Covenant design team sends 'best possible draft' to Anglican Consultative Council

April 7, 2009

Calling it "the best possible draft," the group assigned to create the text for a proposed Anglican covenant released its third version April 8. The new draft is named "Ridley Cambridge" for Ridley Hall in Cambridge, England, where the Covenant Design Group met from March 30 to April 3.

The draft will be formally presented to the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) -- the Anglican Communion's main legislative body and the only one of its Instruments of Communion with the authority to ask Anglican provinces to sign onto the covenant -- for discussion at its May 1-13 meeting in Kingston, Jamaica.

Should the ACC accept the draft during the Jamaica meeting, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has said that she would "strongly discourage" any effort to bring such a request to the 76th General Convention in July 2009. The Episcopal Church's Executive Council agreed in January, saying that such a decision would need the full three years between meetings of General Convention to "prayerfully engage the faithful of all the dioceses of the Episcopal Church as to their discernment in respect to the covenant" and listen to other provinces "as they discuss and wrestle with the generalities and particularities of an Anglican covenant."

The new draft is a revision of the St. Andrew's Draft with a new fourth section added in response to criticism of an appendix to that draft, which outlined a procedure to resolve covenant disagreements. The new fourth section, titled "Our Covenanted Life Together," addresses "the matter of joining, participating in and leaving the covenant, and resolving matters of dispute," the design group said in its commentary.

The introduction to the Ridley Cambridge draft is available here, and the draft text is here. The Covenant Design Group's commentary on the text is available here.

The Covenant Design Group said in its commentary that it "labored to produce the best possible draft which we can commend together to serve the needs of the Communion at this juncture in its life."

"We offer this work in the hope that it will strengthen the interdependent life of the churches of the communion, freeing them for more effective mission and witness to the gift of Christ in the gospel," the group said.

There were about 20 provincial responses to the Saint Andrew's Draft, along with what an Anglican Communion News Service release called "a large number of responses from individuals, diocesan synods and other institutions including ecumenical partners." The responses were being published April 8 on the Anglican Communion website here.

Bishop Herbert A. Donovan, the Presiding Bishop's deputy for Anglican Communion relations, issued a short statement after the release of the Ridley Cambridge Draft saying, "We recognize the dedicated efforts of the Covenant Design Committee in the presentation of the most recent draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant, and are thankful for their hard work."

House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson also issued a statement in which she said she found it "reassuring" that "the most recent draft underscores, in Section Four, that the covenant does not undercut canons and constitution (read 'local authority') of churches."

Saying she was "a bit surprised" that the draft was issued during Holy Week and noting that she would spend more time studying the text after Easter, Anderson said that "on first reading it appears that the Covenant Design Group demonstrates a faithfulness to the discussions at Lambeth and to the comments made by the Episcopal Church on the St. Andrew’s draft."

Praising the way the design group "has moved forward with great care and has listened to the concerns raised by the provinces," Anderson added that "the draft covenant remains much too structurally focused."

"Why is there such emphasis on strengthening the 'instruments' and 'institutions'?," she asked. "God calls us together into a more relational and missional way of being the body of Christ. We do not need structures to determine relationships."

Episcopal Church members of design group promote new version

The Rev. Dr. A. Katherine Grieb, New Testament professor at Virginia Theological Seminary, and the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College in Toronto, both told ENS that they believe the Ridley Cambridge Draft responds to the concerns expressed during the year-long comment period.

Grieb said that the last version of the covenant is a "sounder draft" that was aided by responses from many of the communion's provinces, along with the Lambeth Commentary, a compilation of covenant discussions held during the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops and the design group's responses.

Grieb said the group's work during its Cambridge meeting was grounded in daily prayer and Bible study so that "we were listening for the voice of the Spirit and listening to the voices of the provinces."

"This was a document written in service of the provinces of the Anglican Communion so we will wait to see if we have heard them," Grieb said of the third covenant draft. "We think we have. We worked hard to, but we won’t know that until we have heard back from the provinces."

"The most important thing right now is for the provinces and especially the representatives to the ACC to give the covenant a very close reading," she said, "so that whatever concerns there are about it or implications for provinces that we may not have anticipated can be brought up at the ACC."

As members of the communion read the Ridley Cambridge Draft, Grieb said, she hopes that they remember that "there's some give and take in communion discourses in general where there is sacrifice and self-limitation required of all the parties to this proposed covenant."

"I would hope we would be mindful of the way that the church works best when all the parts of the body are focused on the common good and the welfare of the whole," she said.

Grieb told ENS that "it's safe to say that there is no phrase or word that was not studied with great care," and that she and she suspects other members of the design group "will be happy to explicate" the wording of the text.

"I think that this draft is significantly better. The interests of the communion as a whole are more clearly defined in it. I will be working hard to interpret and promote this draft of the covenant."

Radner said that the group's "deep work and engagement" has made for a covenant that is "not perfect, but it represents the best that the communion's mechanisms can put together that reflect the broadest and most consistent commonalities of our commitments in Christ." He said he hopes that those who read and study it will be open to its invitation to live a "deeper" life together as Christians and Anglicans.

Radner said the group heard from bishops with a "broad range of theological viewpoints" who asked during the Lambeth Conference for "a covenant that was somehow relationally articulated."

"Now, what that meant to people obviously also differed, but that was a common thing," he said. "We held that very clearly before us as a major guiding principle."

