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Rowan flogging dead Covenant

CofE Covenant vote 10-5 against

Rowan flogging dead CovenantDo as I say – not as I do.

I’m squandering precious time and energy on the “Anglican Covenant”.


I have regularly joked: what would happen if the CofE didn’t sign up to the “Anglican Covenant”? Clearly the drafters of the “Anglican Covenant” were so cocksure of CofE support that such an option isn’t even envisioned as possible in it. I was joking – Okay. But then I noticed that the CofE, the established church, where the bishops are appointed by the Prime Minister and thereby many of them automatically become Members of Parliament (!), wasn’t risking going to Parliament with this “Covenant”; wasn’t even risking seeking a 2/3 majority in its “own” General Synod! Actually, the CofE isn’t so sure the “Covenant” will pass there…

And now this weekend it was the turn of four diocesan synods to vote on the “Covenant”. And all four rejected it! Leicester, Salisbury, Portsmouth, and Rochester. Not even the memory of Nazir-Ali in Rochester carried the pro-Covenant day. And it’s the clergy that are voting against the “Anglican Covenant”. With only pro-Covenant propaganda being emitted from the Anglican Communion Office, it is the clergy who are clearly putting energy into researching both sides of the story.

The ecclesiology of the Tony Blair-chosen Archbishop of Canterbury has come in for some battering in the women bishops debate. Although no one apparently has yet translated his latest speech into English, Rowan Williams appears unwilling to throw himself fully into the fullness of the catholic church being present in each diocese. The ecclesiology which hankers after an international “universal church” (a sort of international super-church, rather than a communion of dioceses) undergirds the “Anglican Covenant”. It’s a perfectly fine alternative ecclesiology, and has a perfectly fine exemplar in Roman Catholicism.

So far five CofE dioceses have voted in favour of the “Anglican Covenant”: Lichfield

And ten (count them 10!) have voted against:
St Edmundsbury & Ipswich

The CofE has 44 dioceses. The Covenanters need another 18 dioceses to vote yes in order to get the “Anglican Covenant” back onto their General Synod floor!

Certainly, the Archbishop of Canterbury will be applying lots of back-room pressure. But he may yet overplay his hand…

Even if the CofE ultimately does sign up the “Anglican Covenant” (or affirming, adopting, acceding to, preambling, or adapting it) no one will now be able to say that there is any consensus involved in such a decision.

Christchurch diocesan motion

Meanwhile, back here, the Christchurch diocese will vote on the Covenant at a special synod meeting on April 21. The motion before us is:

“That this Synod, 1. Affirms the Covenant in principle; 2. Supports Parts 1 to 3; 3. Supports in principle the adoption of Part 4.”

The Christchurch diocesan synod motion was drafted by a high-level group of pro-Covenant people in our diocese. Its wording is as clear and meaningful as the Covenant it supports (a regular contention of the pro-Covenant group is that those against it just don’t understand it!). Even our diocese’s most clamorous* pro-Covenant campaigner in New Zealand does not support our diocesan motion.

The debate about the meaning of the wording of this motion is consistent with adding another layer to debating the meaning of the Covenant which further adds a layer to debating the actual issues.

The result of passing this motion will be as useful as the actual Covenant itself.

Meanwhile there is discussion about the future of our church buildings to be had – we have just closed our 25th church building,….

So go back and read my first few lines again. Then do as I say – not as I do.

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24 thoughts on “CofE Covenant vote 10-5 against”

  1. One small correction. The Bishop of Salisbury opposes the Covenant and was apparently very clear on that in his charge to synod. The impassioned pro-Covenant speech was from his suffragan, the Bishop of Sherbourne.

  2. I still wonder what could be done, instead of the Anglican Covenant, to address some of the problems. But maybe the problems aren’t turning out to tear apart the fabric of space and time as badly as first thought? Or, maybe the Covenant was trying to do too many things and (with hindsight, inevitably) failing to succeed at any? Maybe it wasn’t really trying to do what people thought was the obvious job of keeping members in line??

    There is something nice in what the Right Reverend Trevor Willmott, Bishop of Dover, has to say: “…the Covenant places God’s vision for God’s Church and God’s world centre stage… It enables Anglicans across the world and Christians of other denominations to understand who we are and how we seek to share in God’s work…”

    Now I’m not sure the Anglican Covenant, as it stands at least, does what is hoped (and the alarm many raise that it uses an “un-Anglican” approach achieve it is even more disconcerting), but what about the aims as stated above? Can they be embodied in something else? And what about those aims that the Bishop of Dover quickly dismissed – the disagreements?

    Hypothetically, could an understanding be reached that covers the process to follow if two groups of Christians disagree, without being specifically Anglican? (The problem at the moment is that focusing on “Anglican” misses those groups that have left and probably makes it look like leaving entirely circumvents the teeth of the Anglican Covenant, yet resolves nothing). The other problem is that the answer may appear to be yet another creed with specific phrases inserted to solve the problem-of-the-month, rather than work out how such issues in general can be resolved.

    Maybe three agreements are needed? One entitled “This is how we think God’s Church and God’s world can best place God’s vision centre stage”. Another entitled “This is the fine print of what is required for someone who is deemed an Anglican priest/bishop/whatever to be accepted as a valid Anglican priest/bishop/whatever anywhere” (like an international drivers licence?). And lastly one: “How we intend to handle situations where two groups who are trying to follow Christ have important disagreements – even where one doubts whether the other is a true Christian”. It isn’t wise to assume an agreement to do one of these will solve problems that fall under the heading of another.

