The best thing that could happen to the proposed covenant for the Anglican Communion at this General Convention is nothing at all.
Though there undoubtedly will be strongly worded resolutions proposed from several quarters, the committee or committees handling these resolutions would do well to promote one that expresses the ongoing commitment of the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion in general and to the Windsor/covenant process in particular—and nothing more.
That’s because the present draft of the proposed covenant is not yet in its final form. There has not been sufficient opportunity to study it carefully. The time is not yet ripe for General Convention to engage in extensive debate and formal consideration of this proposal.
The process of review still has hurdles to clear. The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), meeting recently in Jamaica, has recommended remanding section 4 of the third (Ridley Cambridge) draft of the covenant to the provinces for further study and comment. Those responses are expected to be received by October. Shortly thereafter, a small group of people who have previously served on the covenant design group and who are representative of the various concerns of the provinces will meet to discuss these responses and to re-craft section 4 as appropriate. At that point, a final draft of the proposed covenant might be distributed to the provinces for further study. Only after all those steps would the process of ratification begin.
But General Convention is not expected to meet again until 2012. Shouldn't the Episcopal Church go on record now in anticipation of the final draft that probably will be released in early 2010?
No. For several reasons.
In the first place, the Episcopal Church, through its representatives at the ACC, was instrumental in ensuring that section 4 of the proposed covenant would be carefully considered by the provinces before the covenant as a whole is released to them for possible ratification. It would not be good form procedurally for our General Convention to subvert this process by its own untimely comment on the Ridley Cambridge draft as it presently stands.
Second, what the provinces will recommend by way of proposed revisions of section 4 is genuinely unknown. The covenant process is designed to be as open and consultative as possible. This will encourage fresh approaches, as well as proposed revisions that might remove stumbling blocks to ratification.
Finally, and most importantly, our honoring the covenant process would signal clearly that the Episcopal Church will not make a pre-emptive pronouncement about the anticipated outcome as if we could determine it in advance. Our considered restraint would show our willingness to listen to other voices within the Anglican Communion and to learn from them.
We have a reputation in some quarters of the Anglican Communion for rushing ahead and not waiting for others. It would not hurt us to be recognized as a province that knows how to speak after considered reflection and extensive conversation with our Anglican Communion partners. It is our turn to listen, watch and pray.