The first three sections of the proposed Anglican Covenant have been given the green light – in principle – by General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui.
Episcopal units will now be asked to consider the entire Covenant over the next two years and report back to General Synod in 2012. That Synod will then decide whether to adopt it.
In the meantime, legal opinions will be sought on a controversial part of section 4 of the Covenant – regarding participation in the decision-making of the Communion Standing Committee (clause 4.2.8).
The 2010 General Synod meeting in Gisborne devoted much of Monday to a motion to this effect, brought by Dr Tony Fitchett (Dunedin).
Synod first listened to a prepared statement from Bishop Victoria Matthews (Christchurch), in which she urged members “not to be afraid of the Covenant.
The Covenant was meant to “help us be a Communion,” she added, and Synod members should avoid over-personalising the issue.
Outlining the various sections of the Covenant, Bishop Victoria pointed out that the intent “is not massive reorganization of how we live together, but rather to articulate some affirmations and commitments which we share.”
Particular attention was paid to Section 4, which offers a process for resolving differences within the Communion.
“Standing Committee (of the Communion) may ask a church to defer a controversial action,” Bishop Victoria noted. “If they refuse, Standing Committee could recommend relational consequences.”
Summing up, Bishop Victoria reiterated that the Covenant was not about women in holy orders, human sexuality, or even lay presidency.
“It certainly is not about the three-tikanga structure of our church. 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.”
'Mother's milk – good for us all'
General Synod then caucused by orders, and by tikanga, before reconvening to consider Dr Fitchett’s actual motion.
Emphasizing that his motion did not aim to make a decision on the Covenant, Dr Fitchett said the first three sections could be affirmed as “mother’s milk – obviously good for us all.”
“Those three sections set out some affirmations, and then some commitments that derive from those affirmations – starting with ‘Our Inheritance of Faith,’ progressing through ‘The Life We Share With Others’ to ‘Our Unity and Common Life’.”
Dr Fitchett didn’t feel at all comfortable with Section 4, however, saying that it contained provisions that are “punitive, controlling and completely unAnglican.”
“Though the language used has been moderated, and has become fuzzier, in successive drafts, the general thrust of Section 4.2 remains as it began: that a Communion-wide body … can discipline a province and recommend its exclusion from Communion structures.
“It can also recommend suspension while those disciplinary processes are being worked through.
“Further, a new clause 4.2.8 excludes all provinces which have not adopted the Covenant from decision-making about exclusion of provinces.”
Archdeacon Turi Hollis (Waipounamu) seconded the motion, saying he did not want this church “to get into a situation where we sanctify a process of exclusion or marginalization.”
In the debate that followed, the Rev Helen Wilderspin (Dunedin) moved to delete Section 2 of the motion, which approves in principle the first three sections of the Covenant.
Synod felt, however, that Dr Fitchett’s motion should stand in its entirety so that this church could discuss the Covenant as it now stands. Mr Tony Hill (Wellington) also pointed out that to delete clauses at this stage would send the wrong signal internationally.
This church would run the risk, he warned, of “drifting off into the South Pacific and never being seen again.”
Dr Fitchett’s motion passed overwhelmingly.
The full motion:
Whereas this church has been invited by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion to consider and accept or adopt the November 2009 text of the Ridley Cambridge Draft of the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant, as the Anglican Communion Covenant, and
Whereas a variety of opinions exists in this church and in the Communion regarding some provisions of Section 4 of the proposed Covenant,
Now therefore it be resolved that this General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui:
1. Receives the November 2009 text of the propsed Anglican Communion Covenant;
2. Approves in principle the provisions of Sections 1, 2 and 3 of the proposed Covenant;
3. Refers the proposed Covenant to the Epsicopal units of this church for consideration and reporting back to the 2012 session of the General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui, with a view to the Synod/Te Hinota then making a final decision regarding its adoption;
4. Requests the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion to obtain an opinion from the Legal Advisor to the Anglican Consultative Council and from the Chancellors and Legal Advisors Committee of this church regarding the appropriateness of the provisions of Clause 4.2.8 of the proposed Covenant in relation to decisions regarding membership of the Anglican Consultative Council;
5. Reports these decisions to the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion.