written largely by a retired lawyer, Mark McCall, and is endorsed by conservative theologians from the three-member Anglican Commu­nion Institute (ACI). They include the Revd Dr Ephraim Radner, a member of the Covenant Design Group.

A flurry of emails among the instigators, seen by the Church Times, demonstrates how the bishops, most of whom are members of the Communion Partners net­work, are planning a strategy to be used in the event of a bishop’s not signing up to the Covenant. The strategy will be tried out in a parish in Colorado, and its details are set out in the email exchanges, which began on Saturday 18 April, the day the statement is dated.

The statement argues that, in the “recent controversies surrounding the withdrawal of dioceses from the Episcopal Church”, the Presiding Bishop, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, did not have the constitutional authority to speak on its behalf in civil-litigation cases.

 It argues, moreover, that there is no central hierarchy; that the part played by the General Convention is secondary; and that the use of the word “acceding” to describe the act of dioceses’ accepting the Constitution is “treaty language”, allowing them to retain their sovereignty, freedom, and independence.

It argues that the Episcopal Church lacks the structures and mechanisms of a central hierarchical council, and has no language that makes it the “supreme” authority. With reference to the Pittsburgh dispute last year, when the Presiding Bishop deposed the Bishop, the Rt Revd Bob Duncan, the statement calls Dr Jefferts Schori’s inter­pretation of the Church’s law “novel”. In the US, unlike the C of E, priests’ vows contain no pledge of obedience to a metropolitan or central hierarchy.

It declares that it is a diocese’s constitutional right to maintain membership of the Anglican Com­munion, and says: “We have noted with increasing concern statements by leaders and bodies of the Episcopal Church questioning our participation in the proposed An­glican Covenant and opining that dioceses may not sign the covenant if the Episcopal Church as a whole were to refrain from doing so on behalf of all its dioceses.”

Failure to maintain membership of the Anglican Communion “would plunge The Episcopal Church into a constitutional crisis. . . We must speak plainly here. Any attempt to prevent willing dioceses from signing the covenant would be uncon­stitutional and thereby void.”

 It concludes: “We intend to exercise our episcopal authority to remain constituent members of the Anglican Communion and will continue to speak on these issues as necessary.”

Almost all the 14 signatories are Anglican Communion Partner bish­ops: the Bishops of Texas, Central Florida, Springfield, Dallas (diocesan and suffragan), Western Louisiana, Rhode Island, Western Kansas, Al­bany, Tennessee, South Carolina, Rio Grande (provisional bishop), and the retired bishops of South Carolina and Pittsburgh.

The three theologians who make up the ACI, Canon Christopher Seitz, the Revd Dr Philip Turner, and Dr Radner have endorsed it.

In an email to Mr McCall, Canon Seitz outlines the plan for Colorado. A Colorado priest “will request of [Mark Lawrence, Bishop of South Carolina] as a Communion Partner bishop, a ‘visitation’, the purpose of which is to prevent his parishioners from concluding that the only route for them is joining ACNA (which will be happening in Colorado soon) because their Diocesan is not fore­grounding his covenant commit­ments and indeed has ordained an openly homosexual priest, etc., but also has said he means to create space for others’ views, etc.

“[Mark Lawrence] will phone [Robert O’Neill, Bishop of Colorado] and ask that his request be honoured and seek to persuade him of its importance. [Mark Lawrence] will ask [Bishop Ed Salmon, retired Bishop of South Carolina] to visit. . .

“At issue here is said parish understanding that they have some connective tissue to a covenant their Diocesan may wish to avoid, without challenging the Diocesan as to his authority, and so underscoring a way to remain in the Episcopal Church and not leave for ACNA but to affirm Communion life and differentia­tion.”

Canon Seitz emphasises the role of Pastoral Visitors, who “need to come into play in time as independent of deal-making and/or mild forms of extortion”.

Canon Seitz counsels against seeking permission from the Presiding Bishop. “She does not have the authority, and should not be given it, to endorse or be asked to approve of things like this, and we need to avoid giving it to her or continually to reinforce a perception she and her agents are cultivating that she is a metropolitan. . .

“I would be loathe [sic] to negotiate a single thing with her. The tide, in my view, is not running in her direction, and we must in all things avoid the idea that she is giving gifts or has any to give. . .

“The ACI statement with ten or so signatories will signal where our principles are in this matter and by what logic we are defending the polity of this Church and so of the Church in Communion.”

Mr McCall replies, speculating on who will sign or could be got to sign. He suggests Bishop Gary Lillibridge, who also serves on the Windsor Continuation Group, who “would be a big plus given his Communion work”. Bishop Lillibridge did not sign. More exchanges follow.

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