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Defeat for the Anglican Covenant in the diocesan synods: readers’ reactions

by
28 March 2012

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From the Revd Ray Simpson

Sir, — In our Passiontide liturgies, we have trod the path to the Cross. And in our common life as An­glicans?

The critics of the Archbishop of Canterbury and of the Covenant assert that the culture of, for example, the Anglican Church in Nigeria is incompatible with that of the Episcopal Church in the United States: each Church should be free to go its own way.

By rejecting the Covenant, the Episcopal Church and the Church of England find themselves on the margins of the Anglican Com­munion. Is there, however, a deeper issue? Culture is important, but, if it comes before the way of the Cross, it surely becomes an idol. The Pharisees “won the vote”, as it were, for their religion to remain sub­servient to their culture; but wherein did true religion lie?

“If I be lifted up [on the Cross] I will draw all to myself,” said Jesus, thinking of the long term (John 12.32). May that become the liturgy and leitmotif of the Anglican Com­munion.

RAY SIMPSON
Founding Guardian of the Community of Aidan and Hilda
White House
Holy Island
Berwick-Upon Tweed TD15 2SR

From the Rt Revd Michael Doe

Sir, — Two cheers for the dioceses who voted against the Covenant, but not three. It was already sunk by the conservatives, who, in essence, want to add Lambeth 1.10’s rejec­tion of gay relationships to the Lambeth Quadrilateral, and who therefore found the proposals inadequate.

Despite the Archbishop of Canterbury’s best intentions, the Covenant would have been used as a punitive measure by the trouble­makers, some of them here in the Church of England, who under­stand neither “Anglican” nor “Com­munion”. Yet it also represented a commitment that is now at risk.

The danger is that its rejection will be seen as the Church of England’s failing to listen to the concerns of the rest of the Communion. So now, even more, we need to strengthen those relationships in every way possible. Diocesan and parish links are one way of doing that. Some have made great strides in embodying what Communion should mean despite theological and cultural differences. Others have been content to retain a charitable, even neo-colonial, relationship.

We also need the broader vision and the larger picture that mission agencies can bring. USPG, in par­ticular, has always stood for a Communion-wide perspective, and for building relationships and pa­tterns of support that overcome the colonial inheritance of yesterday and the cultural differences of today.

If, as many of us believed, the answer to our problems was not a restrictive covenant, we now face a much greater challenge. Our rejec­tion of the Covenant must not be seen as turning our backs on the rest of the Communion, but as an opportunity to build new bridges, to be ready to listen as well as contrib­ute, to find new ways of supporting each other in the holistic mission of God in each and every place, and to show the world what unity in diversity can mean.

MICHAEL DOE
Preacher to Gray’s Inn
8 South Square
London WC1R 5ET

From the Revd Gerald Downing

Sir, — So “Thanks, but no” came from the majority of the diocesan synods of the Church of England to the Anglican Covenant — a relief to many of us, and an encouragement to all to continue to exercise instead a risky trust in that new covenant long ago given us by God in Christ in the Spirit.

The first covenants (Abraham, Moses, David . . .), we do well to recall, were also seen and accepted as God-given, not committee-constructed; and the scriptures of both the first and the new covenants continue to invite us into an on­going open debate about God and the things of God, in their records of past arguments left unfinalised: temples, temple, no temple; mon­archs or not; hereditary or not; rewards and punishments in this life or not; the earth cursed with the fall, or richly blessed, unfallen; heterosexual love reigns supreme, or David’s for Jonathan exceeds it; male and female equally reproduce the divine image, or differently; the divine unity is simple or complexly relational. . .

These and many more offer us a shared vocabulary, an “imaginary” of metaphor and story with which (and more from our untidy history) we can explore, argue, agree, dis­agree, experiment, reflect, pray — even lovingly — in ways that may allow us to change and be changed and grow Godward together as individuals and communities, unhampered by disciplinary threats of adverse “relational consequences”.

Without cobbled up covenantal restrictions, we remain free, as Paul has assured us, to work with diverse puzzling reflections in a mirror. Only in God’s good time — not Anglican Covenant time — may we expect to attain the clarity that might allow us to rule out our own well-meant mistakes . . . and even one another’s.

