Monday, December 6, 2010

Yet More on the Anglican Covenant

Last week the General Synod of the Church of England voted by overwhelming majorities in each order to refer the Anglican Covenant to the dioceses for consideration before being returned to the Synod for final action, probably in 2012. For those of us who are convinced that the Anglican Covenant is Not A Good Idea, this is a disappointment. It should perhaps be noted that the approval and referral of the Covenant was due not so much to widespread enthusiasm for it — in the debate a number of members expressed their reservations about it — as to a desire to be loyal and supportive to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has put significant personal investment into it. It is possible that in the diocesan synods, when more people have actually studied the document, there will be a greater resistance to it, and it is certainly possible that a majority of the dioceses will not recommend its final passage. I, however, am not sanguine about this. I think it is likely that the dioceses will say “Yes” for +Rowan’s sake, and that the General Synod will then say, “Well, you see? We’re all in favor of it!”

In the meantime, of course, as we know, the GAFCON folks (the Primates’ Council of the Global Anglican Future Conference/Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans) released their Oxford Statement from their October meeting, in which they said, “For the sake of Christ and of His Gospel we can no longer maintain the illusion of normalcy and so we join with other Primates from the Global South in declaring that we will not be present at the next Primates’ meeting to be held in Ireland. And 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.” It is thus fairly clear that whatever the hopes of Archbishop Williams and others for the Covenant may be, it isn’t going to work. (Actually, some of the GAFCON Primates had previously indicated their support for the Covenant; so we’ll see how that plays out.)

It remains to be seen what The Episcopal Church will do about the Anglican Covenant at the next General Convention in 2012. (One of the influencing factors may be whether the C of E General Synod takes action before our GC, and if so, what.) There are strong voices in opposition to the Covenant (with whom I identify myself), but also strong voices in its favor. I know no reason not to think that, at least in The Episcopal Church, these are all thoughtful people acting in conscience, who care about the integrity of The Episcopal Church and of the Anglican Communion. So, as I said, it remains to be seen.

Is the Anglican Communion dead in the water? Some are saying this. I don’t think so. Will the Anglican Communion be different in the future from what it has been? Yes, clearly. It already is. But it also seems clear to me that a large proportion of the Churches want to remain in communion with others, including with us. There are now, and there may be in the future, issues that Churches want to discuss, and should discuss, with each other. “Indaba” was a good idea, and it can happen wherever and whenever Churches want to make it happen. There will be a Communion of Churches who share a common heritage and work together in mission and ministry in the world. Will it be “a” or “the” Anglican Communion? It seems to me that this is up to Archbishop Williams. Despite the claimed titles of a large collection of schismatic churches over the years, and the self-assertion of a number of invaders at the present, “Anglican” is a franchise that belongs to the Archbishop of Canterbury, as first Primate of Ecclesia Anglicana (The Church of England). Although in the last half-century the Anglican Communion has acquired a good bit of bureaucratic clutter (some of it worthwhile, some of it not so much), the bottom line, it seems to me, is that a Church is a member of the Anglican Communion if its Bishops are invited by Canterbury to the Lambeth Conference. So it’s +Rowan’s call. (I consider being disinvited from bureaucratic meetings to be insulting and annoying, but in the long run irrelevant; the mission and ministry that needs to be done can be done anyway.)

In any case, I believe that The Episcopal Church should and must take the high road. I suggest adopting some basic positions.

1. We will not break, or suspend, or impair, or whine about, communion with any other Churches of the Anglican Communion. If any other Church chooses to break communion with us, that’s their decision, for which they are responsible. We are very sorry about it, but we will not be codependent. All will always be welcome at our altars and in shared mission and ministry.

2. We will always be willing to discuss, in an “indaba” or other format, any issues or concerns that other Churches may have with us, or we with them.

3. The Churches and Dioceses of the Anglican Communion, and their Primates and Bishops, will always be in our prayers, through the Anglican Cycle of Prayer or other appropriate means.

4. We will continue to strive to support and share in the mission and ministry of the Gospel of Christ anywhere in the world to the extent that we are able and are invited to do so. It is our wish to maintain and to expand our large network of Companion Dioceses.

5. We will continue to seek closer cooperation and, as appropriate, full communion with non-Anglican Churches.

We presently are in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and with the Moravian Church in North America. Discussions toward full communion are underway with the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Like Anglican Churches generally, we are in full communion with the Old Catholic Churches in Europe (the Union of Utrecht), the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of India, and the Philippine Independent Church. (We grieve that we are no longer in communion with the Polish National Catholic Church in the United States; this was terminated in 1978 by the PNCC over the ordination of women to the priesthood.) The Episcopal Church is not a signatory to the Porvoo Agreement, which establishes communion between the Anglican Churches in the Atlantic Isles and in the Iberian Peninsula, and most Lutheran Churches in the Baltic Sea area and Iceland; we were not invited to do so, as Porvoo is a geographically regional Communion limited to (mostly) northern Europe. (Should the Porvoo Communion wish to expand across the Atlantic, I am sure we would consider it.)

I trust that it is clear that my previous post, “The Anglican Communion — Another Approach,” was seriously tongue-in-cheek!