Thinking Anglicans

who can sign a covenant?

Updated yet again Friday afternoon

Back in October 2007, Rowan Williams answered a question from John Howe, Bishop of Central Florida. See the full text of his letter here.

I would repeat what I’ve said several times before – that any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such. Those who are rushing into separatist solutions are, I think, weakening that basic conviction of Catholic theology and in a sense treating the provincial structure of The Episcopal Church as if it were the most important thing – which is why I continue to hope and pray for the strengthening of the bonds of mutual support among those Episcopal Church Bishops who want to be clearly loyal to Windsor. Action that fragments their Dioceses will not help the consolidation of that all-important critical mass of ordinary faithful Anglicans in The Episcopal Church for whose nurture I am so much concerned. Breaking this up in favour of taking refuge in foreign jurisdictions complicates and embitters the future for this vision.

Almost two years later, there has been further correspondence between the same two people. We do not yet have the full text, but there is this report for the Living Church by George Conger Archbishop: Covenant Adoption Limited to Provinces.

Update This report has now been revised and republished at the same URL under the new headline Archbishop Says Central Florida Act a Positive Step. An explanation by Christopher Wells appears as a comment on TitusOneNine.
A further explanation by Dr Wells appears as a comment below the revised article in the Living Church.

As originally published:

In a Sept. 28 letter to the Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, Bishop of Central Florida, Archbishop Williams called the diocesan bodies’ endorsement a step in the right direction. However, he stated, “as a matter of constitutional fact, the [Anglican Consultative Council] can only offer the covenant for ‘adoption’ to its own constituent bodies (the provinces).”

The archbishop added that “I see no objection to a diocese resolving less formally on an ‘endorsement’ of the covenant.” Such an action would not have an “institutional effect” but “would be a clear declaration of intent to live within the agreed terms of the Communion’s life and so would undoubtedly positively affect a diocese’s pastoral and sacramental relations” with the wider communion, he said.

As revised:

In a Sept. 28 letter to the Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, Bishop of Central Florida, Archbishop Williams called endorsement from the diocesan bodies a step in the right direction. “As a matter of constitutional fact, the [Anglican Consultative Council] can only offer the covenant for ‘adoption’ to its own constituent bodies (the provinces),” the archbishop noted. But “I see no objection to a diocese resolving less formally on an ‘endorsement’ of the covenant.” Such an action may not have an immediate “institutional effect” but “would be a clear declaration of intent to live within the agreed terms of the Communion’s life and so would undoubtedly positively affect a diocese’s pastoral and sacramental relations” with the wider Communion, he said.

As John B. Chilton noted elsewhere (before the Living Church revision took place) :

In his post General Convention Reflections, Rowan Williams wrote, “But in the current context, the question is becoming more sharply defined of whether, if a province declines such an invitation, any elements within it will be free (granted the explicit provision that the Covenant does not purport to alter the Constitution or internal polity of any province) to adopt the Covenant as a sign of their wish to act in a certain level of mutuality with other parts of the Communion. It is important that there should be a clear answer to this question.”

Has he now provided a clear answer? Or is his latest to Howe merely a statement about the meaning of a diocese signing while a province has neither accepted or declined but instead is in the process of deciding? Or in his reflections did he never mean to be saying that when a diocese endorses the covenant it would have ‘institutional effect.’ What is institutional effect anyway?

Update

Another report on the same subject filed by the same reporter for the Church of England Newspaper has been titled Dioceses ‘can adopt Covenant,’ says Archbishop of Canterbury. Also available on Religious Intelligence.

Note: this is NOT the article which appears today in the paper edition of the CEN.

Dioceses and other ecclesial bodies may endorse the Anglican Covenant, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams said this week, but noted the current process is geared toward adoption of an inter-Anglican agreement by the provinces of the Anglican Communion.

The Anglican Communion Institute has issued its statement of approval, see Dioceses’ Endorsement of the Covenant.

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Marshall Scott
11 years ago

Well, it would seem to be an answer sufficient for current circumstances. First, we do not yet have a final draft to consider (yes, we do know most of it, but wait for the review committee to respond to the fourth section). Second, we do not yet know how individual national churches will resopnd (including the Episcopal Church, despite the claims of those who want to induce panic). We especially need to know how the Church of England will be able to respond; but we also need to know about the other national and regional churches within the Communion. So,… Read more »

Pluralist
11 years ago
Matthew Duckett
Matthew Duckett
11 years ago

My patience with this nonsense is fast running out. What, at the end of the process, does all this amount to? In other words what are the “pastoral and sacramental relations with the wider communion” whose continuance depends on this covenant? I think it boils down to just one thing: interchangeability of clergy, which in practice is all that “full communion” means, organisationally. But priests ordained in “Windsor” and “Non-Windsor” dioceses are still going to be recognised as priests in each other’s dioceses and therefore, in principle, employable there if they should move (subject to whatever conditions the new bishop… Read more »

toby forward
11 years ago

By what authority does Rowan Williams set new tests of orthodoxy for provinces of the Anglican Communion? As far as I know all parts of the TEC accept the authority of the Bible, the creeds, the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion and the historic episcopate, locally adapted.
Someone needs to impress upon this archbishop that being called to the See of Canterbury does not confer on him the right to redefine the Anglican Communion.

