Bishops of Bristol and Oxford’s Anglican Covenant letter

Bishop Mike and Rt Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, have written to the Church Times concerning the Anglican Communion Covenant.

The full text of the letter is below.

With a large number of dioceses soon to debate the Anglican Communion Covenant, and with there being in some quarters suspicion or even hostility towards it, we would urge pause for reflection as to what is at stake, both for the Anglican Communion as a whole and for our own Church of England.

The Covenant process has been developed with the full participation of all the churches of the Anglican Communion. It is likely the most consulted-over document the Communion has ever known. At heart, it offers a way for the churches to renew their commitment to each other and to express their common Anglican identity and mission. It’s something our own church has been at the centre of shaping and developing.

This renewed commitment is vital for well-being of the Anglican Communion, coming at a time of disagreement and conflict over certain issues but also amid a climate of fractiousness and often impatient communication. The Covenant says nothing about these issues, whether it be disagreements over human sexuality, or views over the ordination of women as bishops. Despite the anxieties which some people are projecting on to the Covenant, the Covenant text is intentionally silent about such questions. The Covenant does not solve these debates, but rather sets out what is commonly held to be essential to our Anglican (and Christian) identity and describes the best practice of how communion may be sustained within the Anglican Communion – in short, how we participate in a common mission and how we take counsel together for mutual discernment.

The Covenant does not invent anything new. The Covenant’s description of our Anglican identity is exactly that which we have long subscribed to in our ecumenical agreements with other churches. The description of and commitments towards our common life are exactly those which our church exercises through participation in the Instruments of Communion (the Lambeth Conference, Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates Meeting) as well as in the respect afforded to the Archbishop of Canterbury as instrument of communion and focus of unity.

Neither does the Covenant create any new powers, centralising or otherwise. Despite some of the views being advanced elsewhere, the Covenant rests on the autonomy of the individual churches of the Communion, an autonomy which is to be exercised in communion and with mutual accountability.

Nor are any new powers granted to the Instruments of Communion. Instead, the Covenant constitutes a set of commitments: to consult together; to continue to discern together through areas of serious disagreement; to maintain the highest degree of communion possible etc. These are not about binding each other, but about refusing to walk away from or disregard each other.

Disagreements are inevitable and we are realistic about the depth of disagreement over some issues. The Covenant is essential because it helps us both to live with and to address these differences. The Covenant offers an honest way forward, in which the nature of such differences can be discussed. The Covenant provides a framework for sustaining our common life even when difficult issues remain unresolved.

For each of us, the importance of the Covenant is reinforced by our relationships so valued in our Communion links. Sustained communion is vital for the church under dangerous harassment and political intimidation in Zimbabwe. Its vital importance was brought home powerfully for the Anglican church in Japan during last year’s devastating tsunami. While in Ghana, the sustaining of our common life brings hope for the overcoming of ethnic and economic divides.

The Anglican Communion Covenant is currently under consideration in all the churches of the Communion, according to their own processes for adoption. Already nine have decided to adopt it . A luke-warm response, or worse, rejection, of the Covenant in the Church of England would meet with bewilderment in the wider Communion. Some would ask with the prophet Isaiah, “Can a mother forget her children?”

But it would also impoverish the Church of England. Our church life and mission is infinitely the richer for the relationships we share around the Communion. The Covenant offers us a precious opportunity to consolidate those relationships and to demonstrate our commitment to one another as churches. Let’s not miss this opportunity offered to us in our time.

4 thoughts on “Bishops of Bristol and Oxford’s Anglican Covenant letter

  1. Surely not endorsing the Covenant would change nothing, as the bishops themselves say.

    Things would stay very much as they are.

    Just look at the wonderful support Rowan Williams was able to give the churches that have stayed loyal to The Province of Central Africa on his recent visit to Zimbabwe – all without there being any Covenant in place.

    There are many of us keen to see a closer relationship worked out between provinces of the Anglican Communion but who feel that the Lambeth Commission and Windsor Process was the wrong tool and now is shown as a failed response to the issues that trouble us.

    I look forward to this Covenant failing, a time for reflection and a new beginning. I look forward to working more closely with fellow Anglicans and other Christians to embrace our difference and in a renewed and dynamic fellowship (possibly inspired by another document?) serving God more faithfully.

    Dear bishops, Do not be afraid!

  2. If the Covenant does not actually do anything new – which seems to be the thrust of the argument above – then what is the point of adopting it? The point can only be to sign up to the fourth section. If any reader hasn’t done so already, go and look at it carefully, and then ask yourself how the provisions sit with provincial autonomy in general or the particular fact that the Church of England has a Supreme Governor – the Queen – whose authority is delegated to Parliament. Either the Covenant is designed to impose control, in which case we cannot constitutionally subscribe to it, or it is not so designed, in which case it is pointless.

    While +Mike and +John – both of whom men for whom I have a great deal of respect – are laudable in their loyalty to their Archbishop, the question now is whether or not saving his face is more important than doing the right thing for the Church of England.

    Justin Brett
    Lay General Synod Member for Chichester

  3. If the Communion wishes to expel The Episcopal Church &/or The Anglican Church of Canada, Executive Council should poll the other provinces and be done with it. No sense in trying to spiritualise it. This process is both an embarrassment and a farce.

  4. Pingback: What is not being said about the Covenant? | Kiwianglo's Blog