Bishops of the Anglican Communion ended their conference with a statement saying that “there were many positive responses to the idea of a covenant,” but that they continued to have some “concerns and reservations” about it.
Bishops were asked to comment on the second draft of the proposed Covenant, which is being heralded as a way for the Anglican Communion to heal relationships fractured by deep divisions over human sexuality and other issues.
“The biblical and theological basis of Covenant need to be clarified and developed in a more profound way,” they said in a section of the Reflections document released Aug. 3. “The proposed Covenant is formulaic rather than relational, and could thereby prove punitive, restrictive and limiting, rather than facilitating unity.”
Concerns were also expressed that “the province rather than the diocese might become the local church.” They added: “Our modality is historically the ‘bishop-in-synod’ rather than ‘episcopally led and synodically governed.'”
There were also questions around what would happen if the Church of England becomes “the offending church.”
Archbishop Drexel Gomez, primate of the Church of the Province of the West Indies and chair of the Windsor Covenant Design Group, said that the Covenant “is a badly-needed mechanism for solving our problems.” He said that Anglicans have “only used meetings in the past,” to deal with issues. “We have no legal framework, no magisterium.”
[pullquote]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 that 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 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 provinces 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.