'Evolving' covenant adoption process makes for ambiguity

May 4, 2009

Two leaders in the development of the proposed Anglican covenant said here May 5 that the process which might be used for Anglican entities to adopt the document is "evolving," even as that evolution has made for some seemingly contradictory statements in the past days.

Welsh Diocese of St. Asaph Bishop Gregory Cameron, former deputy secretary general of the Anglican Communion and secretary to the Covenant Design Group, told reporters "we're feeling our way" in terms of the implications for those provinces that decide not to sign onto the covenant, whether entities other than the provinces which are now members of the Anglican Consultative Council (as listed in the council's constitution) would be allowed to adopt the covenant and whether there would be a time limit for provinces to decide.

On May 4, Cameron had told reporters 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."

That suggestion appeared 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."

"We're talking about a dynamic process here," Cameron said on May 5. "We're talking about a process that is evolving." He added the "original vision" of the covenant assumed that all the provinces of the communion would adopt the covenant "and that it would govern the life of the Anglican Communion."

Cameron and retired Province of the West Indies Archbishop Drexel Gomez, who headed the Covenant Design Group, answered reporters' questions the day after the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) began considering whether to ask the provinces of the Anglican Communion to adopt the latest version of proposed Anglican covenant.

The request for the ACC to send the covenant out for adoption by the provinces came from the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and the Primates (JSC). Cameron said on May 5 that the JSC "at this stage wanted to offer the covenant to the provinces," but the ACC could decide to open the adoption process to other entities such as dioceses and Anglican-related organizations that are not now in the Anglican Communion.

Cameron said he detects "enthusiasm" among ACC members for what he called "an open-ended covenant, a covenant which encourages others to join and wants as wide a membership in the covenant as possible rather than a narrow one."

Gomez told reporters that, if the ACC agrees, the provinces would first have the chance to adopt the covenant. "If the covenant then comes into force, I think there is a provision within the text (paragraph 4.1.5) that opens the door for the possibility for dioceses and entities other than provinces signing up. That's what I call a second-level issue." It was not clear how the covenant would be seen as having come into force.

Paragraph 4.1.5 of the covenant says, "It shall be open to other Churches to adopt the Covenant," but does not define "other Churches."

"We left it in that framework," Gomez said.

Gomez told reporters that the JSC will be the arbiter of which organizations other than provinces can adopt the covenant. "They're the gatekeepers as it were of the covenant process," he said.

Cameron noted that the Covenant Design Group said an earlier commentary that the provinces are the "primary parties for whom the covenant has been designed." However, it added that if the canons and constitutions of a province permit, "there is no reason why a diocesan synod should not commit itself to the covenant, thus strengthening its commitment to the interdependent life of the communion."

Cameron said it would be up to a province to decide if its dioceses could adopt the covenant. A group of active and retired Episcopal Church bishops recently challenged the polity of the U.S.-based province by saying that they believed that its dioceses could take that action. There has been no official response to that claim.

The JSC draft resolution, which Cameron said was meant for purposes of discussion only and would no doubt change before the ACC voted, called for provinces to act by December 2014. Cameron said that some participants have said "they would like to see a tighter timeframe for the reception of the covenant."

"Obviously, it's too early to say where the mind of the council will settle," he said. "I don't hear any voices saying they'd like it to be longer."

Cameron also said there is "not a definitive policy proposal" about how a province that did not adopt the covenant would relate to the communion. "I think people are doing thinking about the way in which the life of the communion might develop and I think that is a legitimate question to ask," he said.

Also during the news conference, Gomez was asked to expand on a comment made during his May 4 covenant presentation to the ACC that the Episcopal Church's General Convention meeting this summer threatened the future of the Anglican Communion. He told reporters that he had seen "on the net" some "statements that are alleged to be resolutions that are going to be put before convention." Gomez was at first reluctant to describe that material, but later called it "some stuff I saw related to the sexuality question" and "one about removing any barrier to persons involved in same-sex relationships."

"It did seem to me that if those are passed by the convention, that the state of the communion would be somewhat imperiled [because] other provinces would react to that kind of action," Gomez said.

ACC members are spending May 4-6 in open and closed sessions considering both the covenant request as well as a request for them to affirm some of the recommendations in the on the recommendations of the Windsor Continuation Group's final report.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams briefed the ACC on the continuation group's recommendations early on May 5.

An open "decision-making" plenary session on the covenant and the continuation group's work is set for May 8.

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 can be found here.

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