Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

'Fear not' says Bishop Victoria

The proposed Covenant is meant to help us be a Communion, says Bishop Victoria Matthews.

Lloyd Ashton  |  10 May 2010  |  3 Comments  

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.”


Ronnie Smith

Bryden Black said:
"One of the interesting things about this entire debate behind the Anglican Covenant is the ease with which folk simply adopt the language forms of the world about them. This results in their not being able to see what it is that the Gospel itself has uniquely established among us."

So what language, pray, does Bryden Black use when he is speaking of the Church in today's world? Maybe he has some private language which is inaccessible to other people in the world of today that other theologians have no knowledge of!

The Gospel is a living tradition, not a dead language, and the Holy Spirit's voice can be discerned in the living Church today. Does B.B. want to continue using language that is not understood 'of the people'? This is surely why our Church has its own Prayer Book - so that people of today may understand, not only the liturgy of the Church but also a theology that can interpret the enlightenemnt that has taken place since the publication of the B.C.P. and the King James Bible. God speaks to the Church in the language of todays's culture - not the culture of 2,000 years ago.

Bryden Black

One of the interesting things about this entire debate behind the Anglican Covenant is the ease with which folk simply adopt the language forms of the world about them. This results in their not being able to see what it is that the Gospel itself has uniquely established among us.

This was one reason why I wrote “Whose Language? Which Grammar? ‘Inclusivity’ and ‘diversity’, versus the crafted Christian concepts of catholicity and created differentiation”, published by ATF Press in the suitably mixed collection “Whose Homosexuality? Which Authority?” (2006) For when we notice how the Christian Gospel has both appropriated and yet transformed the very discourses of the world, then we shall be able to have the wisdom to steer a way in love and truth not only through our present Anglican dilemmas (often presented as pro or anti gay, though this is a gross simplification) but also well into the 21st C, whatever it may throw at us.

Ronnie Smith

Many of us who are foundational Anglicans (I was Baptized and Confirmed in the Church of England) see the Church as a messenger of the radical inclusivity of the Body of Christ - for women and the LGBT community, and for all persons who have formerly been marginalised by out-dated shibboleths of puritanism.

The Global South Anglican provinces of the Communion cannot, seemingly, live with this freedom we have found in the Gospel proclamation. Hence, they have separated themselves out from TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, whose inclusive theology does not measure up to their standards of what they call 'holiness'.

Section 4 of the present draft of The Covenant, if the G.S. Provinces were to sign up to it, would require TEC and the A.C.of C. to resile from their canonical acceptance of same-sex blessings and the ordination of gays in their Church - a process which I am hopeful of finding acceptance within our Church of Aotearoa/N.Z.

For our Church to agree to the exclusion of TEC and the A.C.of C. from such a Covenant relationship would, in my opinion, jeopardise our filial relationship with them and, on these grou...