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New Year Resolutions and (you guessed it) The Anglican Covenant

Boring but Important

Perhaps you read the magazine ‘The Week‘? There is an occasional column with this heading, and I am sincerely sorry to tell you that if you live in the United Kingdom, or are an Anglican or expatriate Briton elsewhere in the world, the Anglican Covenant comes into the category of ‘boring but important’. Why focus on the Church of England? Well, because it is likely to be discussed in General Synod in 2012, whereas most other Provinces will be making a final decision in later years.

Not even the proponents of the Covenant claim it is gripping reading material- we are a far cry here from Magna Carta or the Gettysburg Address. But please make no mistake. The Church that produced the King James Version of the bible, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and some of the finer parts of Common Worship is perfectly capable of producing a vivid and memorable text if it chose. Beatrix Potter told the world about the soporific effects of lettuce, but if your insomnia is acute, I know of no better remedy than the 5,123 words of the Covenant in its final form. This is their secret weapon, which we must fight (with caffeine if necessary!)

That said, I am going to ask you to make it your new year’s resolution to read the actual text in January. Mark it, certainly. Asking you to learn it would, I think, be unreasonable. And suggesting that you inwardly digest it would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Lay Anglicana’s Contribution to the Debate

So far, this blog has limited its actions to banging on about the threat from the Covenant. It has been suggested to me that what is now needed is a series of posts attempting a digest of the various elements of the Covenant so that what is proposed is better understood. I will be drawing shamelessly on other people’s blog posts to do so (Archeacon Alan Perry of Edmonton and Father Tobias Haller of the US in particular have already done some detailed analysis, as have: The No Anglican Covenant website and blog; the Revd Jonathan Clatworthy and the Revd Lesley Crawley amongst many others). Before the summer General Synod, our aim is to reach as many as possible ‘thinking Anglicans’ certainly, but also thinking people in general. Do you really want this document signed in your name?

A Little Light Relief

I don’t think I could stand it – and I’m perfectly sure you couldn’t – if I offered a diet of unrelieved Anglican Covenant between now and July. So I hope to review some more books, finally get up our magnum opus (at present 60 pages of A4) on intercessions, and react to ‘events, dear boy, events‘.


Sunlit Uplands?

I hope I am not the only person who thinks that, if we can only bury the Anglican Covenant, we can return to a degree of ‘live and let live’ in this Communion of ours and that Peace Time really does lie ‘Just Ahead’. Please join me in praying that this may be so.

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22 comments on this post:

Grandmère Mimi said...

I join you in your prayers, Lay Anglicana. The Anglican Covenant is, indeed, as soporific as ‘This Week’ and you suggest. Obviously, no Cranmer, Andrewes, or Lincoln had a hand in its drafting.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for your quick reply, Grandmère Mimi. I do think it is fiendishly cunning to have made the text so turgid that only the most determined can get to the end! Of course, I realise this may not be a deliberate ploy, but it is just as difficult to overcome as if it were…

01 January 2012 22:41
01 January 2012 22:33
Alan Wilson said...

I read the lot before contributing a piece to the Church Times background supplement. It struck me the first three sections were unexceptionable or even helpful, if long-winded. The fourth clobber section was insane – quite apart from the proposed process which raises all kinds of process questions about natural justice and the like, nice inclusive people would use it to include people in — nasty people to exclude. Guess which group would cause problems?… a definite lemon. Consolidating “the Anglican Church” into some kind of policed denomination sticks in my craw. I came to ordination in the Church of God for the whole, for the sake of the kingdom, not to become some kind of denominational apparatchik with nice machine tools to kick out people I judged to be less adequate disciples. The whole thing is misbegotten and foolish. The kindest you can say of it is that it’s probably unworkable, too, so maybe it doesn’t matter long-term.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much for commenting, Bishop Alan. As you say, the first three sections contain little to object to, except perhaps for their ‘kitchen sink’ (as in everything but the kitchen sink) approach. It even includes the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral – paras 1.1.3-1.1.6 -“locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples” which it then goes on to overturn in the last section.

You are a true pragmatic Anglican to point out that, since the Covenant is unworkable (across the Communion), it may not matter. But -call me paranoid if you will!- what worries me is that the powers that be must be aware of this by now yet press on for its adoption by the Church of England. Ultimately, then (and whether or not that is the intention of the current hierarchy) if the Church of England sign it, it will radically change the governance of the Church of England.

