Feedback on the Covenant

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia and The Anglican Church of Scotland have both weighed in on the proposed Anglican Covenant. They are both respectful but clear about what they see as shortcomings to the document as proposed and leery of the assumptions behind it. Both offer alternate ways forward.

The ACANZP says:

The responses show that our Church has at least three different attitudes to the Covenant as a solution to the Communion’s difficulties:

1. The Anglican Communion does not have machinery that allows us to discern the validity or otherwise of differing points of view and the Covenant may be a way of creating such a mechanism. We should be able to trust the international process to resolve any detailed difficulties we may have.

2. The nature of this Draft Covenant, and the underlying assumptions make it an unsatisfactory solution to our difficulties as a Communion, and runs the danger of exacerbating them. We therefore need to keep searching for a different way forward.

3. For Tikanga Maori tino rangatiratanga (self determination), Christian and ethnic identity are of foundational importance. Tangata whenua (the indigenous people) have a rootedness that precedes the Anglican Communion, and would not lightly cede their autonomy.

The history and context of ACANZP suggests that the concept of a “covenant” is deeply rooted and not to be taken lightly.

A number of groups expressed concern about the word Covenant as applied to any agreement reached by the Communion. There were two distinct reasons for this concern:

• The Treaty of Waitangi, the founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand, was understood by Maori as a Kawenata (“Covenant”) and was therefore given appropriate respect by its Maori signatories. Subsequent controversies about how well or otherwise the Treaty has been honoured by the Crown has caused some to question the use of the word Covenant in this new context.

• For others a Covenant is linked to the concept of something given to us by God. The move to call this proposal a Covenant is therefore to claim far too much. They see this exercise as a very human device and are by no means convinced that it is worthy of any other status.

There is concern that “Given the breakdown of trust implied by signs of impaired communion, we are not convinced that a solemn covenantal agreement is the way forward. In fact the risk is that such an agreement might itself become a weapon in the hands of those committed to a particular viewpoint in this controversy.”

On the other side of the globe, the Scottish Episcopal Church has also released it’s response to the Covenant. While framed in a different context, the concerns of Auotearoa and New Zealand are echoed.

We have three principle areas of concern regarding the Draft Covenant.

* The discussion of the foundations which are traditionally held to undergird Anglicanism omits to mention reason, which has long been thought to stand alongside scripture and tradition.

* The wording of section 6 of the Draft Covenant is potentially open to a wide variety of interpretations. For example, to take paragraph 6.3 alone, we feel that the expressions such as ‘common mind’, ‘matters of essential concern’, and ‘common standards of faith’, all require significant further definition before they can bear the weight being placed upon them in the context of this Covenant. We are led to wonder whether the wording of section 6 of the Draft Covenant is fit for purpose in any practical circumstance in which it is likely to be called upon.

* We note that the Draft Covenant invests the Primates’ meeting with considerable and wide-ranging powers. We question whether the Primates’ meeting is the Instrument of Unity best suited to the task being entrusted to it (rather than the ACC, which contains a more wide-ranging representation of Church members).

The Scots have two other concerns:

First, that the Covenant assumes that the normative narrative of Anglican identity is the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which is not the case for the Episcopalians of Scotland.

We feel that nuances which are of significance to particular provinces have been overlooked as a consequence of the quest for agreed principles. For example, our liturgical tradition has foundations other than just the Book of Common Prayer of 1662. As a consequence, the narrative of institution does not have the privileged place in our Eucharistic liturgies that is implied in section 2.3: indeed, the invocation of the Holy Spirit (the epiclesis), which does not appear in the 1662 prayer book, is equally as significant in our tradition. Instances such as this, taken singly, may appear trivial; but we are concerned that the production of any document of this type may fail to do justice to the rich pluriformity which exists within our Communion.

Second, they offer the American-Scottish Concordact of 1784, which predates any language of Anglican Communion, as a model for clarifying relationships between the several churches of the Anglican Communion.

While we believe it to be regrettable that any formal document should be required for the continuation of relationships within our Communion, rather than the mutual bonds of understanding, trust, and respect which have hitherto underpinned Anglicanism, if such a document is felt to be necessary, within our own tradition in Scotland the term ‘concordat’ has been preferred to ‘covenant’ (the latter word having painful resonances in our context that would not be present in others’). A concordat, or bond of union, celebrates those things which its signatories have in common, reminding them thereby of their mutual affections and responsibilities. The American-Scottish Concordat of 1784 noted that the parties involved ‘agree in desiring that there may be as near a Conformity in Worship and Discipline established between the two Churches, as is consistent with the different Circumstances and Customs of Nations.’ We offer to our Communion such a model as a possible alternative to the Covenant proposal which is currently before us.

The ACNZAP values conversation and relationship, but is concerned that a central authority might diminish the concepts of covenant and mutual respect and interdependence which characterize their identity. Consequently, they offer a way forward that is based on a very different set of assumptions about the nature of communion than the one that is at the heart of the Draft Covenant:

The General Synod Standing Committee was concerned to offer a positive contribution to the difficult and complex process of managing difference across the Anglican Communion. We do this by appending our own Mission Statement, in which we share our experience of working with difference in our own church.

This Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia in living out the transforming Gospel of Christ believes that its unique three Tikanga nature is a gift (Taonga) from God. We celebrate and rejoice in the receiving and establishing of this gift.

We have seen each Tikanga discover and strengthen its distinctive gifts and identities. We thank God for this cultural incarnation of the Gospel.

With that confidence we commit ourselves to enhancing these gifts for the glory of God, recognising that each Tikanga will establish its own preferences and tasks. As a whole church we commit to supporting each other in realising those preferences through resource sharing, honest conversation and through naming, confronting and reconciling modes of operation and unjust structures.

Therefore this Standing Committee encourages the whole church to seek opportunities to work together, building community, offering generous hospitality and working beyond boundaries defined by our present structures.

Read: The ACANZP response to The Anglican Covenant on Anglicans All.

Also see: SEC Response to Draft Anglican Covenant

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