Two-tier Communion ?

Just as the Church of England General Synod was giving its backing to a mechanism to preserve unity in the Anglican Communion, conservative Primates were issuing a statement declaring that they can no longer give it their support.

In a statement issued by the Primates Council of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) today, they said they could no longer accept the Anglican Covenant as a means of resolving disputes within the Anglican Communion despite originally being some of the main drivers behind the measure.

“While we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well intentioned we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate,” they said.

The statement was signed by Archbishops from West Africa, North America, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya.

In it, they also confirm that they will not attend next year’s Primates’ meeting in Ireland. Instead, they plan to hold their own meeting in the latter part of 2011, followed by an international gathering dubbed GAFCON 2 sometime in 2012.

The announcement threatens to scupper the Anglican Covenant process, as the measure cannot be implemented without the approval of all 38 Provinces in the Communion.

Just this morning, the Church of England General Synod agreed to send out the draft Anglican Covenant for consideration by diocesan synods.

The measure is backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and is due to come back to Synod for a final vote in 2012.

It was first proposed in the Windsor Report in 2004 as a response to the crisis brought on by the consecration of the openly gay Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire the year before.

The Covenant seeks to preserve unity by formalising the process by which Provinces that act in a manner contrary to Anglican tradition are dealt with.

During this morning’s debate, a motion in support of the Covenant was overwhelmingly approved by Synod members although there were some reservations raised even by its supporters.

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Rev Michael Perham, expressed concern that it could be used to take “punitive action” against certain Anglicans although he added he would vote in favour of it out of loyalty to Archbishop Rowan Williams.

The Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Rev John Saxbee, said the Covenant represented “factory farmed religion rather than free range faith” and would only lead to a two-tier Communion”

 – Article by Jenna Lyle, in ‘Christian Today’ – Wed. 24 Nov. –


Here we have further journalistic speculation about whether, since the GAFCON refusal to be any part of the Covenant, the rest of the Communion will carry regardless on with the Covenantal theme.

Now that The General Synod of the Church of England has taken the step of commending the Covenant for further discussion by their constituent dioceses – together with the fact that the GAFCON Provinces have rejected the Covenant – one can expect the process of what constitutes relationship within the world-wide Anglican Communion to be in question.

If the C.of E. dioceses do eventually accept the Covenant, and it is then brought back to their General Synod, this will raise up yet another question: as to the C.of E.’s relationship to every other Province – but those of the Global South contingent whose prelates have rejected the Covenant.

With the situation having changed somewhat – because of the G.S. withdrawal from Covenant relationship, and its subsequent decision to not attend the upcoming Primates’ Conference in Dublin next year – there could be a hiatus in the Communion, while the text of the Covenant Document is discussed again by each of the Provinces of the Communion that have not withdrawn from the process, so that decisions may be made by the individual Provinces as to whether they can become a part of the actual Covenant partnership.

With the more conservative Provinces of the Global South out of the picture , it could be that the rest of us may be more ready to join a special relationship – to include the US Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada – with the more ‘inclusive’ Provinces of the Communion.

Whether that relationship would require the disciplinary ethos of the Covenant document as it now stands, is still a moot point with many of us in the Communion; who believe that the inclusive nature of the Gospel has to be ‘worked out’ in the life and culture of the local church situation. In New Zealand, for instance, we have got used to the multi-cultural, three-tikanga nature of partnership in the Gospel, and I believe that we are ready to  take on the challenge of the acceptance of everyone bearing the image and likeness of God as fellow Christians, no matter what their race, culture, gender, or sexual orientation.

Fr. Ron Smith

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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