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General Synod: Covenant killed by 17 people

30 November 2012

Anglican Covenant

ALTHOUGH the Church of England's adoption of the Anglican Covenant had been thwarted at diocesan-synod level, the General Synod still held a debate on the report on the reference to the diocesan synods, which included the voting figures.

Introducing the debate, the Archdeacon of Dorking (Guildford), the Ven. Julian Henderson, who chairs the Business Committee, reported that 18 dioceses had voted in favour of the Covenant, and 26 against. "The draft Act of Synod was not approved by a majority of the dioceses; so it cannot be presented to you as General Synod for final approval."

A closer look at individual votes, however, showed that, while, in some cases, the majorities had been substantial, in others the voting in the House of Laity or the House of Clergy, or in both, had been "very close indeed", the Archdeacon said. "If just 17 individuals in five particular dioceses had voted to support the Covenant rather than oppose it, a bare majority of dioceses would have approved the Covenant. By contrast, if a total of just ten individuals across five other dioceses had voted against, instead of in favour, the majority of synods voting against would have been much greater: 31 to 13."

Altogether, "a majority of dioceses voted against, but a majority of the diocesan-synod members who voted actually voted in favour."

Nine dioceses that voted against the Anglican Covenant motion had passed following motions affirming support for the Communion. "It is the intention of the Business Committee to allow considerable time in the not-too-distant future to take those following motions, and to have a substantial debate on our relationships within the Communion."

Canon Joyce Jones (Wakefield) said that "to stop talking to people who disagree with you, or exclude them in some way, seems to go against the nature of Anglicanism." It would be "one thing for people to decide they're out of communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, but quite another for him to decide he's out of communion with them".

Canon Chris Sugden (Oxford) described the Anglican Communion as "a wonderful, global Christian fellowship of Churches. . . Most members are black, female, under 30, and live on $2 a day or less."

The Anglican Covenant process had "adopted a fellowship model to address a governance issue", he said. "If there is no symmetry between national church provinces and the global Communion such that the global Communion cannot direct provinces, [then] the hard question to explore is whether there is an acceptable degree of symmetry that will give enough common ground for accountability."

Canon Robert Cotton (Guildford) said that there was now an increasing recognition of two ways of authority, two ways of meeting: first, "the legislation, management, and committees"; second, "the authority of action - the Anglican Alliance, continuing indaba. These threads make the bonds that hold us together which we willingly want to adopt."

Joy Gilliver (Chichester) said that the Church must embody the "communion of love, relationship, and unity that is of essence of Trinity". "Bonds of communion are not optional: they have to be part of our internal DNA. A federation of independent Churches simply won't do."

In the Covenant, she did not see "the language that speaks of centralisation, division, or exclusion; I see language of invitation, to dialogue, to consider the impact of certain actions." By rejecting the Covenant, "we have effectively put ourselves outside the capacity to influence the Covenant's development."

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said that he still believed that the Covenant "offered the Communion a better way. . . We are all in the Anglican Communion in need of each other; so may Christ's glory and unity lead us graciously to embrace one another in a covenant of mutual dependence."

Prudence Dailey (Oxford), who was involved in setting up the Yes to the Covenant website, said that her "biggest regret" had been that "I didn't do something sooner". There had been "a great deal of ignorance" at deanery synods.

The Revd Maggie McLean (Wakefield) disagreed with Miss Dailey, saying that there had been an "informed debate" at her diocesan synod. Wakefield had felt "the need to move beyond the intended benefits of the Covenant and consider the long-term impact and unintended consequences of, particularly, section 4".

The Archbishop of Canterbury said he suspected that "some of the dioceses didn't entirely register which provinces in the Communion had adopted [the Covenant] and why." It had been adopted "most readily" by smaller provinces "for whom international bonds and links matter enormously". "We ought at least to ponder" the experience of these smaller provinces. It was also necessary, he said, "to identify what the unfinished business is, whether there is any role for an agreed process of conflict resolution in Communion".

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) said that objectors to the Covenant had not been in "cloud-cuckoo-land", as some had suggested. Maybe the Anglican Communion was in cloud-cuckoo-land in thinking this particular design would work." Most people would have been comfortable with Clauses 1 to 3 of the Covenant.

Canon Giles Goddard (Southwark) reported that the debate in Southwark had been "positive, thoughtful, and well-informed. . . There was a real concern that the Covenant would reduce the Church of England's ability to engage with the people of England, and that's why the dioceses chose not to support it."

Canon Simon Kilwick (Manchester) said: "We simply cannot afford a 'little England' mentality. . . I regret the failure of the Covenant to be approved by the majority of diocesan synods. This could effectively mean that the mother Church of the Communion has killed off the Covenant."

Dr Angus Goudie (Durham) said that he believed that, in the Durham diocese, "there was a sense that the final section [4] was more open . . . and that any punitive action" was seen as something that was "more hinted at and read into it by others".

Jack Shelley (Exeter) felt that Clause 4 "had only one outcome, which is schism. . . We need to learn how to live together even while we wound each other as we implement our diverse and sometimes incompatible theologies."

The Synod voted to take note of the report.



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