Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Canterbury and the Covenant

It has been a relatively long time since I composed a blog post about the Anglican Covenant. The reason for this, dear reader, is that I have grown  bored and weary. I don't mean that the intricacies of the Covenant  it self have  bored me - although to be honest it is not the most riveting document I have ever read. It is more that I have become increasingly  dull and dispirited watching the inevitable squabbling that it has  generated. Watching the reactions and voting in various dioceses and provinces around the world, it has become clear that the optimistically named "Covenant" it is not going to be wholeheartedly embraced by the majority of Anglicans. Hard line conservatives are just as likely to reject it for being "toothless" as liberals are for being "restricting". I have come to doubt the certainty of both sides; as I implied when I wrote this recipe for fudge there is no knowing what the thing will actually work out like until we have it - and that in itself seems to me a good reasons to say "No".
 The only reason that I am blogging about the whole sorry matter today (when I could be doing more exciting things like watching paint dry) is that my attention was caught by a few posts that I read about it. Lay Anglica  reports that there are attempts to rush the Covenant through Synod in 2012 and that pressure will be brought to bear to ensure its acceptance. I don't know if this is true, but it would not surprise me. One thing that is clear is that for the Church of England to reject the Covenant would be a disaster in terms of the position and reputation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Covenant is Rowan William's baby,  for it to be rejected on home territory would undoubtedly be a humiliating defeat. It might look worse than disloyalty and  I suspect it might appear a green light for mutiny in some quarters.

Speaking of the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, this recent post from Tobias Haller is also worth a quick glance. In it the author questions the need for the four Instruments of Communion and says that we do not find our "identity" in them at all. He opines that to claim to find our identity in the Instruments is " slightly blasphemous" as our identity should be found in Christ alone (isn't that the title of a hymn..?) The instruments of Communion, Haller tells us, " are all relatively recent entities not only in Christianity but even among Anglicans." But...hang on a minute, isn't the Archbishop himself one of the Instruments of Communion? Yes, Haller concedes, admitting that the office is " one that has been around since the sixth century"  but emphasising that it "didn't really operate as a voice in the Communion until 1785-89, with the first Lambeth Conference being in 1867. "
  Haller says the role is not “foundational or essential or definitional to Anglicanism" and he regards the Covenant as wanting to make some substantial changes in the "deep structures"  of Anglicanism without there being much apparent awareness of the implications.  Haller is not the first to focus on the  role of the ABC, and Lambeth Palace will be aware that Canterbury has its critics and those with their vested interests waiting in the wings. A rejection of the Covenant in England would be a nasty own goal.
I think we might see concerted efforts to get the Covenant through Synod at all costs. It simply can't afford to fail here. I shall be watching events Synodical with some interest again, it might be depressing, I don't think it will be dull.
(Since writing this post it has been announced that Birmingham and Truro have  both resoundingly rejected the Anglican Covenant. )

11 comments:

  1. No matter how high falutin' the reasons made for a Covenant may sound, the bottom line is simple - it's to prevent homos from becoming Bishops.

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  2. It is mainly about that, Fr IB. However, it might equally be described as an attempt to be "seen to be doing things" about TEC's consecration of gay bishops. Different sides make strong claims about it, but I think it might actually be rather ineffectual and make little difference. I am not convinced it wil "encircle the Church in chains" or set up an "Anglican Magisterium " equivalent to that found in Roman Catholicism as some claim.

    Sue.

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  3. Being a part of a diocese that split over the warring going on in the Communion, I am seeing the necessary 'cleaning the kitchen of the leaven' going on. While our reorganized Diocese of Fort Worth in TEC is still small, we are very much alive, growing and doing serious ministry in our area.

    As we live into the new 'reformation' that is on our doorsteps, it pays to see the vote from Birmingham as statement that they are ready for being Church in a new way, one not quite so hierarchical and more necessarilaly pastoral to meet the needs of the faithful.