F. GERALD DOWNING
33 Westhoughton Road
Chorley PR7 4EU

From the Revd Paul Bagshaw

Sir, — In the post-mortems that will follow the death of the Anglican Covenant in England, it may be easy to miss another victim: the damage done to synodical government.

From the Windsor report onwards, there was a recognition that extraordinary steps would be needed to get round, through, or past the 44 autonomous decision-making bodies across the Com­munion while avoiding the chance of their making unilateral amendments (see para. 117).

This set the tone across the Communion. In England, the General Synod debated the principle of a Covenant, but never the wording of a draft available to the members at the time.

The Covenant was commended to dioceses on a number of grounds, including the endorsement of the General Synod. It was as­serted that the Covenant was necessary to hold the Communion together, that there was no alter­native, that the thankless work of, and personal loyalty to, the Arch­bishop of Canterbury should be sufficient reason to vote in favour, and (in the latter stages) that it was necessary as a means to support other smaller and embattled Provinces.

At no time were advocates of the Covenant prepared to engage in discussion of the actual wording and proposals. Yet it was always the document itself, not the general principle, that would have been implemented.

It may seem that defeat of the Covenant marks a resurgence of synodical self-assurance, but I think this would be to misread what has happened. In place of reasoned debate among equals, we have seen arm-twisting, debates structured to maximise the vote in favour, general arguments, and bland reassurance, avoidance of any question of sub­stance, and attempts at emotional blackmail.

Of course, bishops have always been partisan and reluctant to lose in “their” synods. But, from the Windsor report to the present, we have seen systemic attempts to marginalise and diminish synodical government itself in the name of a greater good. The failure to address the substance of the Covenant reflected a refusal to recognise Synod members as fully responsible parties in the government of our Church.

Perhaps it is time to recall the vision and persistence of the Evan­gelical leader George Goyder, who, from 1953 to 1969, battled to create synodical government. His plea was simple, reasonable, and still pert­inent: for proper partnership in decision-making.

PAUL BAGSHAW
45 St Peter’s Road, Byker
Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 2FW

From the Revd Jean M. Mayland

Sir, — When the Covenant was referred to the dioceses, it was sent only with material in favour and not, as with women bishops, with a list of points for and against.

Initially, the dioceses sent out only material in favour. It was after only a great deal of effort that some diocesan authorities were persuaded to send out balanced material.

In many dioceses, there was only one speaker making the presenta­tion about the Covenant — ostens­ibly balanced, but in fact a speech in favour, mentioning a few points against.

In the majority of dioceses, the bishop made a strong speech in favour before the debate began.

In one diocese, the bishop made a passionate speech in favour, and showed the Archbishop’s video, and then the proposer made a formal but detailed speech in favour. Only after all this was the young man speaking in opposition able to open his mouth. Luckily, he kept his cool, and in that particular diocese both Houses of Clergy and Laity voted strongly against.

In another diocese, there was a tie in the House of Laity, and at the recount a senior layman who had abstained changed his vote and voted in favour, and so it was just carried in that House.

Never again should the Church of England deal with an important matter in a manner that contravenes all standards of fair debate in England.

The second area of concern is the House of Bishops, whose votes were distinctly out of kilter with those of the clergy and laity. We are told that they felt that they must support the Covenant out of loyalty to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Many wrestled hard with their consciences on this matter, but only a handful had the courage to vote against.

This is because they are now bound by ideas of collegiality which go back to the approval by the House of Bishops of a report, Bishops in Communion: Collegiality in the service of the koinonia of the Church, written by Bishop John Hind and Dr Mary Tanner, and adopted by the House of Bishops in 2000. The Bishops need to break out of this false collegiality, and model for the Church and society a pattern of leadership which is open and honest about differences.

It used not to be like this — certainly not in the first 20 years of synodical government, to my know­ledge. When the General Synod failed to obtain the necessary per­cent­ages of votes for the Anglican-Methodist Unity Scheme to be accepted, the Archbishop of Canter­bury at that time, Michael Ramsey, was bitterly disappointed, but he did not attack or blame those who thought differently. He stood up in his great chair with his eyebrows beetling up and down and called out “Long live God! Long live God!”

That is the message that we, with all our honest differences, need to proclaim to our nation today.

JEAN M. MAYLAND
5 Hackwood Glade, Hexham
Northumberland NE 46 1AL

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