01 January 2012 23:52
01 January 2012 23:03
Revsimmy said...

I fully agree with Alan. It took me quite a while to realise that one of the great things about Anglicanism is that we are NOT a “policed denomination” – we can, perhaps within certain parameters, pursue truth wherever it may lead. Blowed if I would give that up without a fight. However, I am a little less optimistic than Alan. Just because we know it would be unworkable won’t, I fear, stop others trying to make it work and causing a lot of damage in the process.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for commenting, Revsimmy. I infer that you believe that the Covenant will continue to cause a lot of damage to the Communion, whether or not it is adopted by even a simple majority of Provinces?

I wonder whether you also share my concerns about its likely effect on the Church of England itself and its governance. If our Church adopts it, then presumably candidates for confirmation will have to learn it. What about existing ‘members’ of the CofE? (Considering the little local difficulty in persuading all the clergy to adopt the 39 Articles, I do seriously doubt whether you can expect all the laity to sign every clause).

And there are the punitive provisions of section four…will our Bishops be appointing Torquemadas to hold our feet to the fire, I wonder?

01 January 2012 23:54
01 January 2012 23:20
Alan T Perry said...

I look forward to your analysis! I agree with Bishop Alan to a degree about the first three sections. If one reads them on their own, as a kind of theological consensus document, they are in the main unobjectionable (though not perfect) and long-winded. But they cannot be read as a theological consensus document, for they are part of a legal text.And read in that light the wheels come off.

I agree entirely with the good Bishop’s views of section 4. Insane.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much, Archdeacon Alan. I am not (of course) going to offer any new analysis – that is why I say I am shamelessly going to lift from your posts (though not if you object!). I certainly cannot improve on what you have already done.

What prompted this piece, though, was that several Twitter contacts have said that they want the whole Covenant presented in a very condensed and easy-to-understand way. And I get the impression that until now many have simply switched off on the grounds that the whole thing is too abstruse. So I am going to try and fulfil this (not altogether easy) demand.

On a personal note, I congratulate you again on your elevation and hope you settle down quickly into Edmonton.

02 January 2012 00:05
01 January 2012 23:29
Savi Hensman said...

Might it be worth requesting a ‘plain English’ version from the Anglican Communion Office? This might force them to clarify what they mean.

Lay Anglicana said...

I like the way your mind works! I will try it, certainly. I do wonder whether the impenetrable and turgid language is deliberate, partly because I find it very strange that there has been no attempt to inform the laity of the major changes proposed in our character and governance. Wouldn’t you have expected there to be a pastoral letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury, to be read from every pulpit in the land? And then there is the wondrous argument that it does not need to be discussed in Parliament because it is only an act of Synod, not a ‘Measure’. Personally I think this is indefensible!

02 January 2012 12:50
02 January 2012 11:57
Grandmère Mimi said...

“The fourth clobber section was insane – ”

Exactly. When I read Part 4, I thought, “Either the section is insane, or I am insane.” What a recipe for quarreling and confusion.

And then, there is my favorite quote in the covenant, the promise to “make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection.”

I also like Jim Naughton’s description of the document: “governance by hurt feelings.”

Lay Anglicana said...

I agree with all you say – making ‘explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection’ reminds me of nothing more than sadistic schoolmasters and Dickensian paterfamiliases saying, as they were about to beat their children, ‘this is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you’.

02 January 2012 15:52
02 January 2012 14:44
UKViewer said...

I think I’ve said loads against the Covenant. I read the full text in the church times and the destruction (or criticism) of it in a later edition,

Why do we need to be so long winded to say “Oh you lot – get in line or get out”, which is the bottom line.

I can’t agree with any of it, or even for the need for it, unless you are of an extreme right wing, bigoted person.

The bottom line is if the 39 Articles and Canon Law has sufficed for the governance of the Church of England, why do we need to do a ‘Ted Heath’ and hand over all of our freedoms to foreign power(s) as we did in Europe.

I’m all for the Anglican Communion being an alliance of friends on a similar journey, but not for a restrictive, noose around our neck.

Lay Anglicana said...

Alliance of friends on a similar journey, but not for a restrictive noose around our neck’: a memorable quote, UKViewer.
But don’t let’s be beastly to the right wing: if we defeat the Covenant we shall need the libertarian portion of right wingers (like me!) to come to our aid.

05 January 2012 08:11
02 January 2012 17:20
Erika Baker said...

Laura, I’ve been having great difficulties commenting here. The comment seems to appear into nowhere but if I try to re-send it I get a note that I have already posted a comment of the same wording – which then never appears. Do others have this problem?

