Has the Covenant already sunk?
The last six months has seen an acceleration of activity by several Global South provinces to strengthen their position on the ground in both the USA and Canada. Meanwhile few Global North provinces have as yet given the proposed Anglican Covenant much endorsement.
In August Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi consecrated two Americans, William Atwood and William Murdoch, as bishops to serve in the USA under Kenyan authority. The preacher in Nairobi was Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies, chair of the Covenant Design Group and one of the authors of the Windsor Report.
September saw Archbishop Luke Orombi consecrate one American, John Guernsey, as a bishop to serve in the USA under Ugandan authority, and the same month the Rwandan House of Bishops elected three new bishops to serve in the Anglican Mission in the Americas, due to be consecrated in Dallas in January.
The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) elected four suffragan bishops for the Convocation of Anglicans in North America ( CANA), two of them Americans, Roger Ames and David Anderson (of American Anglican Council fame) and two Nigerians, Amos Fagbamiye and Nathan Kanuwho, all of whom were consecrated in Northern Virginia by Archbishop Peter Akinola at the beginning of December.
But in November 2007 the Provincial Synod of the Southern Cone, meeting in Chile, trumped all other provinces by voting to “welcome into their membership (on an emergency and pastoral basis) Episcopal Church dioceses that are separating from TEC”. This followed the precedent they had set in 2005, when they had informally welcomed the deposed bishop and many clergy from the Brazilian Diocese of Recife, who promptly took advantage of the offer to establish a formal “Diocese of Recife – Southern Cone”. They also set up shop in Canada, see below.
So far, three American dioceses, San Joaquin, Fort Worth, and Pittsburgh have responded to this offer. Each diocese has voted in favour of constitutional amendments to separate from TEC. The Presiding Bishop had written beforehand to all these bishops warning them that they risked disciplinary action if they continued to promote such actions.
San Joaquin which had first done this in November 2006 (in all cases a second vote the following year is required) did so for the second time at the beginning of December, and immediately declared itself to be part of the Southern Cone province, and all its clergy to be transferred thereto unless they acted to opt out of this and remain in TEC. The Episcopal Church promptly initiated action against Bishop John-David Schofield which is likely to lead to his deposition in March.
At Christmas a “Global Anglican Future Conference” to be held in Jerusalem in June 2008, was announced. The planning group includes some GS primates but also Peter Jensen of Australia, Martyn Minns and Chris Sugden, They insisted this event was not an alternative to the Lambeth Conference. Despite both Peter Jensen and Peter Akinola flying at short notice to see the Bishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, they failed to obtain his approval for the conference venue, or the approval of Middle East primate Mouneer Anis.
The American House of Bishops met in New Orleans in September. The Archbishop of Canterbury and many members of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council (JSC) joined the first part of their meeting. Afterwards the American bishops issued a statement. In response to the two specific questions asked of them at Dar es Salaam, the American bishops said:
Resolution B033 of the 2006 General Convention: “...The House acknowledges that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom B033 pertains.”
Blessing of Same-Sex Unions: “We... pledge not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action...”
The bishops also endorsed the Presiding Bishop’s plan to appoint episcopal visitors for dioceses that request alternative oversight. And they also said this:
“We call for an immediate end to diocesan incursions by uninvited bishops in accordance with the Windsor Report and consistent with the statements of past Lambeth Conferences and the Ecumenical Councils of the Church. pastoral care is being provided for those who seek it...”
The JSC then issued a report which said that in their judgement the Americans had met the requirements of the primates meeting. Only Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt dissented.
The Archbishop of Canterbury then wrote to all the primates, and ACC members, asking for their opinions, and requesting a response by the end of October. Some of these responses were published in late November, but the Archbishop's own assessment came in his mid-December Advent Letter. This gave much succour to the conservatives views of scripture while also criticising severely those who were refusing to come to the Lambeth Conference.
Back in June, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, meeting in Winnipeg, passed two resolutions affirming The St. Michael Report that same-sex blessings do not contradict core doctrinal matters of the Church and should not present a communion-breaking issue. Another resolution providing pastoral provision for same-sex blessings in the Church of Canada was very narrowly defeated by only two bishops’ votes. The Synod also voted against the proposal that all primates should serve on the Anglican Consultative Council. Later in the year, the Council of General Synod (standing committee) issued a critical response to the Draft Anglican Covenant.
Subsequently, the Ottawa, Montreal and Niagara diocesan synods nevertheless joined New Westminster in voting in favour of authorising same-sex blessings. In each case, the local diocesan bishop's approval is also required, but only Ralph Spence, Bishop of Niagara, has done so.
In response to all this, two retired Canadian bishops announced they were affiliating with the Southern Cone province and would provide an alternative oversight structure for parishes that wished to, or already had, separated from the Anglican Church of Canada. So far only two have done so.
The Canadian bishops lost no time in responding to this South American intrusion and appealed publicly to the Archbishop of Canterbury to condemn the action of the Southern Cone. Rowan Williams replied in January, noting that he had no canonical authority to prevent such actions, but repeating his previous statement that he did not support or sanction them.
Meanwhile in the British Isles there have been discussions about the proposal for an Anglican Covenant. Responses so far have been less than totally supportive.
The draft issued by the ACO found no support from the Church in Wales, where not only did primate Barry Morgan decline to support the proposed text but the Governing Body accepted his advice not to follow the Church of England, and merely to “note the process taking place”.
In Scotland the very word “Covenant” strikes fear into Episcopalians who recall the real persecution their 17th century forebears experienced under the Scottish National Covenant; the overall mood of their General Synod was accordingly suspicion. "The Scottish response doubted “whether the wording of section 6 of the Draft Covenant is fit for purpose in any practical circumstance.”
The Church of Ireland responded to the official proposal by issuing its own draft text, a extremely brief and moderately worded document. It seems unlikely that this is the kind of document that conservatives want to see.
The text prepared by the Covenant Drafting Group was considered by the General Synod of the Church of England in July. Archbishop Gomez himself addressed the synod. It then voted to “affirm its willingness to engage positively with the ... process” but amazingly left it entirely to the House of Bishops (who in turn left it to the two archbishops) to draft an actual response to the draft, on their behalf. Their response was published in January and included an extensive but not earth-shattering redraft. They did however note that “it would be unlawful for the General Synod to delegate its decision making powers to the Primates, and that this therefore means that it could not sign up to a Covenant which purported to give the Primates of the Communion the ability to give ‘direction’ about the course of action that the Church of England should take.”
Most recently the New Zealand church also issued a highly critical response which said the particular proposals of Section 6 “will change the very nature of Anglicanism”.