The Council of General Synod (CoGS) has given approval in principle to the idea of an Anglican Covenant “without committing to any specifics of text.” CoGS expressed its opinion about the covenant following a request made by the joint standing committee of the primates and the Anglican Consultative Council to respond to the question: “Is the province able to give an ‘in principle’ commitment to the covenant process at this time (without committing itself to the details of any text)?”
The Covenant Design Group, composed of representatives from various Anglican provinces worldwide (including Canada) has been working on a proposed covenant for members of the Anglican Communion. The idea for a covenant came from the Windsor Report, published in 2004 by the Lambeth Commission on Communion, a group appointed by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to find ways of maintaining unity in the Anglican Communion, fractured in recent years over differences on the issue of sexuality.
CoGs, the Anglican Church of Canada’s governing body between General Synods, also agreed to forward the Canadian Anglican Communion Working Group’s (ACWG) response to the second draft of the covenant published by the Covenant Design Group, known as the St. Andrew’s Draft, as well as the Lambeth Commentary, a compilation of the bishops’ responses to the draft at the 2008 Lambeth Conference. The ACWG noted that while the St. Andrew’s Draft is “a great improvement,” some concerns remain and some areas still require “greater clarity.” It said that greater clarity is required “around terms that are commonly used in the communion but are perceived locally in very different ways.” It cited that the Anglican Church of Canada was not established as a national province with the subsequent creation of dioceses, but the other way around. “This means that our national province does not have the same degree of authority as some other national provinces do in their jurisdictions,” the ACWG said in a written report. “Governance of the episcopate occurs within the jurisdiction of the internal ecclesiastical provinces (we have four) and not the national province.” It added that aside from chairing the General Synod and exercising executive oversight of the General Synod office, the primate “has no ordinary jurisdiction in any Canadian diocese,” and has “no national authority apart from the power of suasion.” The ACWG also cited that Canadian Anglicans “do not share a deference for episcopal authority that they once held or similar to that which is held in other parts of the communion, but rather respond to an articulation of the gospel that finds resonance with the values and priorities of the people of the diocese.” It pointed out that in Canada, bishops are not appointed but are elected by diocesan clergy and laity. The Canadian house of bishops also has “no canonical status apart from General Synod, a meeting in which they represent one of three orders; otherwise their role is only advisory.” On the idea of reaching a “common mind,” in the Canadian church’s context it means “a range of acceptable positions” which are “not reached arbitrarily, but through consultation, prayer and testing with clergy and laity,” said the ACWG. Thus, Canadian Anglicans are “critical of the assumption that the primates are uniquely responsible for articulating a ‘common mind’ for the communion.” Other concerns raised by the ACWG include the absence of a reference to “the impact of the covenant in interfaith contexts especially in parts of the world where Christians are in the minority.”