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  4. Thanks for your comments, Suem, but I don't think I stated or implied anything like, "he clearly sees the Covenant as an attempt to consolidate the power of Canterbury through its centralising role." Others take that view, but I don't think Canterbury wants to be in charge of anything, at least as anything other than an executive. My critique, in the section you cite, is about past performance as forces for unity -- and I think few would claim that Lambeth or the ABC have been very successful instruments along those lines over the last 20 years. That was my only point.

    My primary critique of the Covenant is that I don't think it accomplishes anything much, and introduces considerable confusion. I would rather see a real Anglican Congress attempt to come up with a common Code of Canon Law or a Constitution. I am not, as some are, opposed to a Covenant in principle. I just don't think the one on offer is well crafted, for reasons I've laid out elsewhere. But it has nothing to do with fear of Canterbury gaining power, as this present draft doesn't give him any!

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  5. Hi Tobias, welcome. Apologies if I have misread the article. You did say the role of ABC was not "essential, definitional or foundational" to Anglicanism - I thought there might be an implication that Canterbury introducing the Covenant might be (in part) an attempt to cement that role? You do spend a considerable amount of time in your article scrutinising the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury - not just over recent decades, but going back to the establishment of the role. Why do you do that if your criticisms are only to do with the last 20 years?
    Introducing a document which aims to regulate the behaviour of the Communion might well be seen as a centralising act giving power to Canterbury. I have to admit that I think there are aspects of that in the Covenant (although it is not its main thrust, which I think is to placate and been seen to be doing something.)I don't think it will give the ABC much power, but I think that if it fails it might make him vulnerable to being depicted as rather a spent force, impotent to act in any effective way. So, Lambeth will seem weaker if the Covenant fails...hence they are rather keen for it to suceed.

    I agree that Lambeth and the ABC have not been very effective forces for unity over the last few years, but then I question what would have the ability to "unify" the Communion given the bitterness of some of the divisions. I am not at all in favour of the Anglican Covenant BTW. I think it will cause further division and disunity. I not sure I would be keen on a common Code of Canon Law or a Constitution either! It would depend what was in it - and everyone would want different things in it! We'd be in the same position as we are with the Covenant.
    Regards,
    Sue.

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  6. Thanks, Sue. I guess what I'm getting at is that I think something can be useful even if it is not "foundational, etc." I think the ABoC can be, as primus inter pares, a "coach" or a conciliator. Much depends on the skill of the individual -- but I was thinking more of the Office, which is what the Covenant wants to advance. I'm more interested in looking at the historical performance of the various incumbents in the office: some I think have been more successful than others in a position that offers alsmost solely symbolic leadership. It is not an easy job, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone, particularly in times of trial, where the deficiencies of both the office and the office-holder may be thrown into highlight. What I was getting at in my essay / talk was an effort to get away from these various offices or institutional structures to see if there was or is anyrhing more "foundational, etc." to what it means to work in an Anglican Way. I was trying to think about the deeper structures of thought and practice that lie behind the various structures that arose over time -- and it has seemed to me that the Covenant wants to make some substantial changes in those "deep structures" without much apparent awareness of the implications. I think we Anglicans can lay few claims to distinctive Christian doctrine -- unless that claim itself is it! What distinguishes us most, it seems to me, is the way in which we put our beliefs into practice, and work together in doing so.

    Thanks for your feedback!

