CANADA: Bishops recommend Anglican covenant 'for consideration' by General Synod

January 13, 2010

The Canadian House of Bishops has approved a resolution recommending that the final text of the proposed Anglican Communion covenant be presented for consideration to the General Synod meeting in June. It stopped short, however, of recommending the adoption of the covenant, after some members expressed the view that it was up to General Synod to make that determination. Provinces of the Anglican Communion are being asked to consider adopting the covenant, which has been recommended as a way of healing divisions triggered by debates over the issue of sexuality. Distribution of the final text was delayed after the Anglican Consultative Council, the communion's main policy-making body, decided that a controversial section dealing with dispute resolution and which entities can sign on to the covenant needed further review and revision. The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion released the final draft last December. The final draft now makes it "absolutely clear" that it is the "family of national churches and provinces, not dioceses" that can sign on to the covenant, said the diocesan bishop of Ontario, George Bruce, who chairs the Anglican Communion Working Group of the Anglican Church of Canada. Earlier there were concerns that the covenant's Section 4 was too ambiguous on the nature of church that it could include entities other than those who are members of the Anglican Communion. In a short video posted on YouTube after the final draft's release, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said the covenant is not a constitution "and it's certainly not going to be a penal code for punishing people who don't comply." Bruce also noted that the Canadian Anglican church's concern over the tone of the covenant has been addressed and it is now more "pastoral and relational." The diocesan bishop of Niagara, Michael Bird, reiterated his diocese's concern that the covenant's "central focus is the creation of a shared mind around particular issues." He asked, "When has that been the central focus of the Anglican Church? What would this have meant for the ordination of women? Would we be celebrating the ordination of women if this covenant was in place?" Bishop Linda Nicholls, suffragan bishop of Toronto (Trent-Durham), asked whether the House of Bishops had the right to recommend the covenant's adoption. "We have no juridical authority. We will be prejudging what General Synod may want," she said. Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada agreed, saying, "There's no question we're committed to consideration of the covenant. I do hear anxiety when people move to language of adoption ... I plead we don't rush this process. This is as far as we should go at this point."