[Episcopal News Service] General Convention’s legislative committee on World Mission heard public testimony July 6 on eight resolutions regarding Anglican Communion relationships and the Anglican Covenant, a document that supporters say offers a way to bind Anglicans globally across cultural and theological differences.
The resolutions range from rejecting to approving the covenant, with one proposing a via media approach, urging continued study and committing the church to ongoing participation in the process. All eight resolutions affirm the Episcopal Church’s membership in and commitment to the Anglican Communion.
The first resolution to emerge was A126, submitted by the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, which would have the church say it is “unable to adopt the Anglican Covenant in its present form.” Another council resolution (A145) expresses gratitude to those who have worked on drafting the covenant and commits the church to continued dialogue and participation in the Anglican Communion.
Then in April, another two resolutions were filed.
Resolution B006, proposed by Bishop John Bauerschmidt of Tennessee and endorsed by 10 other bishops, asks the church to affirm and adopt the covenant.
At the July 6 hearing, Bauerschmidt said his resolution commits the church “to continue the process” and to discern how to modify the covenant according to the Episcopal Church’s constitutions and canons. “This is necessary if we are really seeking as a communion to be of one mind and one heart and to share a common life,” he said. “We have seen how much damage has been done in the Episcopal Church in the absence of a process to resolve widely disputed questions.”
The Rev. Carola von Wrangel, a deputy from the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, also spoke in favor of B006. “We are part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. I believe the covenant will strengthen the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church. How do we stay at the table together?
Wrangel said her congregation at Christ-the-King in Frankfurt, Germany, represents 35 different countries. “The issues that are dividing us are the issues that are dividing my parish. I believe the covenant will help us stay together, not walk away from one another.”
Resolution B005, proposed by Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas and backed by two other bishops, would encourage the church to embrace the preamble and first three sections of the four-section document. This, Douglas told ENS, would ensure that the church does not remove itself from the ongoing covenant process.
The document’s fourth section, which outlines a disciplinary method for resolving disputes in the communion, has been the covenant’s main sticking point.
Other proposed resolutions include D006, which calls on the church to decline to adopt the covenant, saying that after extensive study the church is “unable to reach a clear consensus and is therefore unwilling to continue expending funds, time and energy on this proposed covenant.” Instead, the resolution asks the Episcopal Church to commit itself to “A Covenant for Communion in Mission,” developed by the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism, “so that provinces of the Anglican Communion can be effective in promoting God’s presence and healing to those in our world that are broken and disenfranchised,” according to the proposed text.
Another resolution (D007) also urges the church to decline to adopt to the covenant, saying it is “contrary to Anglican ecclesiology and tradition and to the best interests of the Anglican Communion.”
The Rev. Susan Russell, deputy from Los Angeles, proposed D007. “The covenant attempts to create a centralized authority … that inhibits the church to pursue the gospel mission,” she said. “Scripture and tradition tell us to value the idea of a covenant and reason tells us to reject it. Urge to choose communion over covenant and to say no to this ill-conceived proposal.”
Colorado deputy and Executive Council member Lelanda Lee spoke in favor of D007 because she said that the covenant “does not do the things it was set out to do when it was first drafted and section 4 is punitive to anyone who would be brothers and sisters.”
Lay Deputy Mary Reorich from Pennsylvania, speaking to D007, said the covenant “has served to divide. [It] will be used in unanticipated ways to interfere … This is not helping or encouraging for bonds of affection. I did not join a covenanted or confessional church nor do I want to go on to join such a church.”
Resolution D008 doesn’t specifically mention the covenant, but it is modeled on legislation adopted by several Church of England dioceses that have opposed adopting the covenant.
D008 calls on the church “to find ways to maintain and reinforce strong links across the world-wide Anglican Communion” and to deepen its involvement in existing communion ministries and networks, especially Continuing Indaba, which is exploring ways of communicating across different contexts.
The Rev. Tobias Haller, a deputy from New York who proposed D008, has served on the reference group for Continuing Inbada. He said that whether or not the church adopts the covenant, “we are Anglicans.”
