Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Toward an Anglican Convenant: the Ridley Cambridge Draft

Today the Covenant Design Group has released the newest draft Anglican Covenant. As with previous drafts, this one is designated, because of where the Group met, as the Ridley Cambridge Draft. You can find the text here, and the text with attachments here.

Having spent significant time reflecting on the Nassau and St. Andrews Drafts, I found this one also interesting to read. I won’t do a line by line analysis. I’m sure others will get to that point. However, there are some changes for this draft that stand out quite clearly.

The Ridley Cambridge Draft includes a Preamble and four sections. This is roughly comparable with the St. Andrews Draft, which included three sections and an Appendix. The structure of the document is really much the same, with the issues addressed in the St. Andrews Appendix – addressing and perhaps resolving differences between and among member churches of the Communion – being addressed in Section 4 of the Ridley Cambridge Draft (albeit significantly differently). The Draft is also published with an Introduction. Moreover, the Draft addresses within its text the authority of the Introduction:

(4.4.1) The Covenant consists of the text set out in this document in the Preamble, Sections One to Four and the Declaration. The Introduction to the Covenant Text, which shall always be annexed to the Covenant text, is not part of the Covenant, but shall be accorded authority in understanding the purpose of the Covenant.

The Preamble is brief.

We, as Churches of the Anglican Communion, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, solemnly covenant together in these following affirmations and commitments. As people of God, drawn from "every nation, tribe, people and language" (Rev 7.9), we do this in order to proclaim more effectively in our different contexts the grace of God revealed in the gospel, to offer God's love in responding to the needs of the world, to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and together with all God's people to attain the full stature of Christ (Eph 4.3,13).

I find it interesting and helpful that the Draft speaks of “our different contexts.” However, by beginning, “We, as Churches of the Anglican Communion, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, solemnly covenant together…” the Draft raises the question of whether a national or regional church must participate in the Covenant to participate in the Anglican Communion. In fact this is addressed later in the Draft, as I will note below. However, by distinguishing in 4.4.1 between the Preamble, which is part of the Covenant, and the Introduction, which is “always annexed” but is not, this Draft might raise an issue parallel to one we have considered regarding the Episcopal Constitution and Canons as to the authority of material in a Preamble.

Section One is titled, “Our Inheritance of Faith.” It includes a section of affirmations and a section of commitments. The language of affirmations in this new Section One is changed in reflecting explicitly the language of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. In addition, there are references to “shared patterns of our common prayer and liturgy,” and “participation in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God.” There is also a reference to “The historic formularies of the Church of England, forged in the context of the European Reformation and acknowledged and appropriated in various ways in the Anglican Communion, [which] bear authentic witness to this faith.” However, these “historic formularies” are, for this Draft, more “historic” and less “formularies” for the Communion in their import and authority.

The Commitments in Section One are also largely unobjectionable, which is a change in its own right. It is balanced in interesting ways. So, the commitments to “to uphold and proclaim a pattern of Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the catholic tradition,” and “to ensure that biblical texts are received, read and interpreted faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively and coherently,” are balanced with commitments to “to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Scriptures in our different contexts, informed by the attentive and communal reading of - and costly witness to - the Scriptures by all the faithful, by the teaching of bishops and synods, and by the results of rigorous study by lay and ordained scholars” (emphasis mine), and “to encourage and be open to prophetic and faithful leadership in ministry and mission so as to enable God's people to respond in courageous witness to the power of the gospel in the world” (again, emphasis mine).

Section Two is titled, “The Life We Share with Others: Our Anglican Vocation.” It, too, has both affirmations and commitments. I was especially struck in the affirmations by this item:

(2.1.3) in humility our call to constant repentance: for our failures in exercising patience and charity and in recognizing Christ in one another; our misuse of God's gracious gifts; our failure to heed God's call to serve; and our exploitation one of another.

While not taken from it, this language is to me remarkably like portions of the Litany of Penitence from the Proper Liturgy for Ash Wednesday in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

The commitments in this section are interesting, not so much in content, as in the effort to footnote almost each commitment to Scripture, to a broadly supported theological document (including reports to the Anglican Consultative Council and the World Council of Churches), or to both. There are commitments to evangelism, to serve the poor, and to proper care of the earth. There is also a commitment ‘"to seek to transform unjust structures of society" as the Church stands vigilantly with Christ proclaiming both judgment and salvation to the nations of the world.’ In an interesting coincidence, the Rev. Francisco Silva, General Secretary of the Anglican / Episcopal Church in Brazil, wrote asking “Could be human rights a criteria for to be part of the Anglican Communion?” (and thanks to Mark Harris for pointing this out). The Rev. Silva is not hopeful; but this particular commitment seems to point in that direction.

