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Covenant wins partial approval

The first three sections of the proposed Anglican Covenant have been given the green light – in principle – by General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui.

• Victoria Matthews: 'Fear not'

• Tony Fitchett: 'Punitive and unAnglican'

Brian Thomas  |  10 May 2010  |  11 Comments  

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.


Bryden Black

Another helpful means of assessing both this GS motion on the Covenant and the very issues before the Communion which prompted it is now provided by the Bp of Durham in his Presidential Address:
"Read mark learn and inwardly digest", as the Advent 2 Collect puts is, wld not go amiss!

Ronnie Smith

Bryden Black's reference the the ACI, the self-styled Anglican Communion Institute, needs to be seen in context. The fact that ACI is composed of a small number of American dissidents from the mainline perspective of TEC - with a few conservative English Bishops as 'advisors' - sets this self-appointed entity apart, in favour of anything that would outlaw the Gospel initiatives of Provinces (like TEC) of the Anglican Communion that want to do away with discrimination on the basis of race, gender or sexual-identity.

Like ACNA - the schismatic would-be 'province' in North America, ACI and the Global South Primates (some of whom have already removed any reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury from their own statutes) are hell-bent on the exclusion of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada from membership. This fact needs to be understood.

Division in the Communion has already taken place. To bring into effect an Anglican Communion Covenant which would include the schismatics, while exlcuding those Provinces that belong because they want to belong would be ridiculous.

Bryden Black

It would be well for all Bishops of ACANZ&P and members of General Synod, who have just voted especially re the motion's part 4, to digest the following argument found at:

Bryden Black

I suspect it’s not quite what Ronnie Smith meant, but of course whatever is “self-contradictory” will also be “obfuscatory”. And there’s a parallel: any sinful exercise of human freedom will contribute to darkening the mind as well. Both observations are part of the current problem the Anglican Communion presently faces.

Ronnie Smith

I find Tony Fitchett's arguments on the clauses of the Covenant document to be clear and helpful to those in our Church who are possibly wondering what the Covenant process is all about.

Bryden's obfuscation cannot detract from Tony's basic argument that, while the first 3 clauses are, in the main, acceptable - on the grounds of a shared theology of Anglicanism in the modern world; section 4.2. is a new and radical departure from our traditional Anglican way of existing together as a Family of independently governed Churches, united in the 'Bonds of Affection' which has characterised provincial relationships from our beginnings as 'Communion'.

To suddenly do away with Lambeth's intentional consultative ethos, in order to replace this with a Roman-Catholic type 'magisterium', having a disciplinary role within the world-wide Communion, would defeat the whole purpose of the Reformation thrust of independently governed provincial Churches with a common bond.

Culture and context have an important role to play in how each Church carries out its ministry of the Gospel. Our 3-tikanga Chur...

Bryden Black

There is something curiously self-contradictory about Tony Fitchett’s stance. On the one hand he wishes to preserve Provincial autonomy, where “autonomy” is an understanding of freedom. He even endorses “living ‘in communion with autonomy and accountability’” as per section 3.1.2. Yet on the other hand, by denying the clear intent of section 4, he undermines the nature of freedom by denying its exercise any due responsibility with genuine consequences. In other words, he wants his cake and to eat it too - as does GS itself, it seems. A more responsible stance would either endorse the Covenant in its entirety or reject it totally.

Lastly, re the so-called Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. Tracing its history and identity would cast a serious shadow over its very own legal constitution. Now; there’s an irony too!

Brian McMichael

Greetings from the United States,

To wear my stripes, I am a lay member of TEC and am in accord with its various, prayerful and controversial stands, as such I am opposed to the thrust of the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant. I am opposed to it first and foremost because it is clearly a contract, and not a covenant. It is a contract that arises in response to a particular set of recent conflicts, and to my reading favors a particular constituency of these conflicts.

While no Church should cringe from its statements, the dictates of the fullness of the Christian revelation and the life of the Church, at least as I know them, would beg, “Yes, and…,” or in some instances “Yes, but…” however, most certainly not simply, “Yes! Only, yes,” at every turn.

Brian McMichael

It has the feel of a line of hostile questioning by a barrister, or of an employment contract in dense, legalistic boilerplate offered by a corporate human resources department that seeks to preferentially dictate and control a relationship and indemnify the drafter. Only there’s no cross-examination forthcoming, no counter-proposal to be tendered. I am surprised that the Church of New Zealand would seriously and apparently earnestly enter in to it reserving concerns only about Section 4.2.8.

It would be disingenuous for any to represent that the intent of this document is not expediently aimed at seeking to have the North American (and I thought the New Zealand) Churches to capitulate on their discernments about the full roles of women and all the baptized in the sacramental life, leadership and all lay and ordained ministry of the Church, or either to voluntarily renounce and remove themselves, or be involuntarily moved in the direction of marginalization and possibly eliminaton from the Anglican Communion.

Brian McMichael

The Churches in the Developing World face different theological issues and different pastoral needs than those in the Developed World. To maintain that they do not is either to be dense or to to have a hidden agenda. I do not believe that we stand in the way of the Church in the Developing World, except perhaps when they advocate imprisoning or executing people on the basis of their sexuality. For the most part, I believe we support the Churches of the Developing World materially and spiritually. I hear the concern that false characterizations of the pastoral positions of some of the Churches in the Developed World make it difficult and purportedly even dangerous for impoverished and persecuted Churches in the Developing World. I’m not convinced of the clear validity of these claims nor of the solitary nature of these problems, i.e., if we in North America didn’t support the ordination of women and homosexuals to all orders, and supported extending marriage to homosexuals, or weren’t looking deeper at the Faith in the context we find ourselves that life for the Churches in the Developing World would be a bowl of cherries. I think that is a false dilemma.

Brian McMichael

These areas of conflict are really issues of church discipline, arguably with aspects of moral theology. They are clearly not dogmatic issues. Confusing and treating matters of church discipline as matters of dogma is a hallmark of the Roman Curia (not to be confused with the Roman Church, mind you) and as such should be looked upon with deep suspicion as suggesting more an origin in the Will to Power, rather than out of genuine, pastoral concern.



Ronnie Smith

"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.”

And this is the whole problem some of us have with the concept of this Covenant's disciplinary section 4.2.

Traditional Anglicanism - into which most of us were inducted, and some of us ordained - has resisted the concept of papal-type governance. To insist on a homogeneous culture which ignores local context is not what our Church is understood as being - independently organised as we are with our own hierarchy, canons, prayer books and unique pastoral and ministerial situations.

If it were possible to accept a loose confederation, as at present, but with resort to the first 3 sections of a statement of relationship, it would perhaps help to strengthen the bonds of love and faith between mutually participating Provinces.

To require a more disciplinary culture and curial oversight would rob us of our unique position as a family of Churches with a mutual connection to our sisters and brothers in Christ around the world. What more do...