Diocesan voting on the Anglican Covenant, and what is at stake

by
29 February 2012

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From the Bishops of Bristol and Oxford

Sir, — As the majority of dioceses are soon to debate the Anglican Communion Covenant, and there is in some quarters suspicion or even hostility towards it, we would urge a pause for reflection about what is at stake, both for the Anglican Com­munion as a whole and for our own Church of England.

The Covenant process has been developed with the full participa­tion of all the Churches of the Anglican Communion. It is prob­ably the most consulted-over document the Communion has ever known. At heart, it offers a way for the Churches to renew their com­mit­­ment to each other and to ex­press their common Anglican identity and mission. It is some­thing that our own Church has been at the centre of shaping and devel­oping.

This renewed commitment is vital for the well-being of the Anglican Communion, coming at a time of disagreement and conflict over certain issues, but also amid a climate of fractiousness and often impatient communication. The Covenant says nothing about these issues, whether disagreements over human sexuality, or views over the ordination of women as bishops.

Despite the anxieties that some people are projecting on to the Covenant, the Covenant text is intentionally silent about such questions. The Covenant does not solve these debates, but rather sets out what is commonly held to be essential to our Anglican (and Christian) identity, and describes the best practice of how com­munion may be sustained within the Anglican Communion — in short, how we participate in a com­mon mission, and how we take counsel together for mutual dis­cern­ment.

The Covenant does not invent anything new. The Covenant’s description of our Anglican identity is exactly that which we have long subscribed to in our ecumenical agreements with other Churches. The description of and commitments towards our common life are exactly those that our Church exercises through participa­tion in the Instruments of Com­munion (the Lambeth Conference, Anglican Consultative Council, and Primates’ Meeting), as well as in the respect afforded to the Arch­bishop of Canterbury as instrument of communion and focus of unity.

Neither does the Covenant create any new powers, centralising or otherwise. Despite some of the views being advanced elsewhere, the Covenant rests on the autonomy of the individual Churches of the Communion, an autonomy that is to be exercised in communion and with mutual accountability.

Nor are any new powers granted to the Instruments of Communion. Instead, the Covenant constitutes a set of commitments: to consult together; to continue to discern together through areas of serious disagreement; to maintain the highest degree of communion possible, etc. These are not about binding each other, but about refusing to walk away from or disregard each other.

Disagreements are inevitable, and we are realistic about the depth of disagreement over some issues. The Covenant is essential, because it helps us both to live with and to address these differences. The Covenant offers an honest way forward, in which the nature of such differences can be discussed. The Covenant provides a frame-work for sustaining our common life even when difficult issues remain unresolved.

For both of us, the importance of the Covenant is reinforced by our relationships so valued in our Communion links. Sustained com­munion is vital for the Church in the face of political fissures and conflict, while, for very many in the Communion, the sustaining of our common life brings hope for the overcoming of ethnic and economic divides.

The Anglican Communion Covenant is currently under consideration in all the Churches of the Communion, according to their own processes for adoption. Already nine have decided to adopt it. A lukewarm response or, worse, rejection of the Covenant in the Church of England would meet with bewilderment in the wider Communion. Some would ask with the prophet Isaiah, “Can a mother forget her children?”

But it would also impoverish the Church of England. Our church life and mission is infinitely the richer for the relationships we share around the Communion. The Cov­enant offers us a precious oppor­tun­ity to consolidate those relation­ships and to demonstrate our commitment to one another as Churches. Let’s not miss this oppor­tunity offered to us in our time.

MICHAEL BRISTOL
58a High Street
Winterbourne
Bristol BS36 1JQ

JOHN OXON
Diocesan Church House
North Hinksey
Oxford OX2 0NB

From the Revd K. Ian Hobbs

Sir, — I am a member of the Salisbury diocesan synod. A big issue is that the vote on the Anglican Covenant (News, 24 February) was easily won in the deaneries before being lost in the diocesan synod. The old cry “We are representatives, not delegates” was yet again heard. Of course, that is true, but there is such a flagrant disregard by some of the way their deaneries vote that the connection is absurd.

There was no new information given that the Salisbury diocesan synod had not already heard. In repelling it, even the absurd was used (if you vote for the Covenant, you will have difficulty changing the colour of a stole), as well as disinformation about which parts of the Communion were going in the “no” direction. No tool, it seems, should be withheld in order to achieve the aim of rejection. The politics of this played a far more important part than the discussion on the day.

Would it have been different if this had been a better-attended synod meeting, and not in half-term? I don’t know; but I do know that it isn’t really working well enough.

IAN HOBBS
39 Icen Road
Weymouth DT3 5JL

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