Anglican Primates urged to opt for confidence-building rather than confrontation

By staff writers
February 20, 2007

Anglican Primates (chief presiding bishops, archbishops and moderators) were last evening (19 February 2007) emerging from intense discussions at their meeting in Tanzania, as commentators across the world waited for a twice-delayed communiqu?© from the gathering concerning moves to secure the future of the 78-million strong Communion. The communiqu?© was finally issued at 22.30 GMT.

Affirming moves to act on the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), theological education, and progress on biblical hermeneutics, it unsurprisingly devoted most attention to the arguments within the Episcopal Church (USA and related nations) – establishing a ‘pastoral council’ and ‘pastoral principles’ to try to eliminate pre-emptive actions on all sides.

The 'pastoral council', chaired by a Canterbury appointee and consisting of both Episcopal Church and Primates' nominees, will be seen by some as representing a legitimation of global control over sections of the American Church, and by others as a way of preventing breakaway groups and interventions from other national churches. It is clearly a compromise for all concerned.

The Episcopal Church was faced with further criticism (demanded by the majority in the Global South) for the actions of its constituent parts in blessing gay partnerships, and told to express further regret for the impact of this at all levels. But in the small print there was also acknowledgment of “proper constitutional autonomy”, recognition of the need for further work on principles for interpreting scripture, disapproval for those taking unauthorised oversight measures, and a call to end legal action over property disputes.

Earlier today the long-awaited draft ‘covenant’ [reproduced in full below] was published. The document and the process for its revision and reception is intended to establish a relationship-based polity for global Anglicanism, along broad theological principles proposed by Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams.

The statement accompanying the document stressed that the task of the meeting was to recommend for further discussion in the Provinces “a preliminary draft text for a covenant which has been developed from existing models.”

It added that although “an appropriate measure of consent to this text” was being sought, nothing was set in stone and the Primates were also being invited “to express the intention to pursue its fine-tuning and adoption through the consultative and constitutional processes of the Provinces” before it goes to the 2008 Lambeth Conference of worldwide Anglican bishops. Even then, it will only be in revised draft form. No absolute terminus has been established, though 2012 looks to be the operational date.

What will seem to many a convoluted and exhaustive process is aimed by its proponents at re-building trust and consensus in a badly fractured church. “Confidence-building rather than confrontation” was how one observer described it to Ekklesia. Less charitable commentators are talking about “ongoing squabbles rather than schism”.

The draft covenant was quickly welcomed by broad Anglicans and centre-ground evangelicals (Fulcrum spokesperson Canon Graham Kings), though with some concerns from an Inclusive Church representative about the degree of power which may go to Primates themselves in the process.

Canon Kings said he hoped the document would be welcomed for emphasising “biblically-derived moral values” and for requiring actions taken by different Provinces to be consistent with “the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition”.

Conservatives are less content, believing that the wording is too vague and that it cedes ground to those they characterise as liberals on biblical interpretation and the contested issue of human sexuality.

They are also ruffled that Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has been elected to the Standing Committee of the Primates’ Meeting. Before the gathering some were threatening not to meet with her.

But both Schori and Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, whose presence was questioned by Nigerian Primate Peter Akinola, were fully involved in the deliberations.

It is the issue of how to convey the overall outcome that seems to have delayed the final statement from the meeting outside Dar es Salaam, which has attracted an odd circus of lobbyists, reporters and pundits over the past few days.

The Archbishop of Canterbury had been keen that wording which will allow claims of ‘victory’ should be avoided. He also wanted to avoid minority or dissenting statements if possible. His desire is to depoliticise a process which has been bedevilled by spin and faction-fighting.

However the watching media have had other ideas. Last night readers of The Times were first told that “liberals [had gone] uncensored” as the “rift is patched up” and “schism avoided for now”. Then they were informed that “US Episcopal Church has been given seven months to change its ways or face being kicked out of the Anglican Communion” - a view the drafters will not share.

The Daily Telegraph, however, declared more gloomily that Primates were still in “crisis talks” which would “last into the night” – only a short while before they produced their elaborately crafted handiwork.

In the event, it is likely that liberals will be less than happy with the communiqu?©, but will see the draft covenant as a reasonable starting point, while conservatives will react in the opposite direction. Both ‚Äòsides‚Äô are now carefully examining the pastoral codicil to the communiqu?©, which is the policy substance of the document, strictures and exhortations aside.

Injecting both humour and perspective into the unholy rowing which has characterised Anglican disputes over sexuality and textuality, Dr Williams declared on Sunday: “There was a great saint who said God was evident when bishops are silent. There is one thing that a bishop should say to another bishop. That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great saviour.”

