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Monday, March 26, 2012

Long live the Anglican Communion!

Preludium Prognostication: 4/16/11
Just about a year ago, Mark Harris, assisting priest at St. Peter's, Lewes in the Diocese of Delaware, deputy to General Convention, member of Executive Council, Canon of the The Episcopal Church in the Philippines, prestigious blogger at Preludium, bon vivant, delightful raconteur and dear friend predicted, by way of what he called an "Anglican Covenant Crapshoot" that 60% of the Provinces of the Anglican Communion would vote not to sign onto the Anglican Covenant.

The reasons for voting for or against the Covenant are many and varied and sometimes contradictory, as the Preludium Pie Chart above explains.  However, the assumption a year ago was that the "Mother Church" - The Church of England" - would, of course, ratify it.

It was unthinkable, then, that anything else was possible. 

That changed dramatically this week end when "Mother Church" soundly voted it down. As I understand the workings of the CofE, the Covenant can not return to General Synod for discussion for another three years.

This presents an interesting dilemma for the future of The Covenant and The Communion - not to mention the Church of England itself.

As I understand it, The Covenant becomes effective whenever a church or province signs onto it.  Thus far, seven provinces (of forty-four member provinces representing 80 million Anglicans) have said yes - well, sorta-kinda-maybe.

Provinces in some sort of favor of The Covenant thus far include Mexico, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, West Indies, Southern Cone, South East Asia and Southern Africa, pending ratification at the next synod, or governing body.

There is momentum against The Covenant internationally. The Episcopal Churches in The United States and Canada - both of which committed the heinous crime of thinking for themselves and, treating LGBT people as fully baptized members of the church with access to all the sacraments, and gave rise to The Covenant in the first place - will surely but politely decline.

The Episcopal Church of the Philippines has officially rejected the Covenant, the opposition of the Tikanga Maori virtually assures that the Covenant will be rejected in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, and we are seeing increasing opposition in other Provinces of the Communion.

If one doesn't sign on, then that church or province becomes part of a "second tier" membership - sort of a classic British "upstairs/downstairs maid" scheme where we're all still members of The Anglican Communion but unable to have voice or vote on the central committees and councils which have authority in The Communion.

You see the problem, then. The Church of England, the "Mother Church," is now - and, at least for the next three years until it can come before Synod again for discussion - relegated to a "second-tier" status. The problem, of course, was that part of the point of the Anglican Covenant was to centralize power and authority with the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It is fascinating to me that the two protagonists of this "Anglican Drama" - Gene Robinson, the honestly gay man who was duly elected bishop of  New Hampshire and Rowan Williams, the honestly monastic scholar who is the Archbishop of Canterbury - have both announced their retirements at the end of this year. Bishop Robinson will no doubt go on to lecture and write as will Archbishop Williams, who will return to academia.

Meanwhile, the Anglican Communion will go on.

Further, the so-called "orthodox" members of The Communion who pushed for The Covenant and for whom The Covenant was designed to placate have left the building. They have formed what they call GAFCON and have written their own "Jerusalem Declaration" which, they claim, is more Anglican - and CHRISTIAN - than the Anglican Covenant. Indeed, they have declared that they have no need of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Meanwhile, the Anglican Communion will go on.

Cartoon by MadPriest
So, the Anglican Covenant is dead, right?

It will surely not make it through the rest of the Communion with a significant majority, right?

Hold your (dead) horses!

As I read The Covenant - and, I confess to my embarrassment that I've probably read it more times this past year than I have read Holy Scripture - no majority, simple or otherwise, is required for the "activation" of The Covenant.

It becomes "activated" when a Province signs onto it.

So, technically, it is 'alive' - well, sorta, kinda, maybe - in seven Provinces. More may well be added as it makes its way through The Communion, which holds the unseemly potential for all sort and manner of mischief.

Much will also depend on the next Archbishop of Canterbury and his - and, rest assured, the next ABC will be male but after that, the gloves are off and chances increase for the mitre to be on a female head - stance on The Covenant.

My biggest concern - and, I confess, I don't lose sleep over it so that may be a bit of an overstatement - is that the folks at GAFCON will convince the seven Provinces who have signed onto The Covenant that, since it is dead in the baptismal water, to sign with them to their Jerusalem Declaration and there will be a bone fide schism in The Anglican Communion.

Fare-thee-well, I say. Emotional blackmail and oppressive legalism are not part of classic Anglicanism. Indeed, there is no place for it, even in the Big Tent of Anglicanism.  Schism is not inherently a bad thing. Indeed, the Anglican Communion itself is the fruit of schism.  The tree sometimes needs a bit of pruning in order to rid itself of the dead wood that is not bearing the fruits of the Spirit.

Meanwhile, The Anglican Communion will go on.

At the end of the day - or, whenever this sad saga comes to an end (please God, that it may be sooner rather than later) - there may well be significantly less than the 40% in favor of The Covenant predicted by Mark Harris a year ago.

Even so, what will happen to the Anglican Covenant?

My own prognostication is that the Anglican Covenant will be relegated to a place in history just behind the 39 Articles of Faith - except, it will never find its way into the newest edition of the Book of Common Prayer.

Instead, it will be a rolled up and stored in an ornate box, high up on a shelf in a dusty library at Lambeth Palace. It will only be taken out, unfurled and waved around menacingly whenever anyone wants to object to the next thing that provides "offense" to someone's understanding of what it means to be a "true" Anglican.

In another 30 years, we'll all look back on this time, scratch our heads in dismay and say to each other, "WHAT the WHAT was THAT all about?"

And, we'll all have a good laugh. Even Jesus.

Of course, like Mark and MadPriest, I could be wrong.

Well, maybe the part about the good laugh.

The Anglican Covenant is (almost) dead! Long live the Anglican Communion!


Muthah+ said...

linked you to my place. I hate it when you get to the same topic and say all the things that I wanted to say. Great minds....

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Great minds, indeed!

Anonymous said...

While I am not well tutored on the Covenant vs Communion, I am confident that Elizabeth knows what she is talking about.
Having had 27 years of wonderful relationships w Bishops and now encountering one in Washington who appears to be afraid of Elizabeth's Secrets Blog, giving rise to my wondering about the future of Celtic Xianity as an alternative to the Roman Imperial system that gave shape to our Bishop system. I asked a Priest friend what use Bishop were & he said "Kindling." Is that bec. they start fires? And they are a very expensive lot..Rev Robert Hundley (fired by Bishop's order to Rector)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Robert - I'm very sorry about your situation but from what you've posted on FB, I'm drawing the conclusion that it doesn't have as much to do with your bishop and my blog as it does with the internal workings of the staff where you once worked.

I wish you peace.