The covenant is not 'something out of the Middle Ages'
Bishop Victoria Matthews introduced the morning’s discussion by pointing out that “Fear not” is one of the more frequent admonitions in Scripture.
And that advice, she suggested, is something that General Synod should take to heart where the proposed Covenant is concerned.
“Unfortunately,” Bishop Victoria told members, “much of what I have read about the Covenant, from both sides, seems dangerously close to fear-mongering.
“So my appeal to General Synod is: ‘Please do not pre-judge the Covenant: read and consider it before you make up your mind. I know that is obvious – but it isn’t always what happens.”
She also urged Synod to remember what the Covenant is meant to do.
“It is meant to help us be a Communion – a Communion whose motto is: ‘The truth shall set you free.’
“So, having read and considered the Covenant, ask whether it will imprison or liberate? Will it help us reach God’s truth?”
She also urged Synod to avoid “over-personalising” the Covenant.
“I read of those who are scared of the Covenant because it could eliminate women in holy orders – and I do not believe there is any chance of that happening.
“There are those who believe it is all about one or another explosive event in the life of the Communion. I prefer to think it has a bigger vision than that.”
Bishop Victoria noted that there is much about the Anglican Communion “that is more accidental than planned. We really simply happened.”
When the Lambeth Conference comes around, or when the ACC meets “then it is clear that there are extraordinary differences – but also deep, abiding commonalities. We are Anglican – not all the same, but deeply connected.
“Sometimes it feels like we are door knobs or door handles pointed in opposite directions, but connected at the centre – you turn one, and the other turns as well. We are connected by and with the Gospel.”
'Privileges and responsibilities'
Bishop Victoria said the Covenant begins by reminding Anglicans that they are called into communion in Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:9) – and in this communion they “share both privileges and responsibilities.”
The intent of the Covenant, she said, “is not massive reorganization of how we live together, but rather to articulate some of the affirmations and commitments which we share.”
Section 1, she said, talks about Anglicans being part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church worshipping the Holy Trinity. It talks, in part, of the Anglican commitment to Scripture, the historic creeds, the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist and the historic episcopate. It is about being Christian.
Section 2 speaks of the Anglican vocation to mission; while Section 3 speaks of Anglican unity and common life.
It describes a communion of churches, each with considerable autonomy, but also recognizing the Instruments of Communion, and the “weaving together of many voices and viewpoints to discern the consensus fidelium, or common faith of the people.
“Ours is an independent life with each and all reliant on the Holy Spirit.”
Bishop Victoria then turned to the contentious section, Section 4.
“The question often asked (about that) is: ‘Does it have teeth?’
Bishop Victoria then paused and asked:
“Is that how we want to speak to each other? I suggest not.”
She said the purpose of the clause was for the churches of the Anglican Communion to live “more fully into the ecclesial communion and interdependence.”
And that, she suggested, was “foundational” for churches in the Anglican Communion.
It matters, she said, because being Christian is being part of a much bigger community than exists in any one country or structure.
“It matters because talking to each other in the Body of Christ isn’t an optional extra,” she said.
Section 4 provides for Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion – which comprises an executive group of Primates and members of the Anglican Communion – to become involved “when a shared mind has not been reached.”
Standing Committee may ask a church “to defer a controversial action.
‘If the church refuses, the Standing Committee could recommend ‘relational consequences’.
And those consequences could mean: “the provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from” the Instruments of Communion.
But even those, she suggested, were not severe, and amounted to no more than asking a province to step back, to allow the creation of a safer space.
“This Covenant is not something out of the Middle Ages, or from the Inquisition. It is about trying to be as pastoral as possible, in the facing of difficult questions…
“It is about talking to each other; it is about listening to each other; it is about discerning God’s will for God’s church.
“As to the fears about relational consequences, we need to remember the centrality of the Prodigal son to the Gospel we celebrate. He came home and was welcomed and then said his piece.
“The Covenant is less about what Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia can or cannot do, and more about what we do in terms of including others in the conversation as we are discerning God’s will.
“The smaller the conversation, the more likely we will get our discernment wrong. So do not be afraid of the Covenant and your neighbours’ opinions.”