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will value belonging to the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, enjoying the great heritage bequeathed to us from former generations, while being glad that we are a self-governing church, freed from decisions made on the other side of the world by the Church of England or the London headquarters of the Church Missionary Society. There will be less shared value placed on our church belonging to the Anglican Communion. Some may be glad that our bishops get opportunities to meet with other Anglican bishops at the Lambeth Conferences every ten years. Some may appreciate the fact that when our new vicar arrived from Britain or North America there were no problems with her ordination being recognised by our church because we are in communion with hers. But others may have questions about what the Anglican Communion does for our church. When we hear that it costs this church money to be involved in the Anglican Communion we may wonder about the value we get for those funds. Furthermore, some of us, reading and reflecting on the past decade of ‘Anglican troubles’ may wonder if it is a waste of time trying to make the Anglican Communion work. Simpler, it may seem, if each Anglican church were to go its own way. After all, in each local situation we local Anglicans know best what to do. Except we find that ministry and mission in the church are not geographically restricted like that. For many Anglicans, our skills, our passions, our learnings are enhanced and inspired by opportunities to learn from fellow Anglicans in countries far from our own. Some of us have benefitted from the opportunity to study and train in Anglican colleges elsewhere. Many of us have benefitted from clergy who have brought their training and experience to our islands from Australia, the USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom (to name just a few places of blessing to us). The impulse to mission has pushed many of us to step outside our local contexts in order to go to other places: as missionaries, chaplains, developement and aid workers. Members of our church have served with distinction throughout the Pacific and on all the continents of the earth. We have even sent mission workers to Australia! In short, Anglicans gain a lot and give a lot by belonging to the global network of Anglicans known as the Anglican Communion. But today we are at a crisis, at a point of decision in respect of the future of the Anglican Communion. This crisis has arisen because a partnered gay man was ordained as a bishop of TEC in 2003, but some point of decision would have come sometime for our worldwide communion with its huge theological, cultural, ecclesiastical, and liturgical 1|Page
diversity. The strains in our diverse Communion have been evident for some time. Our diversity has led to disagreement, dispute, and, recently in North America, division. Is there a way forward from here? If so, what is it?
The Way Forward from the Present Crisis Some say the way forward is to finish with the Communion, to accept that its day is over. It would be in the spirit of our post-modern times for each Anglican church to ‘do its own thing’ and to pick and choose which other Anglican churches we wished to be networked to. Others say that the way forward from this crisis is by the same way that we arrived at it: we Anglicans work out our respective missions, sometimes disagreeing with each other, always talking together, sometimes failing to listen well to each other, but, in the end, somehow making a go of our relationships. Then, thirdly, there is the way of the Covenant to which we are invited to offer our commitment. The first option, to finish with the Communion, is attractive. But it does not sit well alongside the vision for a united church as an anticipation of that wider unity of all things which is the great theme of the Epistle to the Ephesians. A united church is an important part of our Lord Jesus Christ’s final prayer (‘that they may be one’ in John 17). Whether or not we think of the Anglican Communion as a ‘worldwide church’, the unity of the Communion contributes an example to all churches, and forms (and has formed) an important point in ecumenical dialogue between churches, especially with the two largest (groups of) churches, the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches. Unity within any church is demanding, unity among divided churches is even harder work. The first option is an avoidance of some very demanding challenges. As faithful disciples listening to God’s Word through Scripture, should we be embracing these challenges or avoiding them? The second option for a way forward, to keep going as we have been doing, raises questions whether we would be facing the depth of the present difficulties in the Communion, measured, for example, by many absentees at the last Lambeth Conference. The ‘bonds of affection’ which have been the glue holding the Communion together till now have come unstuck. We are in a fine mess. Continuing as we have been going, hoping shattered bonds of affection will be restored without significant change to the Communion is unrealistic. We need a new beginning in which member churches re-establish the things we hold in common as Anglicans and commit ourselves to an agreed way of resolving future disputes. Thus we need the third option, the possibility of an Anglican Covenant.
The third option is an opportunity for the member churches of the Anglican Communion to reconstitute the Communion for the twenty-first century in a thoroughly Christian and Anglican manner, by accepting and committing to the proposed Covenant. The Anglican Covenant The Covenant is a detailed document with four major sections. It aims to do three things: (1) to restate what we believe as Anglicans (2) to state what it means for self-governing churches to belong together in a Communion in which there is mutuality and interdependency with one another (3) to set out a process for dealing with disputes that may arise. Effectively the Covenant will be a new constitution for a renewed Communion. To say what we believe, to express our respect for each other as well as our commitment to each other as autonomous yet interdependent churches, and to make a commitment to resolve our differences in an orderly manner is both Christian and Anglican. By binding ourselves together through the Covenant we will be committing ourselves to that unity of the church taught in Holy Scripture. With the Covenant we have a clear and present opportunity to reconstitute the Communion with a new clarity about what we hold together in common and about how we will relate to one another. Neither of the first two options described above offer this advantage of reconstitution of the Communion with new clarity. All current members are invited to commit to the Covenant, none is excluded, and if all sign then the Communion will be stronger than it was before 2003. In other words, the Covenant offers a constructive way forward to restore the good health and strength of the Communion. Questions about the Covenant Some questions have arisen about the Covenant. Is it punitive? Will it stifle new initiatives? Will it affect the tikanga life of the Anglican church in these islands? Questions such as these are fair questions to ask, but they beg some other questions which we should answer first. Is there value in being part of a global Communion? If so, how would we describe our common life together as members of a global Communion? How would we arrange our common life together so that we celebrate our differences and resolve our disputes? If we answer ‘Yes’ to the first question, and answer ‘the Covenant’ to the next two questions, then we could answer as follows to the questions in the first paragraph above. Is the Covenant punitive? No, it is not a criminal code; but it does prescribe what may happen where our common life together is no longer shared by a member church.
Will the Covenant stifle new initiatives? Many new initiatives are possible which cohere with the common life of global Anglicans; some new initiatives are possible which do not cohere with that common life, but even then, only those initiatives which are protested about would be examined in terms of the Covenant, and they would only be stifled if it was agreed through due process that they were not appropriate to our common life. Will the Covenant affect the tikanga life of the Anglican church in these islands? Our tikanga life is ultimately governed by General Synod, in accordance with our constitution. In so far as our common life as three tikanga is soundly Anglican and theologically orthodox the Covenant should enhance that life not diminish it. There is one final issue to attend to. Some are saying that the Covenant is an unAnglican innovation: we have never had a Covenant before and we should not have one now. That is a mystifying line of argument to take: lots of innovations have taken place in Anglican history, beginning with Henry VIII’s great innovation of dispensing with papal authority over the Church of England. It is also a contradictory line of argument: the possibility of a Covenant has arisen precisely because of the innovation of an openly partnered gay man becoming a bishop. Are some innovations to be allowed by these critics of the Covenant but not others? Conclusion As a member church of the Anglican Communion we are going to be faced from time to time with what belonging to the Communion means, what it requires of us, and what its advantages to us may be. For various reasons this is one of those times. The Anglican Covenant is an opportunity to renew our commitment to the Anglican Communion. To make that recommitment will serve the full visible unity of the Anglican Communion in accordance with the ultimate plan of God for the unity of the whole universe. Sunday by Sunday we share the peace with one another at the eucharist with the words ‘Keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’. The original words in Ephesians actually say ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ Signing the Covenant is making that effort. Let’s do so! Peter Carrell 18 January 2010
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