That principle is evidenced, he said, in the way the Ridley Cambridge Draft "lays out a vision of the church's communal life which is more organic probably than the previous one."

Eventual implementation of a covenant, Radner predicted, "is going to happen gradually, inevitably."

"That is to say, there isn’t a date by which everybody has to sign on; there may be a cut-off point that everybody agrees among themselves to do," he said, but he added that the variety of provincial decision-making processes and timeframes means "we're looking at a covenant that can't suddenly be implemented and everything changes."

As individual churches sign on to the covenant, Radner said that hypothetically "at a certain point a critical mass of covenanting churches will probably influence the instruments of communion themselves -- the ACC -- to change the way they do their business."

"At that point you will see a kind of polity change within the communion potentially, but not until that point," he said. "And there will be a mixed transitional time as people learn what it means, in [Archbishop of Canterbury] Rowan Williams' term, to live together more intensely. Not everybody will be doing that inevitably and that won't mean a split up of the communion, but it will mean a change from within, if you will, of the communion's way of living together."

Section Four attempts to balance provincial autonomy, communion relations

The design group acknowledged in its commentary on the new fourth section that "one of the main fears attached to the idea of a covenant is that it would limit provincial autonomy" and said that the new section is "constructed on the fundamental principle of the constitutional autonomy of each church."

"The covenant of itself cannot amend or override the constitution and canons of any province," the design group wrote. "The Instruments of Communion cannot intervene in any jurisdictional way in the internal life of any of the Anglican Churches. The covenant can only speak to the relationship between the churches, and of the relational consequences of internal autonomous actions by a church."

However, the design group said that the process in the fourth section "acknowledges that if any church of the communion chooses to exercise its autonomy in a way which lessens the basis on which communion is built -- mutual recognition of faith and order, of vocation and a readiness to live in interdependence -- then other churches may wish to respond in a way which demonstrates how the bonds of affection and communion have been diminished by that action."

The process allows either the ACC or the Primates Meeting to declare an action by a province to be "incompatible with the covenant." The Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and the Primates could then "make recommendations as to relational consequences to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of the Communion," which might include "a consequence for participation in the life of the Communion and its Instruments." It would be up to the province "to determine its own response to such recommendations."

House of Deputies President Anderson said that her first reading shows her that "while Section Three begins to canonize and empower the Instruments of Communion, Section Four demonstrates the structural focus of what many of us would prefer to see as a relationship-based covenant rather than a covenant based on institutional structures."

Section Four, she said, "institutionalizes, in a new way, the Primates Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council by providing for their acting, with the Joint Standing Committee, in 'overseeing the maintenance of covenanted life.'"

Section Three includes paragraph 3.1.4 which defines the scope of authority and interconnection of the four so-called Instruments of Communion: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Meeting. The paragraph says that the each province of the communion will affirm "the importance of instruments in the Anglican Communion to assist in the discernment, articulation and exercise of our shared faith and common life and mission."

Radner said that part of sections three and four "express what in fact has been happening, which has always been one of the principles of the covenant, that we bring into articulation and express realties already in place in the life of the communion that perhaps have not been articulated but have always been present."

Some kinds of tasks, such as consulting and advising and making certain decisions, are spelled out, "but those are things that have already happened in different ways," Radner said. "What’s being stressed is their coordinated, mutually accountable and cooperative nature."

Radner said that Section Three does not represent "some new canonization of the instruments."

"I don't think they're given status other than they already have," he said. "Practically speaking, however, it is articulated now in a way that is, we hope, coherent and responsible."

The fourth section also includes a provision (4.1.5) that would allow what the drafters call "other churches" to adopt the covenant, but notes that "adoption of this covenant does not bring any right of recognition by, or membership of, the Instruments of Communion. Such recognition and membership are dependent on the satisfaction of those conditions set out by each of the Instruments." The adoption of the covenant by such a body may be accompanied by a formal request for such recognition, the provision says.

The provision would appear to refer at least in part to what is being called the Anglican Church in North America, formed by members of several self-identified Anglican organizations, including people who have left Episcopal Church parishes and dioceses who have organized as the Common Cause Partnership. The organizers hope to be recognized by at least some communion provinces, but have been warned that official communion recognition is a multi-year process.

The Covenant Design Group was appointed by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on behalf of the primates and has been meeting since January 2007. The provinces of the Anglican Communion had until March 9 to submit responses to the second draft, known as the St. Andrew's Draft. The Episcopal Church's response to the second draft-- made by the Executive Council -- is available here. Council’s response to the first draft, known as the Nassau Draft, is here.

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

The members of the Covenant Design Group are:

• The Rt. Rev. Drexel Gomez, former primate of the West Indies (chair)
• The Rev. Dr. Victor Atta-Baffoe, Anglican Church of West Africa
• The Most Rev. Dr. John Chew, primate of South East Asia
• The Rev. Dr. A. Katherine Grieb, the Episcopal Church
• The Rt. Rev. Santosh Marray, bishop of the Seychelles
• The Most Rev. Dr John Neill, archbishop of Dublin
• Chancellor Rubie Nottage, Church in the Province of the West Indies
• Dr. J. Eileen Scully, Anglican Church of Canada
• The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, the Episcopal Church

The Rev. Canon Gregory Cameron, former deputy secretary general of the Anglican Communion and newly consecrated bishop of the Welsh Diocese of St. Asaph, serves as secretary to the group.