Dr Williams' own position within global Anglicanism will be seen by many to have been strengthened by his ability to persuade all concerned into a compromise rather than a split. Critics will argue that the underlying disagreements remain unresolved, but the Archbishop's view is that maintaining bonds of relationship creates time and space for further deliberation. His plan has always been to put the onus on those prepared to negotiate rather than those determined to issue ultimatums.

An Introduction to a Draft Text for an Anglican Covenant

God has called us into communion in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:9; 1 Jn. 1:3). This call is established in God's purposes for creation (Eph. 1:10; 3:9ff.), which have been furthered in God's covenants with Israel and its representatives such as Abraham and most fully in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. We humbly recognize that this calling and gift of communion grants us responsibilities for our common life before God.

Through God's grace we have been given the Communion of Anglican churches through which to respond to God's larger calling in Christ (Acts 2:42). This Communion provides us with a special charism and identity among the many followers and servants of Jesus. Recognizing the wonder, beauty and challenge of maintaining communion in this family of churches, and the need for mutual commitment and discipline as a witness to God's promise in a world and time of instability, conflict, and fragmentation, we covenant together as churches of this Anglican Communion to be faithful to God's promises through the historic faith we confess, the way we live together and the focus of our mission.

Our faith embodies a coherent testimony to what we have received from God's Word and the Church's long-standing witness; our life together reflects the blessings of God in growing our Communion into a truly global body; and the mission we pursue aims at serving the great promises of God in Christ that embrace the world and its peoples, carried out in shared responsibility and stewardship of resources, and in interdependence among ourselves and with the wider Church.

Our prayer is that God will redeem our struggles and weakness, and renew and enrich our common life so that the Anglican Communion may be used to witness effectively in all the world to the new life and hope found in Christ.

An Anglican Covenant Draft prepared by the Covenant Design Group, January 2007

1 Preamble

(Psalm 127.1-2, Ezekiel 37.1-14, Mark 1.1, John 10.10; Romans 5.1-5, Ephesians 4:1-16, Revelation 2-3)

We, the Churches of the Anglican Communion, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, solemnly covenant together in these articles, 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 in the Spirit in the bond of peace, and to grow up together as a worldwide Communion to the full stature of Christ.

2 The Life We Share: Common Catholicity, Apostolicity and Confession of Faith

(Deuteronomy 6.4-7, Leviticus 19.9-10, Amos 5.14-15, 24; Matthew 25, 28.16-20, 1 Corinthians 15.3-11, Philippians 2.1-11, 1 Timothy 3:15-16, Hebrews 13.1-17)

Each member Church, and the Communion as a whole, affirms:

* that it is part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;

* that it professes the faith which is uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures as containing all things necessary for salvation and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith, and which is set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation;

* that it holds and duly administers the two sacraments ordained by Christ himself - Baptism and the Supper of the Lord - ministered with the unfailing use of Christ's words of institution, and of the elements ordained by him;

* that it participates in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God;

* that, led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons [1];

* our loyalty to this inheritance of faith as our inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making Him known to our societies and nations.

3 Our Commitment to Confession of the Faith

(Deuteronomy 30.11-14, Psalm 126, Mark 10.26-27, Luke 1.37, 46-55, John 8: 32, 14:15-17, 1 Corinthians 11.23-26,2 Timothy 3:10-4:5;)

In seeking to be faithful to God in their various contexts, each Church commits itself to:

* uphold and act in continuity and consistency with the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition, biblically derived moral values and the vision of humanity received by and developed in the communion of member Churches;

* seek in all things to uphold the solemn obligation to sustain Eucharistic communion, welcoming members of all other member churches to join in its own celebration, and encouraging its members to participate in the Eucharist in a member church in accordance with the canonical discipline of that host church;

* ensure that biblical texts are handled faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively and coherently, primarily through the teaching and initiative of bishops and synods, and building on our best scholarship, believing that scriptural revelation must continue to illuminate, challenge and transform cultures, structures and ways of thinking;

* nurture and respond to prophetic and faithful leadership and ministry to assist our Churches as courageous witnesses to the transformative power of the Gospel in the world.

* pursue a common pilgrimage with other members of the Communion to discern truth, that peoples from all nations may truly be free and receive the new and abundant life in the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 The Life We Share with Others: Our Anglican Vocation

(Jeremiah 31.31-34, Ezekiel. 36.22-28, Matthew 28.16-20, John 17.20-24, 2 Corinthians 8-9, Ephesians 2:11-3:21, James 1.22-27)

We affirm that Communion is a gift of God: that His people from east and west, north and south, may together declare his glory and be a sign of God's Kingdom. We gratefully acknowledge God's gracious providence extended to us down the ages, our origins in the undivided Church, the rich history of the Church in the British Isles shaped particularly by the Reformation, and our growth into a global communion through the various mission initiatives.

