This week’s Anglican Covenant round-up

The dioceses of Manchester and London have rejected it bringing the total no votes to 25 (out of 44 total dioceses, with several to vote after Easter).

Post-mortems on the covenant abound.

In the end, Anglicans have discovered what another ecclesial body might have told them from the start: in the present age, a text cannot hold Churches together in the way that a person can. Given that no text will be perfect, a degree of affection is needed to persuade people to subscribe. An individual can earn that affection; a text (poetry excepted), never — especially a text monitored by a standing committee that few understand and none recognise. Time and again in the General Synod, affection for Dr Williams carried members along; but he was absent in the diocesan synods, and the link was broken. So, what now? One of the paradoxes of our age is that, just as communication around the Communion becomes easier, attention has become more local. In the UK, as elsewhere, the perception has grown that an engagement with the surrounding culture demands more energy than before, as economic and cultural forces drive a wedge between, if not Christianity, then at least church culture as it is generally perceived. Messy Church, Fresh Expressions, etc. are some of the more obvious attempts to meet this challenge. People instinctively wish to avoid church ties that look to be time-consuming and restricting. The dangers are obvious. The quiet agenda behind the Covenant was that it would reassure ecumenical partners, Rome in particular, that Anglicans had a mechanism to stop the sorts of surprises that have scuppered unity in the past. As for the benefits, the Communion might wish to embark on a little theological investigation into whether the Holy Spirit works through restraint or surprise, and how it ought to respond to either. But the command to see Christ in each other has not gone away. The rejection of the Covenant must not signal any loss of the affection that binds Anglicans, they have always claimed, together.

All we are left with, as a diverse family of churches, is to talk with people directly rather than about them. This could be a great opportunity to think through the implications. The Anglican communion works wonderfully well as a network of people, but makes a lousy vatican-on-sea. If top-down doesn’t work, what does? It may be time to take stock, some would say grow up. But how?

In a not-quite postmortem, the Archbishop of Capetown (South Africa) wrote a letter to the Archbishop of York (voting will take place in York on April 28):

We need to know that we are not alone, that we are part of a wider belonging, when life is hard. But we need it too when life is easy – requiring interaction with perspectives and preoccupations beyond our own, recognising God speaks in many ways, one of which is through other members of the body of Christ. We cannot grow into becoming the people we are called to be without also growing into the relationship to which God calls us within Christ’s body.

Now, some will say, all this can happen without the Anglican Covenant. And there is of course considerable truth in this. But it seems to me that the Covenant has the potential to help us do it far better – provided we commit ourselves to making the Covenant work.

Mark Harris provides commentary on the Archbishop’s letter.

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