This is the first of five articles examining the St. Andrew’s draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant. A study guide from The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church is also available. This article considers Section One of the covenant. Future articles will consider Sections 2-3, the appendix, and the future of the covenant process.
By Tobias S. Haller
Section One of the Saint Andrew’s Draft Anglican Covenant begins with a series of affirmations. These should be familiar to Episcopalians, as they echo the language of the Creeds and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. The creedal phrases in the first clause remind us that our unity with each other stems from our unity in Christ, who prayed that the disciples would be one even as he and the Father are one. Our unity is a reflection of the unity of the Trinity, the inner relationship of the Father with the Son in the Holy Spirit. God in Christ confers a share in the divine unity upon us as a gift and an inheritance.
The Quadrilateral is an important focal point in Anglicanism. It was first conceived by an Episcopal priest (and deputy to thirteen consecutive General Conventions!) William Reed Huntington. He intended it to mark out the four secure boundaries within which he hoped churches from outside Anglicanism’s fold would be able to find ample pasture to share — as a means toward the reunion of Christian traditions divided since the Reformation. So it is fitting to see the four articles of the Quadrilateral — Scripture, creeds, sacraments and the episcopate — reappear in a new context, as a way to affirm unity within Anglicanism. The healing of breaches that have arisen within our family of churches, in affirming the unity we have inherited, will make our common witness as a communion of churches — and our apostolic mission together — more effective, as we continue to work with those of other traditions and communions outside our own.
The closing articles of this first part remind us of the importance of that common mission and common worship, which are both means to and signs of unity, in spite of differing contexts and traditions within a global communion, and as shared beyond that communion with the wider church. The old Benedictine motto: ora et labora — pray and work — is a means of keeping peace and promoting harmony in the household, even the household of God.
The second part of this section turns to the implementation, and shows how the inheritance might best be put to work. We, in this Episcopal corner of the Anglican pasture, have been given a share of our inheritance, and charged with wise stewardship in its employment. It is no talent to be buried in a field, no treasure to be wasted in prodigal excess, but rather invested and put to work towards the common good.
This inheritance also comes with conditions: we commit to make use of it together with the rest of the large family of which we are members; for it is an inheritance we share. It is in this part of the draft that we agree to commit to covenant promises made to one another, to our brothers and sisters in this Anglican family.
The commitments grow out of the articles of the Quadrilateral, and flesh them out in practical ways. We are to read the Scripture faithfully within the context of the church’s historic tradition and creeds, but also to employ all of the tools of scholarship and reason at our disposal, always in keeping with the principle that Scripture’s purpose is to reveal and teach salvation, and that it is sufficient to that end. We are to maintain and share in the sacramental fellowship which is both our privilege and our duty, both the sign of unity and the means to nourish it. We are, as faithful people of God, to take counsel together with our bishops in study and prayer, as we engage with each other in our common life. We are also to be open to the prophetic voices that challenge us to meet the needs of a suffering world, in mission and outreach. Finally we are committed to journey together with our fellow pilgrims within the Anglican Communion, as we live out our call to fulfill the reality with which this Covenant began: that all may be One, even as God is One. This places our task upon a firm foundation — ultimately the only foundation on which a secure churchly enterprise can be built, the sure and firm foundation of Jesus Christ himself.
Tobias S. Haller, Vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church, Fordham in Bronx, N. Y, is a life professed member of the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory and a clerical deputy to the 2009 General Convention. He blogs at In a Godward Direction.