Delegates to the 14th Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) will make the momentous decision at their meeting here on whether to recommend the third (Ridley-Cambridge) draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant for consideration by member churches of the Anglican Communion.
The ACC “is charged with the decision as to whether it (Ridley-Cambridge draft) goes forward at this point and is referred to member churches of the Communion,” said Bishop John Paterson, ACC chair and bishop of Auckland, New Zealand, at a press briefing.
“I think the Covenant Design Group thinks that it has done what it can with the text and feels that it is now mature enough to be handed out to the provinces,” added Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion. While it is up to the ACC to make a decision, “the hope is that the ACC will feel that it’s mature enough to go to the provinces,” said Mr. Kearon. “No instrument of the Communion is going to make a decision about the covenant, it’s up to the member churches in the Communion.” The Anglican Communion is composed of 80 million Anglicans in 44 regional and national churches in over 160 countries.
Acceding to the covenant is voluntary, explained Mr. Kearon, adding that the membership in the Communion of churches will not cease or be altered if their decision-making bodies decide not to sign on to it.
“The covenant will only be operative for those who agree to sign the covenant. It becomes operative for any church soon as that church signs on to it,” said Mr. Kearon.
“We’re not looking for a substantive majority – the covenant will only ever apply to those churches of the communion which decide (to sign on to it). ”
Bishops, clergy and laity in the Anglican Church of Canada – who have commented on the three drafts of the proposed Anglican Covenant – have expressed varying degrees of acceptance and non-acceptance not just of the text but also of the very idea of having a covenant to begin with. The proposal for a covenant was among the key recommendations of the Windsor Report, which saw it as a mechanism for helping resolve the current conflict in the Anglican Communion regarding the issue of homosexuality.
The Canadian church’s Anglican Communion Working Group met by conference call recently to look at the Ridley-Cambridge draft. “I think on the whole, what we’re saying is that right now, it’s probably as good as it can be,” said Suzanne Lawson, the Anglican Church of Canada’s lay delegate to the ACC. “There are several things that we might have wanted to be different, even to the point that some of us could have said, ‘Why do we really need a covenant?’ But, in fact, it looks like we will have a covenant and the real feeling is that the Covenant Design Group has listened hard to the kinds of input that have been presented to them and have done a pretty good job.” Personally, said Ms. Lawson, “I have some concerns that I’m going to talk to people about and that is that the bulk of the responsibility for dealing with ‘problems,’ and I think the Canadian church is considered ‘a problem’ – although we don’t think so – in the hands of the majority of primates, bishops and clergy of the Joint Standing Committee, which is being given increasing power….” (The deep divisions and debate over the place of gays and lesbians in the church has been triggered by the approval of the blessing of same-sex unions in the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster in 2002 and a year later, by the consecration of a gay bishop in The Episcopal Church’s diocese of New Hampshire.)
It would be up to two meetings of General Synod, the Anglican Church of Canada’s governing body, to decide whether or not the church should sign on to the covenant, a process that could take at least six years.
Meanwhile, Bishop Paterson said that the proposal by conservative churches who have left the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church for a new North American province is not on the agenda of this meeting. “To my knowledge the matter has not been referred to us, it’s not part of the agenda,” said Bishop Paterson. The ACC would be the appropriate body in the Communion to address the issue of creating a new province.
Mr. Kearon said that the primates, who met last February in Alexandria, Egypt, had also expected the matter to be raised but it wasn’t.
The issue, however, may come up during discussions of the report by the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG), which has commented on the matter. The WCG, which was created by the Archbishop of Canterbury to recommend the way forward for the divided Communion, has identified “some of the difficulties in recognizing the coalition among the provinces of the Communion,” including “the possibility of parallel jurisdictions.”
Bishop Paterson, who has been to seven ACC meetings and has chaired three of them, said he was “full of hope and expectation” for the meeting, adding that “it’s my personal contention that if the ACC meets well, it’s good for the Communion.”
Asked what “meets well” and “good for the Communion” meant, he said: “(Archbishop) Robert Runcie was the first chair of the ACC and he coined the phrase that the Communion is united by ‘bonds of affection.’ And for the first five meetings of the ACC that I was a part of, it was very evident that once people got to know, appreciate, understand and then develop trust, that those bonds of affection are very real,” said Bishop Paterson. “Strains and tensions in the Communion that surfaced in ACC 13 at Nottingham meant that it was not such a good meeting of the ACC. I think a lot of us had to acknowledge that and take some responsibility for it.” He added that the ACC, which includes laity, clergy and bishops, “is the most representative body of the four instruments of communion” and if “they meet well, that’s carried back to the member churches and the communion is strengthened.”
At the last ACC meeting in 2005, representatives of the Canadian and American churches sat on the sidelines after their churches were censured over the issue of sexuality.