Covenant Week
Section Two: Common ground

This is the second 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 Two of the covenant. Future articles will consider Section 3, the appendix, and the future of the covenant process. Read the article on Section One.

By Marshall Scott

In this series of posts by deputies looking at the St. Andrew’s Draft of a proposed Anglican Covenant, I’ve been asked to consider “Section Two: The Life We Share With Others: Our Anglican Vocation.” While I appreciated the invitation, I did have some concern. I had written a good bit elsewhere about the “Nassau Draft,” the first draft from the Covenant Design Group, and I didn’t want to rehash old stuff. But, we were all spared: the corresponding section (section 4) of the “Nassau Draft” was one I never got to. So, I was able to come to the process with fresh eyes.

What struck me is that this section has been brought from the Nassau Draft with very little change. That suggests that there was broad acceptance for this from the first draft. In fact that’s confirmed in the Commentary attached to the St. Andrew’s Draft. The only substantive comment regarding Section 2 is an explanation for retaining from the Nassau Draft to the St. Andrew’s Draft of the same five “marks of mission.”

That said, there are some changes, and they are interesting. Let’s begin with the Affirmations:

2.1 Each Church of the Communion affirms:

(2.1.1) that communion is a gift of God: that His people from east and west, north and south, may together declare his glory and be a sign of God’s Reign. We gratefully acknowledge God’s gracious providence extended to us down the ages, our origins in the Church of the Apostles, the ancient common traditions, the rich history of the Church in Britain and Ireland shaped by the Reformation, and our growth into a global communion through the expanding missionary work of the Church.

(2.1.2) the ongoing mission work of the Communion. As the Communion continues to develop into a worldwide family of interdependent churches, we embrace challenges and opportunities for mission at local, regional, and international levels. In this, we cherish our faith and mission heritage as offering Anglicans distinctive opportunities for mission collaboration.

(2.1.3) that our common mission is a mission shared with other churches and traditions beyond this covenant. We embrace opportunities for the discovery of the life of the whole gospel and for reconciliation and shared mission with the Church throughout the world. It is with all the saints that we will comprehend the fuller dimensions of Christ’s redemptive and immeasurable love.

The first change that struck me was in paragraph 2.1.1 in the description of what we might call “the faith as this Church has received it.” In discussing our shared history the Nassau Draft spoke of “our origins in the undivided Church;” while the St. Andrew’s Draft speaks of, “our origins in the Church of the Apostles, [and] the ancient common traditions.” This pushes back a significant point in our history. The “undivided Church” continued in some sense, however tenuous, until 1054, although the issues in the division were present for some time before. The Church of the Apostles would be quite early; and while “the ancient common traditions” is vague in content, it would seem to precede the divisive issues, and not just the excommunications in 1054.

So where would we start? We might focus on our common acceptance of the first four Ecumenical Councils, and consider “the ancient common traditions” to end with the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Even if we embrace Gregory’s mission of Augustine of Canterbury (part of “the rich history of the Church in Britain and Ireland”), should we ignore the liturgical work of Gregory and of Benedict of Nursia, each important for the development of the Prayer Book? Would we ignore the Christological work in the latter three Ecumenical Councils? We might argue how important any of these historical issues might be. My point is that events between “the ancient common traditions” and the end of “the undivided Church” are also important for who we are as Anglicans now.

Again, the St. Andrew’s Draft speaks of “the rich history of the Church in Britain and Ireland shaped by the Reformation;” while the Nassau Draft described that rich history as “particularly shaped by the Reformation.” (Emphasis mine) The rich history of the Church in Britain and Ireland certainly was shaped by the Reformation, but hardly by the Reformation alone. The word “particularly” emphasizes our Reformation tradition, while acknowledging that other traditions shaped that history as well. The wording in the St. Andrew’s Draft would seem especially to ignore aspects of the catholic tradition recovered in the Oxford Movement. Retaining the word “particularly” would be helpful in acknowledging that the Anglican tradition is both reformed and catholic.

A second interesting, and more hopeful, change came in moving one clause. The clause, “We embrace opportunities for the discovery of the life of the whole gospel and for reconciliation and shared mission with the Church throughout the world,” appears in both Drafts. However, in the Nassau Draft it appears as part of our “unique [Anglican] opportunities for mission collaboration” in the second paragraph. In the St. Andrew’s Draft it appears instead in the third paragraph, as part of “our common mission… shared with other churches and traditions beyond this covenant.” Thus, “discovery of the life of the whole gospel…, reconciliation and shared mission,” are not only aspects of our vocation as Anglicans, but rather of our vocation as Christians.

So far, I have looked at the changes from the Nassau to the St. Andrew’s Draft. I want to return, however, to how little actual change there has been. Again, that suggests that there was wide acceptance of the original, both in the committee and in solicited comments. That shows again in the Commitments addressed in paragraph 2.2:

2.2 In recognition of these affirmations, each Church of the Communion commits itself:

(2.2.1) to answer God’s call to evangelisation and to share in his healing and reconciling mission for our blessed but broken, hurting and fallen world, and, with mutual accountability, to share our God-given spiritual and material resources in this task.

(2.2.2) In this mission, which is the Mission of Christ, each Church undertakes:

(2.2.2.a) to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God;

(2.2.2.b) to teach, baptize and nurture new believers;

(2.2.2.c) to respond to human need by loving service;

(2.2.2.d) to seek to transform unjust structures of society; and

(2.2.2.e) to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain and renew the life of the earth.

The only change in this wording from the Nassau Draft is the addition of “evangelisation” (sic) as a commitment. As evangelism in some form is a call given by Christ, it is a reasonable addition to these commitments. Moreover, the five “marks of mission,” have been brought into the new draft unchanged.

That consistency, especially on mission, raised an interesting thought for me: what if we were to consider this by itself as the content of an Anglican Covenant? What if Section 2 were what we considered – and all we considered? I realize I’m not the only person who has had a similar thought; but I also think it’s worth consideration.

First, it considers our history and, once again, “the faith as this Church ” – or better, “as this Communion – has received it.” It focuses on our specific Anglican heritage. Second, it acknowledges our current circumstance as “a worldwide family of interdependent churches,” and acknowledges that this circumstance “continues to develop.” While it does not describe our “unique Anglican charism,” it does describe the unique aspects of our history in which we would discern it. It is focused on vocation rather than on content or structures, allowing for freedom of thought within the tradition while agreeing on a call to mission for all Christians. Important in our current discussions, there was broad agreement on this section, requiring only slight changes from the Nassau Draft. To focus on this section by itself as the Draft Covenant would be to focus on shared Anglican distinctives, more specific than the Christian basics of the Quadrilateral expressed in Section One, without fixing permanently our current understanding of the structures of the Communion. It would allow for continued exchange, and for continued growth, as we continue to discern how the Holy Spirit is leading us.

Section 2 of the St. Andrew’s Draft has much to commend it. It focuses on aspects of “the faith as this Church has received it” on which there is broad agreement, and on our specific Anglican heritage and our shared vocation, without freezing current structures or inhibiting further discernment and growth in the Spirit. As part of an Anglican Covenant, it comes as close as anything in either draft to actually addressing a “unique Anglican charism.” As the substance of an Anglican Covenant, it would focus on agreed values rather than divisive issues, and allow for continuing growth in ministry and fellowship, and “in the knowledge and love of the Lord.”

The Rev. Marshall Scott, a deputy to the 2009 General Convention from the Diocese of West Missouri, is a past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross. He keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

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