Anglican Covenant Group issues 2nd draft

 — Feb. 6, 20086 févr. 2008

Communion distributes second draft of proposed ‘covenant’
Design group tries to uphold autonomy of provinces

[Marites N. Sison • Anglican Journal] Addressing concerns raised by several provinces, including Canada, about granting more authority to primates and other Instruments of Unity in the Anglican Communion, an international group has released a second draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant that maintains the body’s current structures.

The St. Andrew’s draft, so-called because the Covenant Design Group met Jan. 28 to Feb. 2 at St. Andrew’s House in London, also offers “a much more carefully-drawn emphasis on provincial autonomy,” said Eileen Scully, co-ordinator for ministry and worship of the Anglican Church of Canada’s faith, worship and ministry department. Ms. Scully represented the Canadian church in the meeting of the group, which the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams appointed in 2007 in response to a request of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates’ Meeting and of the Anglican Consultative Council.

But while underscoring the independence of provinces, a key section of the draft asks provinces to commit to a process by which they can settle disputes over matters that “threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission.”

It states that provinces must be “willing to receive from the Instruments of Communion a request to adopt a particular course of action in respect of the matter under dispute.”

(The Anglican Communion is served by four “instruments of communion”: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference of bishops, Primates Meetings and the Anglican Consultative Council.)

The draft notes that, “While the Instruments of Communion have no legislative, executive or judicial authority in our provinces … we recognize them as those bodies by which our common life in Christ is articulated and sustained, and which therefore carry a moral authority which commands our respect.” But it adds, “Any such request would not be binding on a church unless recognized as such by that church.”

The covenant stops short of saying what the consequences might be for a church that refuses to adopt any request, stating only that it constitutes “a relinquishment by that church of the force and meaning of the Covenant’s purpose.”

Ms. Scully acknowledged that this is “really difficult stuff because here is where we’re trying to uphold provincial autonomy and saying that we’re autonomous in Communion … What we set out to do is to offer processes with proper checks and balances that respect the realities of provinces and the Anglican Consultative Council and the limited powers of the primates as a collective, not corporate, body.”

During its meeting, the group reviewed submissions from 13 out of 38 provinces and six extra-provincial churches, plus “a large number of responses” from groups and individuals across the Communion.

The draft will be offered for reflection to the Lambeth Conference, the decennial meeting of bishops scheduled July 16 to Aug. 3 in Canterbury, England, and to the broader Communion, after which the design group will meet anew to prepare another draft. That version will then be sent to the Anglican Consultative Council and the primates’ meeting in March 2009 as well as the provinces. It could take more meetings and more drafts, a process that could take years, before a final document can be presented to provinces for approval, said Ms. Scully.

The establishment of a covenant was one of the key recommendations of the 2004 Windsor Report, a document published by the Lambeth Commission on Communion which was created by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to contain a schism in the Anglican Communion over the issue of sexuality.

The latest draft of the covenant “really reflects a movement away from creating new structures,” said Ms. Scully.

In a commentary, the group noted that since “some comments indicated that the covenant was somehow ‘canonizing’ (the) four instruments of communion that have evolved in a somewhat haphazard way” it amended the text of the first draft “to allow both for the evolution of the Instruments, and to acknowledge the existence of other informal instruments and links.”

The group noted that while the covenant “does not preclude or even seek to limit the possible development of these and other Instruments, we nonetheless believe that the Instruments as now working represent a special means of faithfully maintaining our common life, and ones that need to remain at the center of our common commitments.”

The draft emphasizes that there is no intention to create a “centralized jurisdiction” and that the Instruments of Communion “cannot dictate with juridical force on the internal affairs of any province.”

Ms. Scully also said that several provinces of the Communion, including Canada, “were very key in saying, ‘we are committed to the covenant process if such a covenant enhances our mission; we need to know that this isn’t just going to be something about institutional cohesion.'”

In a commentary on the draft, the group noted the “lack of formal discursive responses from other provinces,” and expressed the hope that it “does not necessarily signal disapproval.” The group, headed by Archbishop Drexel Gomez, primate (national archbishop) of the West Indies, cited the lack of translations of text as a possible factor in the low turnout of responses from provinces.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Covenant Response Group is scheduled to meet in Winnipeg Feb. 7 to 8, to discuss how the Canadian church will respond to this latest draft.

The St. Andrew’s draft is available on the Anglican Communion Office website.

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