“There are two Covenants, one in people’s heads, the other on paper” – Bp Matthews
Posted On : October 30, 2012 11:32 PM | Posted By : Admin ACO
By ACNS staff
Bishop of Christchurch the Rt Revd Victoria Matthews told delegates at the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting today that she thought there were two Anglican Communion Covenants: one in people’s heads, the other the one written down.
Bp Matthews, as a member of IASCUFO, was introducing a session on the history and progress of the Covenant as part of the 15th ACC meeting in Auckland.
She stressed the point that it was not the work of IASCUFO to promote the Covenant, but rather to monitor its reception.
“As we have sought to do that,” she told delegates, “I have often thought that the document people discuss and the actual Anglican Covenant are two different documents.
“One is the document that people have in their mind and the other is the Anglican Communion Covenant on paper. So I really want [people] to read the Covenant and be focused on that. Because often, when people start talking about the Covenant, what they describe in their mind as the Covenant is unrecognisable.”
She went on to say that the questions behind the Covenant were: ‘What is the best way?’, ‘Is there a way that will keep us together safely?’, ‘What is our deepest fear when we consider decision-making processes?’.
“I believe that in the original idea of the Anglican Covenant, there was a desire to allow the Anglican Communion to be a safe place for conversation and the sharing of new ideas,” she said. “The actual document of the Anglican Covenant does not achieve that for all the churches of the Anglican Communion, and that is why some churches have declined to adopt it.
“Nevertheless, as we heard [from the Gospel reading] at last evening’s Evensong, at the core of God’s covenant with us is: ‘I will be your God and you will be my people.”
Bp Matthews added, “There are those who say [the Covenant] is punitive, and those who say it has no teeth. Both [these comments] tell me that it is not yet perceived, let alone received, as a truly safe way in which to encounter one another.”
In advance of a video shown to delegates on the history and detail of the Covenant, Bp Matthews asked delegates to reflect on “what there is in the Covenant that offers a possible way for us to talk to each other.”
“Remember most of the Covenant reminds us who we are in Christ,” she said.
Following the video, delegates were invited to spend time in Reflection Groups considering what they had learned from the Covenant process about themselves as Anglicans and about the Communion.
The responses are due to be brought back to the plenary feedback session next Tuesday 6 November.
With all due respect to Bishop Victoria (who is my diocesan Bishop) I believe – as was discussed in our Christchurch Diocesan Synod meeting addressing the prospect of the Anglican Covenant – that the part of the Covenant that was found most objectionable to our gathering in Christchurch, was concerned with the disciplinary ethos of Section 4, on the following grounds (from the NO ANGLICAN COVENANT statement) :
” Section 4 makes it all too easy for any church to “ask questions” about the actions of another, which may then be subjected to unspecified “relational consequences.” There is no sure measure of what behaviour is likely to be acceptable, no checks provided against unreasonable complaints, and no guarantee that “consequences” (i.e., punishments) meted out will be commensurate with the alleged offence.”
ACANZP has traditionally moved in advance of some parts of the Communion on issues that are still not part of every province’s ethos and praxis – for instance, the Ordination of women as clergy and bishops. The New Zealand Church was also far ahead of the Church of England in its democratic make-up of diocesan synods – with the three houses of bishops, clergy and laity. If we had to wait for approval from a central authority before making these changes to our provincial constitution, we might still have been waiting for everyone else (under section 4 of the Covenant process) to catch up.
There are matters of theology and praxis which individual Provinces of the Communion need to explore – without interference from the ethos of a disciplinary Covenant process, and this, I believe, is why our diocese – and other dioceses and provinces within the Communion – have said ‘NO’ to the Anglican Covenant. After all, even the dioceses of the mother Church of England have not taken it on board.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand