This week’s Church Times carries a letter from the Bishops of Bristol and Oxford, which is behind the paywall this week, but is freely available from the Diocese of Bristol’s website at Bishops of Bristol and Oxford’s Anglican Covenant letter.
With a large number of dioceses soon to debate the Anglican Communion Covenant, and with there being in some quarters suspicion or even hostility towards it, we would urge pause for reflection as to what is at stake, both for the Anglican Communion as a whole and for our own Church of England.
The Covenant process has been developed with the full participation of all the churches of the Anglican Communion. It is likely the most consulted-over document the Communion has ever known. At heart, it offers a way for the churches to renew their commitment to each other and to express their common Anglican identity and mission. It’s something our own church has been at the centre of shaping and developing…
And it concludes with this:
The Anglican Communion Covenant is currently under consideration in all the churches of the Communion, according to their own processes for adoption. Already nine have decided to adopt it . A luke-warm response, or worse, rejection, of the Covenant in the Church of England would meet with bewilderment in the wider Communion. Some would ask with the prophet Isaiah, “Can a mother forget her children?”
But it would also impoverish the Church of England. Our church life and mission is infinitely the richer for the relationships we share around the Communion. The Covenant offers us a precious opportunity to consolidate those relationships and to demonstrate our commitment to one another as churches. Let’s not miss this opportunity offered to us in our time.
A detailed and comprehensive response to this letter has been published by Paul Bagshaw and can be read at What is not being said about the Covenant? It needs to be read in full, but here is an extract:
I choose to believe that many, perhaps the majority, of the English bishops are personally committed to the Covenant – but always and only in broad generalisations.
In essence we are told: the Covenant is A Good Thing, it doesn’t change anything but is vital to keeping the Communion together, and the consequences of not passing it are horrendous.
But this advocacy never seems to address what any critical reader of the Covenant text might ask:
- The bishops’ say there are no new powers or structures; but what does the text actually contain?
- And if there are no new powers or structures then how can choosing or rejecting it possibly make so much difference?
- In particular, if the Covenant leaves provincial autonomy just where it was then how can it have any effect on future decisions a province might contemplate?
- In sum: what’s so wrong with the Communion that we currently have that it will fall apart without the Covenant, but which the Covenant – by merely restating what we already know and practice – can possibly resolve?
I struggle to see the logic.
But I do see something missing. The ultimate power of Section 4 of the Covenant is to exclude an offending province by recommending to every other province that they turn their backs on it. All lesser powers of exclusion and demotion stem from this central power…
Alan Perry has compiled aggregate voting statistics here. It would be very interesting to compare the voting totals in each diocese with the corresponding totals for the recent parallel voting on women bishops, to see what the comparative levels of attendance were.