As the Communion continues to develop into a worldwide family of interdependent churches, we also face challenges and opportunities for mission at local, regional, and international levels. We cherish our faith and mission heritage as offering us unique opportunities for mission collaboration, for discovery of the life of the whole gospel and for reconciliation and shared mission with the Church throughout the world.

The member Churches acknowledge that their common mission is a mission shared with other churches and traditions not party to this covenant. It is with all the saints that we will comprehend the fuller dimensions of Christ's redemptive and immeasurable love.

We commit ourselves to answering God's call to share in his healing and reconciling mission for our blessed but broken and hurting world, and, with mutual accountability, to share our God-given spiritual and material resources in this task.

In this mission, which is the Mission of Christ, we commit ourselves

* to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God * to teach, baptize and nurture new believers; * to respond to human need by loving service; * to seek to transform unjust structures of society; and * to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain and renew the life of the earth.

5 Our Unity and Common Life

(Numbers 11.16-20, Luke 22.14-27, Acts 2.43-47, 4.32-35, 1 Corinthians 11.23-26, 1 Peter 4:7-11, 5:1-11)

We affirm the historic episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of his Church and the central role of bishops as custodians of faith, leaders in mission, and as visible sign of unity.

We affirm the place of four Instruments of Communion which serve to discern our common mind in communion issues, and to foster our interdependence and mutual accountability in Christ. While each member Church orders and regulates its own affairs through its own system of government and law and is therefore described as autonomous, each church recognises that the member churches of the Anglican Communion are bound together, not juridically by a central legislative or executive authority, but by the Holy Spirit who calls and enables us to live in mutual loyalty and service.

Of these four Instruments of Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, with whose See Anglicans have historically been in communion, is accorded a primacy of honour and respect as first amongst equals (primus inter pares). He calls the Lambeth Conference, and Primates' Meeting, and is President of the Anglican Consultative Council.

The Lambeth Conference, under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, expressing episcopal collegiality worldwide, gathers the bishops for common counsel, consultation and encouragement and serves as an instrument in guarding the faith and unity of the Communion.

The Primates' Meeting, presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, assembles for mutual support and counsel, monitors global developments and works in full collaboration in doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters that have Communion-wide implications.

The Anglican Consultative Council is a body representative of bishops, clergy and laity of the churches, which co-ordinates aspects of international Anglican ecumenical and mission work.

6 Unity of the Communion

(Nehemiah 2.17,18, Mt. 18.15-18, 1 Corinthians 12, 2 Corinthians 4.1-18, 13: 5-10, Galatians 6.1-10)

Each Church commits itself

* in essential matters of common concern, to have regard to the common good of the Communion in the exercise of its autonomy, and to support the work of the Instruments of Communion with the spiritual and material resources available to it.

* to spend time with openness and patience in matters of theological debate and discernment to listen and to study with one another in order to comprehend the will of God. Such study and debate is an essential feature of the life of the Church as it seeks to be led by the Spirit into all truth and to proclaim the Gospel afresh in each generation. Some issues, which are perceived as controversial or new when they arise, may well evoke a deeper understanding of the implications of God's revelation to us; others may prove to be distractions or even obstacles to the faith: all therefore need to be tested by shared discernment in the life of the Church.

* to seek with other members, through the Church's shared councils, a common mind about matters of essential concern, consistent with the Scriptures, common standards of faith, and the canon law of our churches.

* to heed the counsel of our Instruments of Communion in matters which threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness of our mission. While the Instruments of Communion have no juridical or executive authority in our Provinces, we recognise them as those bodies by which our common life in Christ is articulated and sustained, and which therefore carry a moral authority which commands our respect.

* to seek the guidance of the Instruments of Communion, where there are matters in serious dispute among churches that cannot be resolved by mutual admonition and counsel:

* by submitting the matter to the Primates Meeting * if the Primates believe that the matter is not one for which a common mind has been articulated, they will seek it with the other instruments and their councils * finally, on this basis, the Primates will offer guidance and direction.

* We acknowledge that in the most extreme circumstances, where member churches choose not to fulfil the substance of the covenant as understood by the Councils of the Instruments of Communion, we will consider that such churches will have relinquished for themselves the force and meaning of the covenant's purpose, and a process of restoration and renewal will be required to re-establish their covenant relationship with other member churches.

7 Our Declaration

(Psalms 46, 72.18,19, 150, Acts10.34-44, 2 Corinthians 13.13, Jude 24-25)

With joy and with firm resolve, we declare our Churches to be partners in this Anglican Covenant, releasing ourselves for fruitful service and binding ourselves more closely in the truth and love of Christ, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory for ever. Amen.


[1] This is not meant to exclude other Books of Common Prayer and Ordinals duly authorised for use throughout the Anglican Communion, but acknowledges the foundational nature of the Book of Common Prayer 1662 in the life of the Communion.

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