Anglican Covenant – Anglican Ecclesiology

This morning The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops had another session discussing the proposed Anglican Covenant. Neil Alexander, Bishop of Atlanta and former seminary professor, delivered a brilliant paper on Anglican/Episcopal ecclesiology and raised the question about whether this proposed Covenant would substantially alter Anglican ecclesiology, specifically by inaugurating – for the first time – a more centralized authority than we have ever had before.

We were joined by three Primates – Archbishop Henri Isingoma of the Congo, Archbishop Paul Kim of Korea, and Archbishop Fred Hiltz of Canada. All three delivered responses to Neil’s paper and I was surprised to note that all three have serious reservations about the Covenant and whether it will indeed be of any use at all in resolving some of the conflict in the Anglican Communion.

There seems to be general agreement that Parts 1,2 and 3 of the Covenant are an acceptable description of Anglican history and ecclesiology but that Part 4 really does not accomplish its goal of providing a way constructively to manage or respond to disagreements across the Communion and may even perpetuate them. The Primate of Korea expressed his House of Bishops concern about the vestiges of “colonialism” in this section of the Covenant, with decisions being made about a local church (Province) outside that local church about its internal decisions.

Everyone present seems prepared to continue to discuss and work with the proposed Covenant but a number of bishops sugggested finding a  “third way” forward since many of us in the West, in Latin Amerca, and Asia are having trouble voting for it and since we have heard that the GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) bishops in Africa have signaled that they will probably not sign on to it because it does not go far enough in “disciplining” churches such as ours and the Anglican Church in Canada with whom they do not agree.

All in all, it was a respectful and thoughtful conversation which should provide much grist for the mill as we move forward.

Stay tuned!

7 Responses to “Anglican Covenant – Anglican Ecclesiology”

  1. Dunstan Says:

    I’ve noticed the same feeling elsewhere as well, perhaps because I agree with the sentiment. Bishop Alan Wilson (Bishop of Buckingham) had a good article on this point in the Church times a couple of weeks ago calling section 4 a chocolate teapot.

    I can see that the provinces need to talk to each other, especially about controversial moves, but I don’t see how a quasi-juridical process lacking coercive authority can really help autonomous provinces manage their disagreements. And if coercive authority was added in the Communion would probably explode.

    • Christopher Epting Says:

      Yes, there was some sentiment at our meeting that the references to consultation and even mediation in Section Three might be adequate and provide the impetus for the kind of communication we have obviously been missing in the recent past.

  2. Alan T Perry Says:

    Very helpful comments.

    Sections 1-3 look pretty innocuous at first glance, but re-read them through the lens of section 4. If you do that, they perhaps begin to look rather different. These sections, after all, will become the basis for making decisions in the process outlined in section 4.2. Are they sufficiently clear to make clear and fair decisions? (Setting aside the fact that section 4.2 violates the norms of natural justice!)

    I’ve been doing a careful analysis of the proposed Covenant on my blog from the perspective of Canon Law. The more analysis I do, the less I like the Covenant. See for yourself at my blog, which should be linked above.

  3. Christopher Epting Says:

    Yes, an interesting phenomenon I see all around: the more folks read and study it, the less they like it!

  4. Lionel Deimel Says:

    A third way, please.

  5. Mark JOhnson Says:

    Sounds interesting, any chance the paper will be published so we can have a read for when we debate these things in England?

  6. Christopher Epting Says:

    We’ve encouraged Neil Alexander to publsih his paper. He needs to tweak it a bit, add footnotes, etc. and I know if will be placed on our College for Bishops web site. I would expect, soon after that, for wider circulation. I’m not sure the Primates of Canada, Korea and Congo will have their remarks on “publishable” form or if they would want them distributed widely at this point.
    I this Bishop Alexander’s paper would be helpful in the English context because he does not only deal with The Episcopal Church, or an American context, but Anglicaism more broadly and speaks specifically of the historic development of the Church of England as well.

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