Delegates vote to delay distribution of latest draft of covenant

Published May 9, 2009

Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) members cast their votes on a resolution about the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant.

Kingston, Jamaica
The Ridley-Cambridge draft of the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant will not be sent to member churches for consideration, pending consultation and possible revision of a controversial section dealing with dispute resolution and the definition of which entities can sign on to the covenant.

After a long, drawn-out debate, and what some delegates referred to as a “confusing” process, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) on May 8 asked that a “small working group” be appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to “consider and consult with the provinces” on Section 4 of the Ridley-Cambridge draft, “and its possible revision.” That group was asked to report to the next meeting of the Joint Standing Committee of primates (senior bishops of each Anglican province) and the ACC, which will meet before the end of the year.

The ACC had, by a vote of 47 against, 17 in favour, and one abstention, defeated a section of the resolution that sought to detach the draft’s controversial Section 4, Our Covenanted Life Together, “for further consideration and work.”

Prior to the vote, however, Archbishop Philip Aspinall, primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, noting that the process had bogged down so that session had to be extended, introduced an alternative resolution that addressed the concerns of both proponents and opponents of the issue. Some delegates spoke against the resolution while one, Rev. Janet Trisk of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, introduced an amendment to include two sections from Archbishop Aspinall’s resolution. Those sections were those that called for the appointment of a small working group and for the JSC to “approve a final form of Section 4.” The amendment was carried by a vote of 33 for, 30 against, and 2 abstentions.

Delegates who expressed concern over Section 4 have cited the lack of time and consultation with provinces on the matter. The Ridley-Cambridge draft had been finalized and sent out to provinces only in March.

“I am not in principle against Section 4, but I am concerned that it hasn’t gone through the process. The question of ‘is it mature enough?’ I don’t think it’s in adolescence yet,” said Rev. Ian Douglas of The Episcopal Church. “My problem is there are too many ambiguities, particularly on the nature of church. Which churches can sign on to it?” He said this was of particular concern for his church, “particularly since there are extra-ecclesial entities who have been claiming to be Anglican in the U.S.” He said this could give rise to a situation where the next ACC would be posed the question of “whose Anglican presence in the U.S. are you going to recognize?” (A coalition of churches and individuals from The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have been seeking to be recognized as a new province in North America.)

Mr. Douglas was referring to a section of the draft, which states that, “It shall be open to other churches to adopt the Covenant.” While the draft says that adoption of the covenant “does not bring any right of recognition by, or membership of, the Instruments of Communion,” it nonetheless adds that the action “may be accompanied by a formal request to the Instruments for recognition and membership to be acted upon according to each Instrument’s procedures.”

Archbishop Mouneer Anis, primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, spoke out against detaching Section 4 for further consideration, saying, “We cannot call the covenant a covenant without Section 4, which affirms the interdependence of our churches.” He added that the ongoing crisis in the Anglican Communion over human sexuality resulted from “individualistic” decisions. “We are a communion with autonomy, not autonomous churches in communion. I vote against this. We’ll never get a perfect covenant if we wait 10 years.”

Robert Fordham of the Anglican Church of Australia added, “If Section 4 isn’t there we don’t have a covenant. We’re kidding ourselves.”

Bishop Ezekiel Kondo, of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, said “the most important part of the covenant is Section 4.”

Barton Scotland, of the Church of the Province of the West Indies, urged the ACC “not to introduce another decision that will deny provinces from supporting Section 4,” which he said are appropriate “in their particular context.”

Joanildo Burity, of the Episcopal Church in Brazil, said, “I come from a province which doesn’t see a need for a covenant. But I agree with those who say that Sections 1 to 3 aren’t enough to have a full version of the covenant. But I would like to express the need for section 4 to follow the same procedures of being given a similar length of time for study and consultation.”

Sarah Tomlinson, co-opted youth member from the Scottish Episcopal Church, said that while she agreed that the situation of conflict in the Communion “has gone far too long,” ACC delegates, nonetheless, “have to remember that whatever we decide now, my generation will bear the burden long after you guys are no longer leading the church.” She said, “Let’s take time to consult a bit more.”

Anthony Fitchett, of the Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, said “sending it for consultation is the responsible way, rather than revising it on the floor.”

There was a moment of confusion when Bishop John Paterson, ACC chair, declared that a final decision had been rendered on the covenant draft and the delegates went for tea break.

When the delegates returned Archbishop Anis questioned why parts of the defeated section of the resolution had been brought back into the amendments that were approved. “That’s illegal,” he said. “How can we bring defeated clauses into a new resolution?” He also noted that while the introduction of the amendment was approved, the amendment itself was never put to a vote.

At this point, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said that the resolution that dealt with detaching Section 4 had been largely defeated because some delegates had understood that two clauses contained in it were to be lifted from it and added as amendments.

Bishop Paterson concurred, saying, “the vote was initially in anticipation of the fact that some other material would be introduced. The ACC was made aware of the act and we voted accordingly. I believe it’s time to move forward.”

In a press briefing, Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion reiterated the explanation, saying that delegates had voted to discard that section of the resolution, “since a revised text was coming.”

He called the proposal for further consultation “a reasonable compromise,” saying that the process would likely take six months.

He disagreed that the decision would further delay the process for acting on the proposed covenant, saying writing and rewriting the draft had been “quite a speedy process.”

The ACC, by a vote of 63 in favour, one against, and one abstention, also asked the secretary general to send “the revised Ridley-Cambridge text at that time, only to the member churches of the Anglican Consultative Council for consideration and decision on the acceptance or adoption by them as the Anglican Communion Covenant.”

It also voted overwhelmingly in favour of a section of the resolution that “recognizes that an Anglican Communion Covenant may provide an effective means to strengthen and promote our common life as a Communion.”


Keep on reading

Skip to content