ACC asked to send covenant to provinces for approval

Head of drafting group warns that communion is 'close to the point of breaking up'
May 3, 2009

The representatives of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting here May 2-12 are considering whether to ask the member provinces of the worldwide communion of churches to sign onto the latest version of the proposed Anglican covenant.

After a 40-minute presentation May 4 by retired Province of the West Indies Archbishop Drexel Gomez, who headed the covenant drafting group, the representatives were given a draft resolution to guide their private discussions between now and May 8, when they are due to decide on a course of action. The resolution calls for sending the covenant out for adoption and asks provinces to report by December 2014 "on the progress made in the processes of adoption and response to the covenant."

The resolution came to the ACC representatives from the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and the Primates, or leaders, of the communion's churches. That committee met in Kingston last week before the ACC meeting.

In presenting the resolution, Diocese of Brisbane Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, said, "Archbishop Drexel has left us with no doubt that there is no matter that will come before us this week that is more important than the question of the covenant," adding that a "solemn responsibility" had fallen on the ACC.

Gomez told the representatives that "the communion is close to the point of breaking up … The chance that the covenant offers to give something to the communion as a description of what Anglicans care about … won't last much longer."

Gomez linked the urgency of that timeframe to the July 8-17 meeting of the Episcopal Church's General Convention and the recognition by conservative Anglican leaders and former Episcopalians of a proposed new Anglican entity in North America. He also said that "a number of primates" had told him that their governing bodies "are beginning to become impatient with the communion's life if the communion can't say something clear at this stage of its life."

If the ACC does not agree to send the covenant out to the provinces for their approval, Gomez predicted, "there will be clear breaks in the communion after this meeting."

The idea for an Anglican covenant was first cited in the 2004 Windsor Report (paragraphs 113-120) as a way for the Anglican Communion to maintain unity amid differing viewpoints, especially on human sexuality issues and biblical interpretation.

Gomez told the ACC that the covenant in some ways explicitly states the nature of communion. "It is because we are Christians, sharing in the same covenant at baptism that we are in a sense already in a committed relationship with each other," he said. "What the covenant tries to do is express clearly and simply in response to the times what that relationship is, and to state explicitly that we are committed to it."

Gomez acknowledged that there is "very little appetite for an Anglican confession or statement of belief," adding that "there is certainly no appetite at all" for a central governing authority.

During a short question-and-answer session, Dato Stanley Isaacs of the Church of South East Asia and President Bishop Mouneer Anis of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East questioned the 2014 deadline. Diocese of Auckland Bishop John Paterson, who chairs the ACC, told Anis that feedback from the provinces during the discussion of the second draft of the covenant revealed that some of them would need several years for their governing systems to decide about their participation in the covenant.

Isaacs said that his province was ready to adopt the covenant immediately and suggested that other provinces could convene special meetings to consider the covenant. Aspinall said that nothing prevented immediate adoption, but that each province "will respectfully use its own processes." The Rt. Rev. Gregory Cameron, bishop of St. Asaph in the Church in Wales and outgoing deputy secretary general of the Anglican Communion, suggested that 15 to 20 provinces could adopt the covenant quickly.

Cameron also noted in response to another question that "at the moment there is no linkage to signing the covenant" and participation in the life of the communion. But, he added, "if a number of provinces were to adopt the covenant, then I think naturally the question would be asked whether some sort of assessment or change would have to take place."

Cameron's suggestion would appear to contradict Anglican Communion Secretary General Kenneth Kearon's May 2 comment that the adoption process is not envisioned as one that would require "some sort of substantial majority [of provinces to sign onto the covenant] by which time it applies to everyone." Kearon added that the covenant "would only apply to those churches of the communion which decide to covenant."

The current version, known as the Ridley Cambridge Draft, was released in April. Its first two sections, "Our Inheritance in Faith" and "The Life We Share with Others: Our Anglican Vocation," are little changed from the two previous drafts.

The third section, "Our Unity and Common Life," attempts to outline how Anglican churches relate to each other. Gomez told the ACC that while "none of the provinces wants to be ruled from abroad … being in communion is not about being in a club." Instead, he said, it is about being able to "recognize in one another the authentic Christian gospel … and means in practice being ready to be mutually accountable, and ready to learn from one another about the way ahead."

The fourth section, "Our Covenanted Life Together," provides a method for resolving disputes in the communion, Gomez said. "This is not coercive but advisory," he said. "Without any such provision, there are no processes by which dispute resolution can take place, and mutual responsibility and accountability are weakened."

He emphasized that the process laid out in the fourth section is not meant to interfere with the member provinces' canons and constitutions. "We have paid due respect to the importance of Anglican polity in an Anglican covenant," he said, describing the principle of the section as "the communion guides, each church decides."

The Anglican Communion is made up of around 77 million members in 44 regional and national churches around the globe in 164 countries.

The ACC is the Anglican Communion's most representative decision-making body and includes bishops, clergy and laity. While it has no jurisdiction over the provinces of the communion, it makes policy, approves the Anglican Communion Office's budget and encourages the communion's members to engage together in mission and ministry.

More information about plans for the meeting is available here.

Video clips from the meeting may be viewed here.