Monday, July 09, 2007

The Church of England Responds to the Draft Covenant

The General Synod of the Church of England is meeting, and has discussed the Draft Covenant proposed by the Covenant Drafting Committee. So, this is the resolution passed in the current meeting:

‘That this Synod:
(a) affirm its willingness to engage positively with the unanimous recommendation of the Primates in February 2007 for a process designed to produce a covenant for the Anglican Communion;
(b) note that such a process will only be concluded when any definitive text has been duly considered through the synodical processes of the provinces of the Communion; and
(c) invite the Presidents, having consulted the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council, to agree the terms of a considered response to the draft from the Covenant Design Group for submission to the Anglican Communion Office by the end of the year.’

As you might guess, weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth has begun, coming from all quarters. (Thanks to Thinking Anglicans for this; and scroll down through the posts there for the past week or so to see position statements pro and con.)

However, it seems to me that this is actually quite a measured and even minimal response. “To engage positively with… a process designed to produce a covenant,” is little more than the Episcopal Church committed to in General Convention in 2006: ” as a demonstration of our commitment to mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Anglican Communion, [to] support the process of the development of an Anglican Covenant that underscores our unity in faith, order, and common life in the service of God’s mission....” (Resolution A166) It expresses a commitment to a process, without presuming whether the actual result will be acceptable or accepted.

That next point is also worth noting. The General Synod resolution emphasizes more than any other statement I recall that no Covenant can be presented as final by any of the “Instruments of Communion.” Not even passage by Lambeth or the Anglican Consultative Council establishes a new Covenant. Only “the synodical processes of the provinces of the Communion” can establish any Covenant as in any sense “official.” It’s not clear whether that would require all, or at least a majority of the Provinces, but it would certainly be true for any individual province.

Finally, the designated response from the Church of England is arguably quite minimal. There is a commitment for the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, with consultation from the House of Bishops, to “agree to the terms of a considered response to the draft from the Covenant Design Group.” While this does not rule out a proposal to accept the current Draft as is, neither does it rule it in. Indeed, there has been sufficient disagreement among voices within the Church of England as to make it difficult for a “considered response” to make such a commitment.

It appears there are folks who would have been just as happy if the General Synod has said nothing at all, if in the best and most formal language. This statement is certainly not “nothing;” but neither is it capitulation to any specific draft of an Anglican Covenant, including the one currently presented. This commitment from the General Synod is not really so different from that of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. That similarity is remarkable, in and of itself – remarkable, and perhaps reassuring. The General Synod has called the Church of England to be measured, considered, and not hasty in response to the Covenant Process, and especially to this Draft.

It is said that the Mullah Nasruddin was once overheard bragging that he was such a good teacher that he could teach even a donkey to speak. This was reported to the king, who called the Mullah before him and demanded on pain of death that he prove his outrageous claim. The Mullah bowed low and agreed, but noted that he needed ten years for the process. The king accepted this and sent him away.

Later a friend came to commiserate. “Surely you are terrified! If you don’t accomplish the impossible task you will surely die.”The Mullah replied that he was not that concerned. “We are old, the king and I,” he said, “and ten years is a long time. In ten years the king may die, or I may die, or the ass may learn to speak.”

The General Synod has committed the Church of England to think and respond, to participate in a Covenant Process to produce a Covenant that will take years to be received through the Communion. In the time that will take a number of other events may well supersede the concerns we have today.

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