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  7. Hi Tobias and welcome. I am sorry if I misread your post. In it you do scrutinise the role of the ABC going right back to its establishment and its development in the 18th and 19th century. Why do you do that if your only point was about the past two decades? (I am not trying to be "picky" here, I am genuinely perplexed?)
    I do agree that Lambeth and the ABC have not been very successful instruments of unity over the past 20 years. I suppose I think that has a lot to do with the difficulties of uniting a Communion with such inveterate differences and bitter divisions. Who or what could have created "unity" in these difficult circumstances?
    I am very much opposed to the Covenant by the way. I agree it will accomplish little and I think it will be a focus of disunity if anything. I am not sure that I would like to see a common Code of Canon Law or Constitution either. The problem is that the different sides would want different things in it and then they would squabble over that! How would this be more palatable to the different factions than the Covenant?
    You say that the ABC's role is not "definitional, essential or foundational". Some might say that to introduce a document that attempts to regulate the Communion could be seen as an attempt assert a centralising and "essential" role? I certainly think there is an aspect of that in the Covenant - although it is not its main thrust, which is, I think, to placate and to be "seen to be doing something" -both aims in which it is signally failing at the moment.
    I don't think the Covenant will give the ABC much power. I think if it were to fail, it would expose him to the charge of being rather a spent force, impotent to unite us in any way, shape or form. So, the Covenant might quite legitimately be seen as an attempt in part to stop power or authority ebbing away from Canterbury. You say Canterbury does not want to be in charge of anything, maybe not, but surely you cannot think they are complacent about the erosion of their role or authority?
    You cannot surely say that your article was enthusiastic about the idea of the Archbishop of Canterbury as a key element in Anglicanism? I think in some ways he has been inept and matters have not been managed well –but to create unity in the midst of such discord is an almost impossible task! Surely you recognise this? I also think he has undoubted virtue. I value the role of Canterbury and I think we can quite legitimately reject the Covenant while still understanding the difficulties the ABC faces and supporting him as someone who does try to preach reconciliation in the face of bitterness. But maybe you agree!
    Regards, Sue.

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  8. I am not quite sure what to say to your comment, Muthah, other than that I am glad you are doing serious ministry and alive and pastoral. These are always things to be valued. It is not nice to have conflict, but sometimes we do have to make hard decisions and then move on :)
    Sue.

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  9. I attempted to post a short response but is seems to have been lost in hyperspace...

    I fear my point wasn't clear. I didn't mean to say the ABoC was unimportant, merely no "foundational, etc." I think as primus inter pares he has a useful function as a convenor, spokesperson, coach, and so on. I just don't see that as "communion" as such. My comment about the historical role is just to indicate that Canterbury has little ability to engender "communion" -- if that is what the Covenant means by referring to him as an "instrument."

    My primary concern is that in looking to these instruments we can lose sight of those things that I do think underlie the Way of Working in the Anglican Manner. The insturments might be seen as a result of that process, not its cause or its foundation. That's what I was getting at.

    FWIW I agree with much of your take on the Covenant.

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  10. Thanks, Sue. I guess what I'm getting at is that I think something can be useful even if it is not "foundational, etc." I think the ABoC can be, as primus inter pares, a "coach" or a conciliator. Much depends on the skill of the individual -- but I was thinking more of the Office, which is what the Covenant wants to advance. I'm more interested in looking at the historical performance of the various incumbents in the office: some I think have been more successful than others in a position that offers alsmost solely symbolic leadership. It is not an easy job, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone, particularly in times of trial, where the deficiencies of both the office and the office-holder may be thrown into highlight. What I was getting at in my essay / talk was an effort to get away from these various offices or institutional structures to see if there was or is anyrhing more "foundational, etc." to what it means to work in an Anglican Way. I was trying to think about the deeper structures of thought and practice that lie behind the various structures that arose over time -- and it has seemed to me that the Covenant wants to make some substantial changes in those "deep structures" without much apparent awareness of the implications. I think we Anglicans can lay few claims to distinctive Christian doctrine -- unless that claim itself is it! What distinguishes us most, it seems to me, is the way in which we put our beliefs into practice, and work together in doing so.

    Thanks for your feedback!

    (Sent by Tobias Haller but wouldn't publish. I had to copy and paste! Sue.)

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  11. Thanks Tobias,
    I think we've got both your posts here! The first was in my comments box but would not publish. My comments are playing up at the moment.
    I copied and pasted your first comment as it
    it does clarify things somewhat, and comes across as more of a description and more as a condemnation of the effects of the Covenant itself rather than a critique of the traditional role of the ABC. I shall modify my post.
    With thanks for the clarification and for reading the post.
    Sue.

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