A Short Historical Introduction to Anglican Covenant
by Kate Turner, Church of Ireland lay member of the Anglican Consultative Council
A number of significant developments towards the Anglican Covenant have been made by each of the so called Instruments of Communion, formerly known as Instruments of Unity. These instruments of Communion are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference (since 1867), the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) which consists of Bishops, clergy, laity and religious (since 1968) and the Primates Meeting (since 1971).
The Lambeth Conference in 1998 produced Resolution 1.10 which saw 'homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture'. In 2000 Anglican Mission in America(s) was formed by the Church of Rwanda in USA to offer alternative episcopal oversight to those in Episcopal Church in USA (ECUSA) who were unhappy with developments in that Church. This was the first of many 'incursions' into other Dioceses. In 2003 the Diocese of New Westminster (Anglican Church of Canada) authorised a liturgy for same sex blessings and Gene Robinson (a gay man) was elected and consecrated Bishop of New Hampshire (ECUSA). Both Provinces stated that these actions followed scriptural and theological reflection, legal considerations and broad consultation.
An emergency meeting of the Primates was called in light of these developments and the resulting 'impaired' state of the Communion. This led to the Lambeth Commission, chaired by Archbishop Robin Eames, which produced the Windsor Report in October 2004. This report identified a need to address what being part of the Anglican Communion actually involved rather than to resolve the particular issue at the time. It raised two significant proposals - the observation of certain moratoria and the formation of an Anglican Covenant. At the Primates meeting held in Dromantine in 2005 it was declared that the members from the provinces of USA and Canada should not take part in ACC 13. The meeting of ACC 13 in Nottingham voted regarding the Primate's decree of observer status of ECUSA and Canada and it was very narrowly accepted. In May 2006 the Joint Standing Committee of ACC and the Primates asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to set up a Covenant Design Group (CDG). The preliminary report of the Group in February 2007 included the Nassau draft of a covenant. Following initial consultation on this draft the Group met again in January 2008 and produced a report and the St Andrews draft covenant. This was discussed in the provinces but also substantially at Lambeth 2008
A meeting was held in Jerusalem the same year GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) attended by many Bishops from the Global South to address the rise of secularism in the Anglican Church. GAFCON established the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, produced the Jerusalem Declaration and formed the Anglican Church in North America as an alternative to the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA, since renamed The Episcopal Church) and the Anglican Church of Canada.
The Primates meeting in 2009 confirmed the Moratoria which call for gracious restraint from a) ordinations of persons in a same gender union to the Episcopate, b) blessing of same sex unions and c) cross border incursions by Bishops.
In March 2009 the reflections of the provinces and Lambeth informed the CDG's Ridley-Cambridge Draft of a Covenant. This included reducing the sanctioning element and moving it from an appendix to a new section 4 of the Covenant. This Ridley Cambridge Draft was presented to ACC 14 in Jamaica in May 2009 where it was due to be signed off and sent to provinces for acceptance. ACC 14 discussed and welcomed the draft but felt that the addition of Section 4 was a change that should be sent to the provinces for comment so requested the formation of a small group to 'consider and consult with provinces on Section 4 and its possible revision' by the next meeting of the Standing Committee. The group, chaired by Archbishop John Neill, considered the responses received and the text was revised slightly resulting in the final text which was distributed for appropriate formal consideration and adoption by the provinces. The Church of Ireland made a response to each draft of the Covenant.
In December 2009 Mary Glasspool (an openly gay woman) was elected a suffragan Bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles (The Episcopal Church (TEC), formerly ECUSA). In May 2010 the Archbishop of Canterbury
stated that provinces that are 'in breach of the three moratoria requested by the Instruments of the Communion' should not represent the Anglican Communion in ecumenical dialogue, and should not have full membership of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order.
The Covenant is now out for consideration by the 38 provinces which are members of ACC. So far Mexico (June 2010), Myanmar (Jan 2011) and the West Indies (Feb 2011) have accepted the covenant. A number of provinces including Aotearoa (New Zealand), Australia, Canada, England, Japan, Scotland South Africa and TEC have started consideration of the covenant. A number of provinces have sent the Covenant to the dioceses either for consideration or for approval and one has so far approved section 1 to 3 in principle.
The GAFCON Primates Council has declared it has no confidence in the Covenant (Nov 2010).