Half of the Church of England’s dioceses reject unity covenant
The Church of England cannot sign up to a plan aimed at preventing the global Anglican Church from splitting up after half its 44 dioceses voted against it.
The Archbishop of Canterbury backed theAnglican Covenant in a bid to ensure divisive issues – such as gay bishops – did not cause the Communion to split.
A vote by the diocesan synod of Lincoln meant 22 dioceses had opposed the plan.
The covenant had already been rejected by conservative global Church leaders, whom it was intended to placate.
Outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams had said the covenant was about Churches being “accountable to each other in the Communion”.
He said the agreement would not give anybody the power to do anything but recommend courses of action.
But critics say the covenant could undermine the traditional independence of the Churches, which together have more than 80 million members.
With the Anglican Communion threatened with disintegration, Dr Williams devised the covenant as a way of instilling a measure of discipline and accountability into relationships between its 38 independent churches.
They were asked to sign an agreement under which a Standing Committee of the Communion would consider actions such as the ordination of gay bishops and whether they were compatible with Anglican teaching.
Those that refused to sign the agreement would continue to be Anglicans inside the Communion, but in an outer or slower tier of the organisation.
However, the legislation required majority support among Church of England dioceses and most have rejected it.
The covenant’s supporters say other Anglican churches will ratify the agreement – as seven already have – leaving the Church of England in the second, outer, tier of a world-wide Church.
The idea of a covenant grew out of fears that disagreements over the gay issue between different provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion would lead to irreconcilable splits in the Church.
The arguments centred on the appointment of bishops in non-celibate gay relationships, and the blessing of same-sex unions, in Anglican churches in the US and Canada.
Some provinces in Africa, Latin America and Asia vehemently condemned these developments.
Provinces critical of the actions of the North American churches switched allegiance to the breakaway Anglican body known as Gafcon (from the Global Anglican Future conference in 2008).
They also backed the foundation of breakaway churches in North America, an action which worsened divisions in the worldwide Church, and was itself criticised by the Anglican Communion.
The covenant would have bound Anglican Churches worldwide to respect each other’s autonomy, and to “spend time with openness and patience in matters of theological debate and reflection, to listen, pray and study with one another in order to discern the will of God”.
Church provinces to have approved the covenant so far:
- The Church of Ireland
- The Anglican Church of Mexico
- The Church of the Province of Myanmar
- The Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea
- The Church of the Province of South East Asia
- The Anglican Church of Southern Africa
- The Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America
- The Church in the Province of the West Indies
It provides for the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion’s Consultative Council to consider whether an action by one Anglican province complies with Anglican teaching if other Churches disagree with it.
Under the covenant the Standing Committee could request a Church to defer a controversial action, and having consulted other ruling bodies within the Anglican Communion, may declare that an action would be “incompatible with the Covenant”.
The Church of England General Synod backed the covenant in November 2010, despite the misgivings of many liberals within the Church, and referred it to the dioceses.
But the covenant received a decisive setback immediately afterwards when it was rejected by the Gafcon Primates’ Council – the very Church leaders that it was intended to placate.
The Gafcon leaders said: “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.”
This is perhaps the most potent reason why the ABC’s Covenant did not find approval within the church of England dioceses:
“But the covenant received a decisive setback immediately afterwards when it was rejected by the Gafcon Primates’ Council – the very Church leaders that it was intended to placate”.
It could very well be that most of the clergy in the C.of E. Dioceses who rejected the Covenant were aware of the fact that Archbishop Rowan’s plan to reconcile the world-wide Communion through the Covenant process would be of no avail – precisely because the very Provinces that had made themselves the target for reconciliation, the GAFCON Provinces, were not going to sign up in any event.
For GAFCON, the disciplinary aspects of Section 4 of the Covenant process would not have been sufficient to outlaw TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, on account of their innovative domestic polity to include LGBT persons as full members of their two Provinces of the Communion. For GAFCON, the Covenant would not prove sufficient for their plans to redefine the Communion into their own Sola-Scriptura model.
The next problem for the Church of England – and, by extension, for the rest of the Anglican Communion – will no doubt surface with the planned meeting of GAFCON in the U.K. in April. The meeting will be chaired by Kenya’s Archbishop, Eliud Wabukala, whose recent ordination of UK indigenous clergy, to raise up a new quasi-Anglican Church in the U.K., called AMiE (Anglican Mission in England) has caused consternation for its covert intention to undermine the ministry of the indigenous Church of England. England is now having a taste of GAFCON’s process of invading other Communion Provinces to apply its own so-called ‘orthodoxy’.
GAFCON’s chutzpah, in planning its mission at a meeting in the territory of the founding Anglican Province of the Church of England, will surely not go un-noticed by other Provinces of the Anglican Communion.
And when one considers that a former Bishop of Rochester, Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, will be one of the key-note speakers at the GAFCON Rally this may cause some of the C.of E. authorities to question exactly what will be going at at this conference. Also, the Secretary of the ‘Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans’ – part of the host team for the conference – is Anglican Diocese of Sydney’s Archbishop Peter Jensen!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand