[Episcopal News Service] A majority of dioceses in the Church of England have voted down the proposed Anglican Covenant, a set of principles intended to bind the Anglican Communion provinces despite theological differences and cultural disputes.
The six diocesan synods meeting and voting on the covenant this past weekend brought the current figures to 23 against and 15 in favor, out of a total of 44 dioceses throughout the Church of England. The church’s General Synod, in November 2010, voted in favor of continuing the process towards adopting the Anglican Covenant and asked the church’s dioceses for their input.
Following the recent news, the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, issued a statement “to clarify the current situation across the Anglican Communion,” he said, noting that seven out of 38 provinces have “approved, or subscribed” to the covenant, with the Anglican Church of Southern Africa having adopted the document pending ratification at its next synod meeting later this year.
The seven provinces, Kearon said, are the Anglican churches of Ireland, Mexico, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, South East Asia, Southern Cone of America, and the West Indies.
Meanwhile, the Episcopal Church in the Philippines bishops have formally rejected the covenant and Maori action in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia last November means that it will be voted down when it comes before the province’s General Synod in July 2012.
In the U.S.-based Episcopal Church, the Executive Council agreed at its October 2011 meeting to submit a resolution to General Convention that would have it state that the church is “unable to adopt the Anglican Covenant in its present form.”
The resolution also promises that the church will “recommit itself to dialogue with the several provinces when adopting innovations which may be seen as threatening the unity of the communion” and commits to “continued participation in the wider councils of the Anglican Communion” and dialogue “with our brothers and sisters in other provinces to deepen understanding and to insure the continued integrity of the Anglican Communion.”
The 77th meeting of General Convention will decide in July whether to pass, amend and pass, or reject the resolution.
During a recent visit to England, Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of the California-based Diocese of El Camino Real, told ENS that international partnerships, such as the one that her diocese shares with Gloucester and Western Tanganyika in Tanzania, are the “antidote to the Anglican Covenant.”
Bishop Michael Perham of Gloucester, whose diocese has rejected the covenant, agreed.
The Anglican Covenant first was proposed in the 2004 Windsor Report as a way that the communion and its 38 autonomous provinces might maintain unity despite differences, especially relating to biblical interpretation and human sexuality issues. The report came in the wake of the 2003 election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as bishop of New Hampshire, a development that caused some provinces to declare broken or impaired communion with the Episcopal Church. It also was a response to some church leaders crossing borders into other provinces to minister to disaffected Anglicans.
Following years of discussion and several draft versions, the final text of the covenant was sent in December 2009 to the communion’s 38 provinces for formal consideration.
Some Episcopalians and Anglicans, including the Executive Council, have raised concerns about the covenant being used as an instrument of control, questioning in particular its section 4, which outlines a method for resolving disputes in the communion. Some critics have warned that adopting the covenant could result in a two-tier communion.
The Rev. Lesley Fellows, moderator of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, in a March 25 statement called the covenant a “proposal to centralize communion-wide authority in the hands of a small, self-selecting group.” In response to the recent news from England, she noted that the covenant debate cannot return to the agenda of General Synod for at least three years.
“We hope that the Church of England will now look to bring reconciliation within the Anglican Communion by means of strengthening relationships rather than punitive legislation,” she said.
Bishop James Jones of Liverpool, addressing his diocesan synod, which rejected the covenant on March 17, said: “Far from being the salvation of the communion the Anglican Covenant would seriously undermine it … Instead of setting us free to engage with a changing world it freezes us at a given point in our formation, holding us back and making us nervous about going beyond the boundaries and reaching out to God’s world.
“When we are in Christ, we are in Christ with everybody else who is in Christ and in communion, whether we like it or not – or them or not, whether we agree with them or not.”
But many conservative Anglicans also have rejected the covenant, saying that it does not go far enough to bring into line provinces that have taken steps towards the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the church.
“While we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well intentioned we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate,” a group of conservative Anglican primates, or archbishops, have said.
— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.