Father Ron Smith
Father Ron Smith
11 years ago

This, surely, is a case of the Primus inter pares of the Anglican Communion being inclusive! In his letter to Bishop Howe he is stating things how they are, traditionally, within the Communion: That any diocese around its bishop is an acceptably ‘orthodox’ cell of the Church Catholic and Apostolic (which is what he first stated in previous correspondence with the same bishop), but not necessarily a part of the newly emerging Anglican Communion based on the Covenant. This is no super hierarchical statement (a’la Romana) as to what shall constitute membership of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,… Read more »

Jeremy
Jeremy
11 years ago

My patience with this nonsense ran out long ago.

Spare me, Archbishop Williams, from your “concern” for my “nurture.”

You have no authority in the United States, and the sooner you understand that, the better.

Nom de Plume
Nom de Plume
11 years ago

As a constitutional matter, says ABC, the ACC can only submit the Covenant to provinces. I add that as a constitutional matter in at least some provinces only the provincial level can address a covenant. Any Canadian diocese signing the covenant would be acting ultra vires, and in fact any resolution endorsing it would have to be very carefully worded to to remain intra vires. And, of course, the big question is whether the CofE can sign a covenant. I think the rest of us need that question answered definitively before anyone else contemplates signing. It should be a deal… Read more »

christopher+
christopher+
11 years ago

I think Matthew Duckett raises a very interesting question. Does “full communion” mean essentially interchangeability of clergy? If so, then the essential difference between the ecumenical, full communion relationships between individual churches of the Anglican Communion and others – say, between the CofE and the Church of Sweden – and the Anglican Communion itself is the assumption that Anglican clergy/orders are universally accepted (with appropriate approvals) amongst all other Anglican Communion churches. That being the case – and I am happy to be corrected if it is not the case – what precisely is to be gained by effecting a… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Father Ron Smith
11 years ago

“And, of course, the big question is whether the CofE can sign a covenant. I think the rest of us need that question answered definitively before anyone else contemplates signing. It should be a deal breaker in my view.’ – Nom de Plume – This, indeed, remains the major point at issue in this whole business of the proposed Covenant. Will the Church of England be allowed to sign up constitutionally – bearing in mind the fact that it would probably need an Act of Parliament in England to join in such a relationship with the Provincial Churches of other… Read more »

peterpi
peterpi
11 years ago

I am illiterate in a lot of the theological and structural ways of bishops, dioceses, in Communion, not in Communion, etc. I also realize words have meaning. Having said all that, based on the excerpts above, I think the Archbishop of Canterbury is playing word games, trying to have it both ways, and wink-winking at some dioceses. If I am interpreting the excerpts correctly, he is saying only the Province can approve the Covenant, but (wink! wink!) any diocese in a Province that does not approve the Covenant can symbolicly state they approve it and will abide by it. If… Read more »

Brian
11 years ago

The constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia says that certain national decisions have effect in a diocese only if assented to that diocese. It may also be impossible to adopt the Covenant unless every one of the five metropolitan dioceses agrees. The very idea of an international inter-provincial covenant of is at odds with the way the Australian church is organised. So what will be the penalty on Australia if we are simply unable to adopt the Covenant with the agreement of every Diocese?

Pluralist
11 years ago

It really is getting stupid, after these updates.

What you have now, then, is an informal way of indicating joining a formal Covenant when a formal Covenant was supposed to be the means to supersede informal relations.

The Archbishop of Canterbury lives in a fantasy land of bishops across the world and himself as one worldwide identity. He is probably in the process of conveying institutional destruction and confusion at the same time.

Fr Mark
11 years ago

Christopher+ : interesting point.

On the interchangeability of clergy between the Church of Sweden and the Church of England, I’m not sure that the C of E’s diocese operating churches in Sweden considers that Swedish clergy ordained by a woman bishop are interchangeable, does it? I don’t know whether that goes for other dioceses in England as well.

Simon Sarmiento
11 years ago

The changes made by the Living Church in its reporting do not alter what the original letter from Rowan Williams said. It would be more helpful if the full unedited text of the letter had been published.