Section Three is titled, “Our Unity and Common Life.” Again, there are both affirmations and commitments. What is remarkable about this draft is that this section affirms repeatedly both explicitly and implicitly that the Anglican Communion is “a Communion of Churches. Each Church, with its bishops in synod, orders and regulates its own affairs and its local responsibility for mission through its own system of government and law and is therefore described as living ‘in communion with autonomy and accountability.’” There is a helpful clarification of the proper histories and roles of the Instruments of Communion, and elimination of the expanded role of the Primates Meetings. Consequently, each member church commits “to respect the constitutional autonomy of all of the Churches of the Anglican Communion, while upholding our mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ, and the responsibility of each to the Communion as a whole” (emphasis mine). There are commitments “to seek a shared mind with other Churches,” and ” to act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy, which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion.” At the same time, there is also a commitment “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. Such prayer, study and debate is an essential feature of the life of the Church as its seeks to be led by the Spirit into all truth and to proclaim the gospel afresh in each generation.” Many of us in the Episcopal Church feel that if other churches had spent “time with openness and patience in matters of theological debate and reflection, to listen, pray and study with one another,” as we have done within the Episcopal Church, we might have been able to manage our current differences with clearer communication and greater grace.

Section Four of the Draft is titled, “Our Covenanted Life Together,” and it is this section that will require the most reflection and consideration within the Episcopal Church. As I have already noted, this section parallels in subject the Appendix to the St. Andrews Draft. However, it is broader, in that it includes discussion of adoption of the Covenant; and less juridical in discussing how difference between and among member churches might be addressed. Unlike the complicated framework through which such differences might be brought through various of the Instruments of Communion, in this Draft “The Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and of the Primates' Meeting, or any body that succeeds it, shall have the duty of overseeing the functioning of the Covenant in the life of the Anglican Communion.” Focusing such work in the Joint Standing Committee simplifies responsibility, and also better balances the importance of the Anglican Communion Council with the Primates’ Meeting in the life of the Communion. This is confirmed in that “the Joint Standing Committee may make a declaration concerning an action or decision of a covenanting Church that such an action or decision is or would be ‘incompatible with the Covenant’” only “On the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates' Meeting” (emphasis mine). So, both “the Primates and Moderators [who] are called to work as representatives of their Provinces in collaboration with one another,” and the ACC, which “is comprised of lay, clerical and episcopal representatives from our Churches,” must be involved in any decision that an action of a member church is “incompatible with the Covenant.” That makes the process both slower and more measured, and also more representative broadly both of all member Churches and all orders of ministry.

At the same time, there is again affirmation of the autonomy of each member Church. So, “Nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance. Under the terms of this Covenant, no one Church, nor any agency of the Communion, can exercise control or direction over the internal life of any other covenanted Church.”

(4.1.4) Every Church of the Anglican Communion, as recognised in accordance with the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council, is invited to adopt this Covenant in its life according to its own constitutional procedures. Adoption of the Covenant by a Church does not in itself imply any change to its Constitution and Canons, but implies a recognition of those elements which must be maintained in its own life in order to sustain the relationship of covenanted communion established by this Covenant.

There are two interesting items in this section. The first is,

(4.1.5) It shall be open to other Churches to adopt the Covenant. Adoption of this Covenant does not bring any right of recognition by, or membership of, the Instruments of Communion. Such recognition and membership are dependent on the satisfaction of those conditions set out by each of the Instruments. However, adoption of the Covenant by a Church may be accompanied by a formal request to the Instruments for recognition and membership to be acted upon according to each Instrument's procedures.

One wonders who these “other Churches” would be. This would suggest the possibility that the Anglican Church of North America could also adopt the Covenant, and request recognition by one or more Instruments of Communion. One wonders what the consequences would be of ACNA adopting the Covenant, even if not recognized by any of the Instruments; especially as one of the commitments in Section One is “to seek in all things to uphold the solemn obligation to nurture and sustain eucharistic communion….” How would that prepare the ground, as it were, for a challenge from ACNA to some action of the Episcopal Church, whether or not ACNA was recognized by Instruments of Communion?

The second item is this:

(4.3.1) Any covenanting Church may decide to withdraw from the Covenant. Although such withdrawal does not imply an automatic withdrawal from the Instruments or a repudiation of its Anglican character, it raises a question relating to the meaning of the Covenant, and of compatibility with the principles incorporated within it, and it triggers the provisions set out in section 4.2.2 above.

Once again, there is this interesting distinction made between participating in the Covenant and participating in the Instruments of Communion. Looking back at the question implied in the Preamble, one can wonder what the relationships are among “participating in the Covenant;” “recognition by the Instruments of Communion;” and “membership in the Anglican Communion.”

I think there’s a lot to commend the changes that have been made between the St. Andrews Draft and the Ridley Cambridge Draft. As they note in their communiqué, the Covenant Drafting Group has listened to the comments they have received, including clearly those from member churches not considered part of “the Global South.” It remains to be see whether these changes would be enough for the Episcopal Church to participate; or whether they would be too much for some “Global South” churches to participate. It will be interesting first and foremost to see how the Anglican Consultative Council addresses this Draft when it meets next month. After that, it will take some time for member churches to consider this draft according to their constitutional and canonical processes and to decide whether they can participate or not – in the case of the Episcopal Church, at least three years. Over time, we’ll see whether and how this or some other draft Covenant will become part of the life of the Communion; and if so, what changes it will bring.

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