Continuing Indaba, he said, helps the Anglican Communion “not to let disagreements disable us but to empower us. I urge you to adopt this resolution or at least incorporate this language into whatever resolution the committee recommends.”
Lay Deputy Samantha Cutlip from Western New York spoke in favor of Resolution D046, which calls the covenant “moot” and asks the church to “re-affirm the Episcopal Church’s commitment to historical principles of Anglican Christianity …”
“If we vote in favor [of the covenant] we will only further divide ourselves,” she said. “We can only learn more from one another if we move forward in bonds of affection.”
Another resolution (C115) proposed by the Diocese of Easton encourages further study and reflection on the proposed Anglican Covenant during the next triennium. Public testimony on that resolution will be heard on July 9.
The World Mission committee will discuss the testimony from the hearings and consider all the resolutions that have been proposed before recommending legislation to the houses of General Convention.
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. The covenant also was a response to some church leaders crossing borders into other provinces to minister to disaffected Anglicans.
Following five years of discussion and several draft versions, the final text of the covenant was sent in December 2009 to the communion’s provinces for formal consideration.
Douglas, who is co-chair of the World Mission committee, recently told ENS that the Episcopal Church has participated “at an extremely high level” in considering each draft of the covenant.
The 76th General Convention in July 2009 asked the dioceses, via Resolution D020, to study the Anglican Covenant during the 2010-2012 triennium. It also asked Executive Council to prepare a report, along with proposed draft legislation, to the 77th General Convention this year. That resolution led council to create the D020 Task Force, which released its report along with the proposed Resolution A126 in October 2011.
The Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons determined in a June 2011 report requested by the D020 Task Force that adoption of the current draft Anglican Covenant “has the potential to change the constitutional and canonical framework of TEC, particularly with respect to the autono¬my of our church, and the constitutional authority of the General Convention, bishops and dioceses.”
Resolutions A126, B005 and B006 being considered by General Convention call for the creation of a new task force that would explore the canonical changes needed if the church were to adopt the covenant in its entirety.
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 and the dispute-resolution process contained therein. Some critics have warned that adopting the covenant could result in a two-tier communion.
“I don’t find section 4 helpful,” Douglas told ENS recently. “I think it moves the covenant from a document that is relational to one that is more juridical. I do think the first three sections are relational and missional.”
Throughout the Anglican Communion, seven provinces have approved or subscribed to the Anglican Covenant. They are Ireland, Mexico, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, South East Asia, Southern Cone of America, and the West Indies.
The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church on June 8 voted against adopting the covenant.
In March, it became clear that the Church of England could not adopt the covenant in its current form when a majority of its dioceses voted the document down.
The Anglican Church of Southern Africa has adopted the document pending ratification at its next synod meeting later this year.
The Church in Wales last April gave the covenant “an amber light, rather than a green light.” The church’s governing body said it feared the recent rejection of the covenant by the Church of England jeopardized its future and clarifications about that were now needed before a decision could be made. It sent questions on the matter to the Anglican Consultative Council, the church’s main policy-making body, which meets later this year.
The Episcopal Church in the Philippines bishops have rejected the covenant and Maori action in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia last November means that it could be rejected when it comes before the province’s General Synod in July 2012.
The Rev. Malcolm French from Anglican Church of Canada spoke at the July 6 hearing in favor of D007, noting that the Anglican Communion is a family of churches. “If we are prepared to meet, then no covenant is necessary and if we are not, then no covenant will suffice,” said French, moderator of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition. “Notionally I would have seen a problem if we had been the first church to say no, but that is not the case.”
Lionel Deimel, founder and convener of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, said that “the underlying purpose of the covenant is to suppress change. Many promote the covenant in the name of unity but the Anglican Communion is not monolithic… We do not need other churches punishing us when we try to do justice.”
Douglas previously told ENS that “Communion is fundamentally about relationships – relationships across our differences in service to the mission of God – and not some kind of juridical or contractual or ecclesiological statement.”
— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.