Proposed Anglican Covenant

Three resolutions, each calling for partially different responses to the proposed Anglican Covenant, will come before the 77th General Convention when it meets July 5-12 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council announced last October that it would submit a resolution (A126) to convention that would have the church say it is “unable to adopt the Anglican Covenant in its present form.”

Two additional resolutions — from different groups of bishops — have been submitted to convention.

One resolution proposed by Bishop John Bauerschmidt of Tennessee and endorsed by 10 other bishops would commit the church to affirming and adopting the covenant. Another, proposed by Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut and backed by two other bishops, would encourage a more via media approach, “embracing” the preamble and first three sections of the four-section document, urging continued study, and committing the church to ongoing participation in the covenant process.

The document’s fourth section, which outlines a disciplinary method for resolving disputes in the communion, has largely been the covenant’s sticking point.

The Anglican Covenant first was proposed in the 2004 Windsor Report as a way that the communion and its 38 autonomous provinces might maintain unity despite differences, especially relating to biblical interpretation and human sexuality issues. The report came in the wake of the 2003 election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as bishop of New Hampshire, a development that caused some provinces to declare broken or impaired communion with the Episcopal Church.

Following five years of discussion and several draft versions, the final text of the covenant was sent in December 2009 to the communion’s provinces for formal consideration.

General Convention may decide in July whether to pass, amend and pass, or reject any resolutions it considers.

While Bishop Gary Lillibridge has been a supporter of the covenant, he said he now believes it “has lost its initial momentum” and will likely not be accepted by the 77th General Convention.

At an April 2012 meeting of the diocesan Executive Board, Lillibridge pointed out that the current Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, has announced his retirement later this year. “The covenant has been his baby,” said Lillibridge, “but the next archbishop will likely have his own vision for the future of the Anglican Communion, which may or may not include consideration of the covenant.” The Church of England has declined to affirm the covenant this year and will not consider it again for three years.

The Diocese of West Texas, at its diocesan council in 2011, affirmed the covenant. Although dioceses cannot “vote on” the covenant or officially sign on to it – only provinces of the Communion, of which The Episcopal Church is one, can officially sign on to it – Lillibridge worked on both the national and international level to move it forward.

The bishop pointed out that the covenant is an opt-in instrument presumably with the intention that those provinces that opt-in will be the decision-making authority in the Anglican Communion. So far, seven provinces of the Communion have affirmed it. “What this means as the communion continues its efforts to understand its relationships, remains to be seen.” said Lillibridge.

For the full text of the covenant, click here.

(Episcopal News Service contributed to this report.)

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