“Covenant reflections”

Southwark Diocesan Synod, 10 March 2012

All Diocesan Synods are voting on the motion, “That this Synod approve the Draft Act of Synod adopting the Anglican Communion Covenant”.  

Despite many good arguments, not least from the Archbishop of Canterbury, about the need for a coherent, mature way of dealing with differences, and the extraordinary amount of effort that has gone into producing this draft Covenant, I cannot bring myself to vote positively for it – despite being very enthusiastic and hopeful about Anglicanism and its future as an important part of one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

Of course we need a deep discussion about the nature of Anglicanism in the 21st Century, the process led tireless by the Archbishop of Canterbury.   It is no surprise, given the history of the Anglican Communion, that we are at crunch point:

  • The Church of England had a major formative period in the political and personal issues of Henry VIII.
  • Britain’s huge influence from the 17th to the early 20th Centuries ensured the growth of Anglicanism across the globe.
  • The ensuing development of all the independent provinces in their own part of the world.

So the obvious question at the start of the 21st Century is, “What holds us together in a diverse, globalised world of rapid communication?”   This issue has been there since the first Lambeth Conference in 1867, but it is totally unavoidable now.    How can we achieve fellowship, communion and coherence in all our ecclesiastical and cultural diversity without either the centralised authority of Rome, or the Protestant tendency to fragment or the unchanging tradition of Orthodoxy?

Yes – we need to consider the consequences of our actions across the globe – and especially on the smaller, more vulnerable churches.
Yes – we need a way of dealing maturely with difference
Yes – we need a way of celebrating and articulating our common identity.

But my problem with the proposed Covenant is with the mechanism, and especially the role of the Standing Committee in Section 4.   This could deeply become deeply politicised and packed by those with particular agendas.  I just cannot see it working well or creatively in practice.

True, inspirational fellowship and communion are not gained by a document – especially one born out of conflict – but rather by real communication and common action.

  • We have plenty of rich, shared heritage, as expressed in the first three sections of the Covenant.
  • We have plenty of deep relationships across the globe, especially through our Links with the Church in other countries.
  • We have a profound shared pattern of worship so, wherever we go, we are “at home” – less than 3 weeks ago I was privileged celebrate the Eucharist in the province of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East.
  • There have been real developments in common action – for example, the Anglican Alliance for Development Relief and Advocacy.
  • We are developing shared theological education.

It is the development and affirmation of these connections that will lead to an inspirational view of Anglicanism for the 21st Century.   Therefore I’m very keen on the message in the Following Motion.

It may take much longer than we think to shape this inspirational Anglicanism ; perhaps it could be the task of the next generation.  It will need

  • Patience and prayer to live with relational tensions and difference.   “We don’t agree, but that doesn’t mean we’re not a team.”
  • Perseverance and imagination to build up our Links between Dioceses.   One imaginative way is through 3-way links.
  • Determination to really listen and understand the different contexts – the Lambeth Conference itself has used the Indaba process to ensure that “no voice is too big, too small, or too mediocre” to be heard.

And it’s important to remember that we can and do live with different viewpoints through our Zimbabwe Link.

I believe that it will be worth the wait and discomfort.   Both may last much longer than we might want, but it is that effort, rather than a clumsy and vague discernment process enshrined in a document born of conflict,  which will be the road that leads to a truly reinvigorated Anglicanism playing its continuing and fruitful part in the mission of the one holy catholic and apostolic church in the 21st Century.