  3. For almost 20 years, I have embraced the Episcopal Church coming from that centrist Roman Church. I had hoped the AC would have had enough spirituality and theological insight to see the flaws and divisiveness not only of the Windsor Report but this Covenant. The strength of the Anglican Communion has been to embrace all the communions and not focus on disciplinary actions and threats the Covenant asserts. We are a Communion, not as Federation nor a Papist retro. Dr. Williams, please lead us through prayer and not the whip.

  4. Although no one apparently has yet translated his latest speech into English…

    I burst out laughing. The speech was surely one of his more impenetrable efforts. My guess is Rowan’s words become less clear the less he truly believes in what he is saying. He’s trying to say something, but he’s really wanting to say something else, and what comes out is muddled.

    I do realize my comment may be muddled. Trying to parse Rowan’s words does that to me.

    And you’re right, Bosco. We should not be spending so much time on a document that is such a POS.

    June Butler

    1. June, what makes this so very, very funny is that Rowan actually says to General Synod, “As you will be aware, attempts by the Archbishop of Canterbury to clarify any theological point are likely to end in its obfuscation!” and the members of General Synod then laugh! Blessings.

  5. While I am proud of the careful intellectual work that we have put into explaining why the Covenant is a particularly pernicious idea: the easiest way to defeat it is to simply ask people to read it. It is really self-defeating.

    The covenant is a symptom of a drive to power and centralization centered in Canterbury. We can see how that centralization works. It is the Roman system. Anglicans rejected it some 450 years ago and I know of no reason to re-acquire it now!

    writing for myself but as a matter of disclosure:
    member – no Anglican covenant coalition

    1. Thanks, Jim. It always interests me how there is excellent clause-by-clause analysis against the “Anglican Covenant”, but those in favour of it generally do not do such careful reading of the actual text. Blessings.

    2. And I note, as I’ve noted elsewhere, that it seems odd to me that so few of the proponents of the Anglican Covenant ever actually quote the text of the document, while opponents are usually quite ready to use the words in the text.

      June Butler

  6. Feel for Rowan – who’d be the ABC! My not entirely uninformed guess is that he doesn’t like the covenant either, so I also feel a little uncomfortable with the cartoon. There are times when those in high ecclesial office find themselves horribly constrained, IMHO. ‘There but for the grace of God. . .’

    [You have to be of sound mind to be a bishop, but no one of sound mind . . . Catch 22 :)]

    Btw – C of E Bishops only get the dubious honour of a seat in The House of Lords (they are not strictly ‘Members of Parliament’ ) and only then when they have served sufficient time to become among the 26 longest serving. One or two LOVE it and appear to spend more time in London than one might think wise for episcope of their diocese, others treat it as a grave responsibility to be ‘balanced’ with an otherwise ludicrous workload, others as a form of cruel and unusual punishment

    time for a Lenten Purdah 🙂

    Blessings, Bosco

    1. Thanks, Eric. The Parliament of the United Kingdom is, as in most democracies, bicameral. The House of Lords forms the upper house, the House of Commons forms the lower house. If you are right about the ABC and the “Covenant”, and you very well may be, there are several words for such a stance… Blessings.

  7. I think that the “covenant” is wrongly named – we already have a Covenant, the one we celebrate at the Eucharist, and that is what ought to bind us together in “Communion”. That was dearly bought and we ought not to diminish it.

    What is proposed is described sometimes as a neutral administrative “thing” which should be of no concern – but every administrative “thing” redistributes power in some way, and the denial of significance means that the Anglican Communion has done next to no useful corporate theological reflection on its understanding of power. Screwtape is having a field-day!

    1. We are on the same page, Mark. To me, we appear to be saying that God has not done or given us sufficient, so we are going to construct something else. You will notice that I quite often put the word “Covenant” in quotes. IMO God has given us covenant enough. They can be read as scare quotes. Blessings.

    1. Yes, sorry Peter, thanks for picking up that typo. As you well know it is a very busy week and as I tend to touch type quite fast, and do not have a sub-editor, such errors can slip through and alter the whole sense of what I meant. (I have added a clickable asterisk in the original post to clarify). Blessings.

  8. I’m not sure whether the name on the bottom right-hand-side of the cartoon was referring to the artist or the priest wielding the stick.

    However, on reflection, I can see he’s wearing a bear so it must be the ABC. I do like him really, I just think he backed the wrong horse.

  9. Now Bosco, you are being naughty, wasting my time with this. I feel bound however to suggest that any members of our General Synod who are reading this might be willing to request a special three-Tikanga Doctrine Commission to sit and report back to the next session, with a further report to the ACC in September, on the question of whether ‘clamorous’ and ‘glamorous’ are mutually exclusive.

    1. Edward, the suggestion that a report would be possible by September, even an interim one, clearly misunderstands appropriate process in our church. Members of commission, once nominated by GS Standing Committee, should receive acceptance by all dioceses and hui amorangi. With that in mind, I think your suggestion not only a good one, but essential – and in line with the “Covenant” “consultation” process. Blessings.

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