Archbishop Drexel Gomez, primate of the West Indies and chair of the Covenant Design Group.
Bishops of the Anglican Communion Friday began the first of two days of discussions on the second draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant that is being heralded as a way for the Anglican Communion to heal relationships fractured by deep divisions over human sexuality.
“This (Covenant) is a badly-needed mechanism for solving our problems”, said Archbishop Drexel Gomez, primate of the Church of the Province of the West Indies and chair of the Windsor Covenant Design Group. Anglicans have “only used meetings in the past,” to deal with issues. “We have no legal framework, no magisterium.”
Archbishop Gomez said that the covenant is not intended to be a legal contract, but rather “a mechanism to redefine the basic tenets of Anglicanism.”
The proposal for a covenant was made in the Windsor Report, published by the Lambeth Commission on Communion, a group appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to seek ways of arresting a schism in the nearly 80-million strong Communion.
Archbishop Gomez said the bishops’ views on the covenant would be incorporated in a report that his group will make to the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), which meets in Jamaica in May 2009. Provinces of the Anglican Communion have been asked to submit their comments to the group by March 2009.
He underscored that the proposed covenant will not deal with questions of issues in the communion. “We won’t be dealing with consequences (of any action). We’re just dealing with the framework.”
He acknowledged, however, that he is unclear of what happens if there are provinces who won’t sign on to the covenant for some reason.
Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, primate of the Church of Australia and official spokesperson of the Lambeth Conference, said that he had sense in the bishops’ groups that “there’s a commitment to hanging together as a communion,” but also “a recognition that some responsibilities haven’t been well-respected.”
Archbishop Aspinall acknowledged that the issue of independence and autonomy have figured prominently in the discussions. “This (establishing a covenant) is a difficult process,” he said, noting that at the heart of Anglicanism is “autonomy and self-rule, and so provinces will guard that jealously.”
Archbishop Gomez acknowledged that many provinces haven’t expressed their opinions about the covenant but said that “a large block of African provinces, including the Global South” (who have boycotted the conference) have expressed their support for a covenant.
The diocesan bishop of Botswana, Trevor Mwamba, told the press conference that his view was that the covenant “should be one of friendship… of mutual respect, co-operation” and not one of “regulations and policies to polarize people.”
Bishops, he said, were not rushing into any decisions. “We’re not in a hurry. The devil is in a hurry,” he said.
The Anglican Church of Canada has been spending a length of time discussing and looking at the draft covenant. At the May meeting of the Council of General Synod (CoGS), the Anglican Communion Working Group said that the second draft
shows “a significant improvement” from the previous one although there are still some areas that require “greater clarity.”
“It is clear that provinces were heard, concerns about confessionalism were allayed, there were serious efforts to address the central role of worship and prayer in holding us together,” Bishop George Bruce of Ontario told CoGS in a report. “Almost all the Canadian concerns were addressed in this draft.”
The new draft, called the St. Andrew’s draft, recognizes that the covenant process will be “slow and careful,” the group said in a written report. “We believe that (it) has taken into account concerns expressed about the role of the primates’ meeting and provides a much clearer recognition of the role of laity and of the synodical decision-making processes in dioceses and provinces throughout the Communion.” Efforts have also been made “to clarify understanding of autonomy and interdependence,” the group said.
However, the group said, its “greatest area of concern” was with the “unnecessarily legalistic” and “unnecessarily antagonistic tone” of the appendix, which could open “a Pandora’s box of potential complaints.”
It noted that “there was a distinct change in tone in the language of the appendix and that, while the tentative and provisional nature of the procedures outlined in the appendix is highlighted in both the communique and the commentary, its presence as the only possible option for conflict resolution gives it greater significance than we believe is either intended or warranted.”
The group said that the new draft remains unclear about how “common mind” in the communion can be achieved. “Further elaboration on how this occurs is required.
Questions also remain on what the document means when it uses the word “church,” the group added. “While this is an ecclesiological question, it needs to be answered so that all readers understand the same thing. It also may have impact on who approves the covenant.”