Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Brainstorming for Everybody: Responding to the Draft Anglican Covenant

I want to return to my brainstorming theme. In my first post on brainstorming, one thought I had was that the House of Bishops might suggest its own draft for an Anglican Covenant. As I said then,

That could only be seen as active interest and participation in the Covenant process, without seeing any previous model as privileged. It could describe the House’s understanding of how autonomy and responsibility are balanced in “interdependence.” It might express an opinion on the relative authority of statements of Primates meetings and of actions of the Anglican Consultative Council. It could conceivably be available for the June meeting of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada and the July meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England.

This could well be undertaken by the Bishops’ Theology Committee. With the announcement that the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council will attend the September meeting of the House of Bishops, presenting a draft at that meeting would be especially significant. Certainly, it could be offered by the House as evidence of a desire to remain in the Anglican Communion,

What brought this back to mind is the release by the Executive Committee of the Episcopal Church of a Study Guide on the Anglican Covenant Draft released as a part of the Tanzania Communiqué. A subcommittee of the International Concerns Standing Committee of the Executive Council has published the Study Guide in English, French, and Spanish.

Perhaps the most important part of the Study Guide is this paragraph:

All Episcopalians, including Deputies to General Convention, Bishops, members of Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards of the General Convention, as well as Standing Committees of Dioceses are encouraged to send their responses to: Response to the Draft Anglican Covenant, Offices of the General Convention, The Episcopal Church Center, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY, 10017 by June 4, 2007. The Executive Council will then use these materials to inform its response to the Draft Covenant, which will be prepared by its October 2007 meeting. It is hoped that the views of all concerned will be expressed and reflected in the report produced by Executive Council.

This is exciting. One aspect of most Episcopal responses to the Tanzania Communiqué has been an emphasis on participation of all orders of ministry in determining God’s call to the Episcopal Church. (And remember that, according to the Book of Common Prayer, there are four, with Laity first. It’s on page 855.) That has been the reason for our insistence, affirmed by the Bishops, that only General Convention, and not the House of Bishops independently, could respond to issues of the consequence of participation in the Anglican Communion.

Now the Executive Council is asking all Episcopalians in all orders to respond. This is a real opportunity for all of us to be involved in brainstorming, or at least in the deliberative process. I certainly think this would be good grist for the blog mills, and I expect I’ll do some of that myself. In that conversation all of us might take part, whether Episcopalian or not. However, I think it more important that as many Episcopalians as possible send responses to this invitation, and to send thoughtful responses to the Executive Council.

Now, perhaps this seems a large task. The Study Guide itself is six pages, and has a series of questions. It looks in its way like an open-book final from seminary. On the other hand, this is not one of those tasks where “only those forms fully completed will be accepted.” I think there’s every reason to take it one question, one subject at a time, and send in what you do as you finish it.

So, let’s not let this opportunity pass. The Episcopal Church needs you – at least your thoughtful opinion – and is publicly asking for it. These are certainly important issues for our life together as Episcopalians and as Anglicans. Don’t leave it up just to us in the blogosphere, or the “chattering class.” Get in there: read, mark, learn, inwardly digest, and then write and send.


bls said...

Thanks for pointing this out, Fr. Marshall. Maybe we can talk this over in the blogs at the same time as we work independently, too, so questions can be asked and answered (or researched).

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I probably won't have time, nor do I really have the competence, to contribute a serious theological response, but one question I have is how do we (TEC) deal with the traditional notion that it is a distinctive function of bishops to be the guardians of apostolicity? Is this a separate question from "polity" or not?

In relation to this it seems to me that the writings of a bishop like John Spong (which to my mind stray beyond the bounds of creedal orthodoxy) have done our church a lot of harm, such that when our advocacy of full inclusion of gay people (which I fully support) is seen as part of a dubious overall theological package. My hope is that those involved is preparing our response to the primates will rectify this impression.

Marshall Scott said...


Thanks for responding. I think this should be on blogs, and that could make for some interesting conversation. I just hope that Episcopalians will not just post here, but also share this with the Executive Council.

Marshall Scott said...


Thanks for your comment. I think your question about "the distinctive function of bishops to be the guardians of apostolicity" is apt. Certainly, I think this affects polity. There is, I think, an inherent and integral link between ecclesiology, theology of ministry, and polity - or, at least, there should be.

I have my own question about where Bishop Spong has gone - although I think he's become significantly more (outragious? heretical? progressive? Choose your word) since he retired from his diocese. Leaving a position can give one a measure of, or at least of strong sense of, freedom. Unfortunately, some of us (and this is perhaps all too American a trait) have difficulty balancing freedom with self-restraint. I used to call Bishop Spong "the liberal lightening rod of the Episcopal Church;" and lightening rod he continues to be. It's a question we wrestle with just how helpful it's been to schismatics, and harmful to us seeking both justice and reconciliation, that he provides such a wonderful straw man to whack at. Sadly, his words are out there. I don't know just how, much less how far, the Executive Council or the Theology Committee of the Bishops, might confront the public statements of this retired colleague.

bls said...

I agree with Patrick about Spong - but I think TEC missed a huge opportunity for theological education there. Why didn't it engage him in debate, which would at the same time have been a teaching moment?

And maybe even a "learning moment" - a chance to get below the surface, and for new theological ideas to be born. Now that he's retired, the moment has passed - but we could still have churchwide theological debates, couldn't we? That's what the web is for!

This is happening in a de facto way on the blogs, where real theological debate IS happening daily. So TEC is missing an opportunity here, again, IMO.