Anglican Covenant derailed in the Church of England
Last Saturday (24th March), the proposed Anglican Covenant failed to gain the support of a majority of Church of England diocesan synods and therefore will not return to that Church’s General Synod for final approval.
The Covenant was intended to provide a way in which contentious issues could be addressed in the Anglican Communion, but with the Church of England itself unable to commit to it, the document appears to have no future.
Anglican Covenant, Anglicanism and The Church of Ireland
It might well be said that the unthinkable happened last weekend, with the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant coming to grief in the Church of England of all places (report, page 1). Yet, that is precisely what happened, and it will surely go down in the annals of Anglican history. The Covenant had been intended as an agreement with procedures that would help keep the Anglican Communion in one piece when facing contentious issues. Undoubtedly, it arose as a result of the inter-Anglican same-sex relationships controversy that has now seen its own fraught manifestation in the Church of Ireland playing out since last autumn and occasioning, earlier this month, a unique Bishops’ Conference on the topic for General Synod members.
One aspect of the Church of England débâcle that no doubt will be the subject of careful consideration in the relevant quarters is the fact that in some of the diocesan synods the voting was very close. In theory, following reflection at the English General Synod on what has transpired, the Covenant could be put back on the table in the Church of England after a lapse of three years, but there are at least two reasons why this is unlikely: first, as the No Anglican Covenant Coalition has pointed out, the Covenant is facing difficulties in some other parts of the Communion and, second, in any case, the passage of time and considerable disagreements about it have left the Covenant unable really to deal with the differences in the Communion over same-sex relationships. Other divisive issues could, of course, arise, but it is difficult to see all the requisite superabundance of energy actually now being summoned to recover and progress the Covenant (perhaps).
The moral of the story has at least two dimensions. First, from a practical perspective, when faced with a divisive crisis, setting up a bureaucratic procedure that is going to take years to get anywhere, if it is to get anywhere at all, is hardly a good idea. If anyone thought that ‘buying time’ would allow the same-sex relationships imbroglio to subside, that was a very mistaken notion, and we in the Church of Ireland do need to take note of that as we face our own difficulties over the issue.
Second, from a more conceptual perspective, we now know, as surely as we can know, that Anglicanism is set to remain a Communion of wholly autonomous Cchurches, bound together by ‘bonds of affection’. It should be added, however, that such mutual affection is far from a weak ideal; it is, in fact, a considerable calling and it is surely true that at times we do have to work at loving one another. There has been talk about being in communion implying ‘interdependence’ and thus justifying central regulation, however light, but that interdependence argument is actually quite vague because everything in the world is interdependent and, from an ecclesiological perspective, all Christians of whatever denomination, in communion or out of communion, are interdependent. Thus, as Anglicans, we are all, across the globe, now challenged to ponder our affection for one another and, where it is waning, to seek to nurture it carefully and prayerfully.
Yet, the question remains as to how we are to proceed in the current inter-Anglican, and Church of Ireland, controversy over same- sex relationships. In this connection – and viewing the matter as one of Church doctrine – it is instructive to revisit what Archbishop Henry McAdoo (Archbishop of Dublin, 1977-1985) wrote on the subject of the development of doctrine.
Contributing to a 1987 collection of essays presented to the revered inter-Anglican official, Bishop John Howe, Dr McAdoo wrote that “revelation has a dynamism of life and carries with it the unceasing requirement of constant re-presentation of the nature and being of God, of the truths of the Incarnation and of the Paschal Mystery, if the revelation is to be proclaimed and appropriated through all the changes of history and in a variety of human cultures”. Proceeding to consider this necessity in terms of the development of doctrine, Dr McAdoo wrote that it was striking how, where there had been development, it had been “development from the facts, the content, of revelation, not development away from them or independent of them”, and concluded: “So what we are saying is that there is continuity of doctrine and there is historicity so that development must have criteria. These are contained primarily in Scripture, but also in the living tradition conformable to Scripture and in the life and worship of the Church.” (H.R. McAdoo, ‘Spiritual Freedom and the Corporate Nature of Faith’, in ed. S.W. Sykes, Authority in the Anglican Communion, Toronto, The Anglican Book Centre, 1987, pg. 81)
Then again, in his earlier great book, The Spirit of Anglicanism (London, A. & C. Black, 1965), McAdoo asserted that this spirit was expressed in a specific theological method which, “varying its stress according to the demands of different situations, consists in the appeal to Scripture, to antiquity and to reason” (pg. vi). For Anglicans, that is the trio of criteria – still widely extolled – that must be satisfactorily met before any proposed change of doctrine can appropriately be enunciated.
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Letters to the Editor
Clergy and Bishops going wrong?
I AM so pleased that the Revd Alan McCann wrote to the Gazette (9th March) as his letter showed the strain the modern clergy are under.
It was never my intention to criticize or snipe but to make the Church look afresh at what exactly the work of the rector is meant to be in this modern, complicated world.
I make my observations from the experience of 40 years as a clergy wife, having been involved in every aspect of that life. The Church will have hard decisions to make about the closure of unnecessary churches and buildings and lay people should be in charge of church social activities.
A rector’s responsibility for these matters should be kept to a minimum, and then frazzled clergy would not be considering visiting as an extra chore. However, a rector cannot escape the chairing of the vestry meeting, as it is the organizing body of the parish.
There has been much study of Celtic Christianity recently, but very little of what has been learned has been put into practice – our link with the world of nature, the practice of stillness and quiet, for example.
I suggest we look at our present parish organization and try to support our clergy and, of course, their families in every way so that they can get on with the important work for which they were ordained.
Maureen Donnelly, Clough, Co. Down
Appointment to Leighlin
Further to my letter outlining the circumstances that led to the appointment of the Very Revd Tom Gordon as Dean of Leighlin (Gazette, 9th March), Andrew McNeile telephoned to complain that the appointment had not passed without comment, that he had telephoned Bishop Michael Burrows to protest it.
I believed the letter was quite clear in its emphasis that there had been no public comment (how could one possibly know what private comment might have been made?), but Mr McNeile felt the inference was that there had been no objections expressed, publicly or privately.
All of which points up the oddness of the Church of Ireland way of doing business: a clear and open debate over the past decade would have allowed discussion that was not personalised and which was not precipitated by a perceived moment of crisis. Instead, even the Cavan conference was followed by further anonymous chatter.
Ian Poulton (Canon), The Rectory, Mountrath, Co. Laois
With regard to the Revd Peter Hanns’s letter in the 23rd March Gazette, I must say that I concur with his comment apropos Dean Tom Gordon’s relationship and the assumption that it was widely known. Like Mr Hanna, i was a member of the ‘great unknowing’.
Roy Warke (The Rt Revd), Naas, Co. Kildare
Slieve Russell Conference
I was intrigued to read in the Gazette editorial of 16th March that Archbishop Harper, at the Slieve Russell Conference press briefing, had actually reiterated his autumn statement: “The Church only approves and affirms sexual relationships within marriage. outside marriage, the Church advocates abstinence.”
As the editorial succinctly added: “that is where we are … ”
That being the case, I would have thought the need for more ‘conferencing’ and pontificating is negated. Or am I missing something?
Joan Hill (Mrs), Carrickfergus BT38 7RX
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