Andrew Carey
Andrew Carey
11 years ago

Just as a point of information. A couple of commenters have raised the issue of whether it is even constitutionally possible for the Church of England to sign up to the covenant. I’ve seen this raised on Thinking Anglicans any number of times. General Synod has discussed the Covenant and has taken legal advice. It wouldn’t have done so if there was any bar on the Church of England adopting such a covenant (similar to the process of adopting ecumenical agreements with other churches). The Covenant requires only an act of Synod, and not an Act of Parliament.

Simon Sarmiento
11 years ago

Thanks Andrew. TA reported the situation in some detail last January. See

http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/archives/003607.html

“…the House of Bishops believes the process of adoption of the Covenant should not involve the passing of any Measure or Canon, but rather the passing of a Synod resolution which should then be formally declared to be an Act of Synod. It also considers that such a resolution would most likely be both Article 7 and Article 8 business, and thus would require referral to the dioceses.”

Tobias Haller
11 years ago

If such confusion reigns about the Covenant, to the extent that it isn’t entirely clear what if anything it means, then it would appear that signing or not signing would be capable of equal spin in any direction one might choose. There is no common hermeneutic at work concerning the Covenant than there is to Scripture. Thus, it will no more “settle” any current problems is signed than if not signed. As much as I would like to see some greater emergence of a common way forward for the Communion, I’m inclined to agree with Pluralist that the Covenant has,… Read more »

JCF
JCF
11 years ago

Should not every Rowan Cantuar Communique come w/ its own set of tea leaves, or chicken entrails? o_O

Father Ron Smith
Father Ron Smith
11 years ago

“I’m inclined to agree with Pluralist that the Covenant has, like Marley’s Ghost, lost its power to intervene for good in human affairs” – Tobias –

Then why the Dickens should it proceed any further? – Although Andrew Carey seems to think it could, without intervention from UK Parliament

John B. Chilton
11 years ago

The three plus 1 guys with a website write, “While it is not ACI’s prerogative to release the full text of the letter, we are grateful for the Archbishop’s recognition that acceptance of the Covenant, in whatever form, is the means by which we declare our ‘intent to live within the agreed terms of the Communion’s life.’ We also acknowledge that endorsement by dioceses ‘would not instantly and automatically have an institutional effect (and so would not automatically affect the diocese’s legal relationship with the Province of TEC).'” Spare us the spin. You have the letter. Release it. Likewise, The… Read more »

Charlotte
Charlotte
11 years ago

Tobias, I think you’ve put your finger on the problem. The Covenant, like the Windsor Report, like any other document issued in these last long six years, appears to mean whatever it is being spun to mean. From the hardline conservative side, that spin has always included: “discipline” of TEC for its consecration of +Gene Robinson; an end, everywhere in the Communion, to the ordination of openly gay/lesbian persons as priests or deacons; no priest or congregation anywhere in the Communion to give recognition of any kind to the relationships of gay or lesbian persons; and (as they hope) the… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
Martin Reynolds
11 years ago

I remain loath to advocate setting aside the Covenant, it has already inflicted too much harm to be completely ignored.

In the light of the recent communications I am suggesting to the Church in Wales that the several dioceses “welcome” the Covenant while our national Governing Body just does not consider it.

I believe this will give it the attention it merits.

JPM
JPM
11 years ago

“The three plus 1 guys with a website…”

Don’t forget their human sexuality scholar: a veterinarian.

Tobias Haller
11 years ago

Fr Ron, I’m still thinking the (or rather “a”) Covenant might be of some use as it becomes clearer that it can have absolutely no disciplinary component, in terms of real discipline. Being expelled is no punishment to those who do not want to be part of the group, after all! So if the Covenant Process is really just about tne emergence of the New Anglican Communion of Those Who Wish to Work Together versus Those Purists Who Want All To Agree With Them, as water seeks its own level, I think the sole remaining utility for a Covenant will… Read more »

drdanfee
drdanfee
11 years ago

So far as I can tell, so far, who can sign the covenant, what signing will mean, and how various Anglicans do/do not respond to who signs and who doesn’t – all are up for grabs, depending. Depending on whether you are progressive believer, mxed middles believer, right wing believer, or far rightwing believer. Nobody seems to have any sort of lock on any of the questions. Including Canterbury who doesn’t have a lock, either. How neutral, pseudo-fair, and distant Canterbury always stands and opines when we are passing through some instant of progressive believer Anglican church life weighing our… Read more »

John Holding
John Holding
11 years ago

I would still like to see what happens if, say, Chichester and Winchester vote at diocesan meetings to accept the Covenent and Oxford and Ely vote not to accept it. Do those votes mean anything in the CofE or to RW? If not, why should a vote in Central Florida or Sydney? I rather think that, yet again, RW’s English eyes are simply not capable of seeing through non-ENglish glasses (and yes I know he’s Welsh, but his eyes are CofE eyes). He’s shown time after time that he simply does not understand or believe how the church works outside… Read more »

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