Anyway… the Covenant… I think most of us who come here are agreed that it is insane or some permutation thereof.
The interesting question, then, is what alternative there is.
Jonathan Clatworthy proposed a “live and let live” structure that is pretty much what we already have.
But it does not appear to be working and it has resulted in the Communion having been a narrow focused introspective organisation obsessed with sex and women. If it hadn’t been for Occupy there would have been very little positive for the CoE to report this year – at least as far as public relations are concerned.

Over on Thinking Anglicans someone asked whether Jonathan Clatworthy truly means it and whether he would be prepared to let other Provinces go their own way if something very close to his heart was at stake. The example given was Lay Presidency, and unfortunately the comment thread immediately descended into accusations and counter accusations and then became a discussion about Lay Presidency not about the Covenant.

The question, though, remains. In many people’s eyes the Covenant is a tool to sort out the gay question in the Communion and depending on their personal views about homosexuality people tend to either support the Covenant or reject it. Very few seem to see it as an abstract piece of legislation that could be used in the future against precisely those who now support it.

So – if not the Covenant, then what? Is Jonathan Clatworthy’s proposal likely to result in genuine peace in the Anglican Communion? Can anything?
If not, how do we deal with the power battle that is clearly raging at the moment?

Lay Anglicana said...

Sorry for the delay in replying, and sorry for the technical problems. I will ask the webmaster to have a look and see if he can suggest anything. We are about to upgrade (hold onto your hats!) so with any luck that will sort it out.
I think your first question is the very important one – what alternative is there? I am as certain as I have ever been of anything that the alternative is to DO NOTHING (forgive the capitals!).
Our forebears were wise when they wrote the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral in 1886/8, making no provision for the settlement of disputes on doctrine. Each province signed up to an agreement that every province was entitled to use scripture, reason and local tradition to determine their own practice of Anglicanism. Jonathan Clatworthy would not claim his idea is a new one: he too is drawing on our existing 1888 Communion-wide agreement.
Would we be prepared to accept that some Provinces leave the Communion if others do not confirm with their understanding of Anglicanism? Yes.
How do we deal with the current power battle? Difficult of course – the Irish answer (we should never have got into this position in the first place if we had stuck to first principles) doesn’t get us anywhere much, but it does give us the clue to the answer. We simply reassert the values of the 1888 declaration and let the chips fall where they may. Provinces may leave in a huff, and they may or may not return. That will have to be borne, but it is better than being held to ransom!

05 January 2012 08:27
02 January 2012 18:34
UKViewer said...

I think that Erika makes a fair point! If not the Covenant, than what?

It seems that there are problems within churches and between churches that are not reconcilable through the proposed covenant, or even the ‘live and let live’ approach. To do nothing seems impossible, as there are so many vested (political) interests involved.

The Anglican Communion has many instruments (their words) but can’t seem to play God’s tune. Perhaps, (horror of horror’s) its time that it went the way of all fallen empires. Leaving individual Anglican Churches to work out their own futures, guided by the Holy Spirit?

I can’t seen any other sensible solution, as schism within the Anglican Communion already exists, why not just wind it up and create a whole new playing field.

Lay Anglicana said...

Please see my reply to Erika – sorry for the delayed response.
Your proposal is temptingly dramatic, but in fact I think all that is required is a bit more backbone at the top and a reassertion of the basic agreement between provinces of the Anglican Communion.

05 January 2012 08:30
02 January 2012 21:13
ramtopsrac said...

The last point is an interesting one. Sadly it often feels like we already live in schism with others within the CofE let alone those elsewhere in the Anglican Communion! Yet I don’t think it need be that way.

Even more sadly I still haven’t really got my head round what it is that is being attempted, let alone the detail of what it actually being suggested (and which so many have already rejected). Let us know if you get it in plain English Laura!

There’s a brief but pointed reflection from Fr Simon here if you’ve not seen it already.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you so much for the link to Father Simon, whom I didn’t know (unless I am already following him on twitter under another name?!) What he says is a brilliant cutting of the Gordian knot and I will ask his permission to lift it for help in my ‘digest of digests’ which I am -perhaps rashly!- going to undertake over the next couple of months.

Erika Baker said...

Sadly, there will be those who will use Scripture to counter every one of those points. Jesus’ saying that he did not come to change an iota of the law, Paul’s texts on how the church should deal with erring brothers… if only “read the Gospel” were so simple.
We’re in this mess precisely because it isn’t.

Lay Anglicana said...

Fair point – perhaps that is why I have not seen much attempt by ‘our’ side to use the bible text as justification – that is a game which has no ending…

05 January 2012 08:31
05 January 2012 06:45
04 January 2012 22:58
04 January 2012 21:41

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