Covenant aligns with Episcopal identity

June 25, 2009

Over the next few years, the provinces of the Anglican Communion will receive and study an invitation to deeper relationship through a formal covenant. The text (with a few procedural items still being edited) may be found online at the website of the Anglican Communion Office.

For our upcoming General Convention, I am a co-sponsor of a resolution, D020, titled "Provisional Acceptance of the Anglican Covenant." It builds on the foundation of two resolutions adopted by the last General Convention in 2006.

Resolution A159 affirmed the commitment of the Episcopal Church to the interdependent life of the Anglican Communion and our desire to live with our brother and sister Anglican churches in "the highest degree of communion possible." Resolution A166 affirmed the commitment of our church to participation in the development of an Anglican covenant.

The 2006 convention also (resolution A160) expressed regret that "our failure to accord sufficient importance to the impact of our actions on our church and other parts of the communion" has "strained" the "bonds of affection" in the communion.

This year, D020 commends the Anglican covenant to our dioceses for study in the next triennium and asks for the creation of a special task force to consider what modifications of our Constitution and Canons might be required if the Episcopal Church were to adopt it.

Importantly, the resolution asks that as we study and discuss the covenant over the next three years, we make a voluntary commitment to live to the highest degree possible in accordance with both its spirit and its guidelines for collaborative life in the communion.

Which is to say—and this is the source of our resolution's title--that during this time of discernment we engage voluntarily, "provisionally," in the deeper patterns of mutuality, of communion-wide conversation and consultation envisioned by the covenant, showing thoughtful restraint when considering any action that might further strain relationships and complicate a decision to endorse and adopt the covenant in 2012.

We would decide first where we are as a church on the larger issues of relationship and commitment, in a period of patient, collaborative discernment, and not create "realities on the ground" in a way that would preempt or pre-determine the results.

Some have suggested that the choice is between polar extremes: either we submit to an authoritarian international hierarchy, or we describe ourselves as some kind of autonomous American "denomination" affiliated on an ad hoc basis with some of the other churches around the world sharing similar historical backgrounds.

My view is that the covenant offers a third possibility--one more authentically aligned with our identity as a church that has from its beginning understood itself as simultaneously independent and interdependent - independent in terms of polity and governance, to be sure, but profoundly interdependent in character and spiritual identity.

The covenant is at its heart about recovering and renewing within our Anglican family of churches the spirit of Christian life reflected in Paul's word, "the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you'" (I Corinthians 12:21). The covenant says that it is from within the Anglican Communion that we of the Episcopal Church will continue the long process of learning what it means to be one in Christ Jesus.

The covenant flows naturally out of William Smith's wonderful preface to the first, 1789 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church, when he wrote that "this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require."

Our participation in and heartfelt endorsement of the process of creating the covenant builds on the great accomplishments of the Episcopal Church through the 19th and 20th centuries to develop and strengthen the institutions and relationships of Anglican life, and it is fully in accord with the commitments made at the great Anglican Congress of 1963 in Toronto, as we and the wider Anglican family together affirmed a common life marked by "MRI"-- Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence.

In this season of fragmentation, disintegration, schism—as certainly we here in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh have felt with special force—the eyes of our Anglican brothers and sisters, of the wider Christian community, and of those beyond, will look to us as we gather in Anaheim.

There is no expectation of a final decision about the covenant in 2009, of course. But there is a hope, a deep hope, that this wider family and community will see in us not a force for further division, but for healing and reconciliation.

It is my hope and prayer that at this General Convention we will accept the invitation--that we will choose to share with our Anglican brothers and sisters in the life of a communion being strengthened and renewed in a relationship of covenant.

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