Comprehensive Unity: The No Anglican Covenant Blog

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Primus of Scotland on not adopting the Covenant

From the Most Revd. David Chillingworth, Primus of The Scottish Episcopal Church:
At our recent General Synod, the Scottish Episcopal Church decided by a clear majority not to adopt the Anglican Covenant. In 2011, Synod had discussed the Covenant in Indaba session. It was clear then that a decision to adopt was unlikely.

We tried hard to keep the issue open. I believe that the Anglican Covenant is an honourable attempt to heal our brokenness. But some time ago, as I set out to address yet another meeting in my diocese, I confided to my blog that I was going to listen to the most committed Anglicans on the planet telling me why they didn’t like the Anglican Covenant. Put simply, they believed that the Covenant is un-Anglican.

The Scottish Episcopal Church holds tenaciously to its commitment to the Anglican Communion. I see three reasons for that.

First, it’s our size – to a small church, it matters that we belong to something bigger. Then there is a reason which is proprietorial and slightly presumptuous - we invoke the memory of Samuel Seabury, consecrated in 1784 by the Scottish bishops as the first bishop of the church in the United States of America. We like to believe that we were in at the beginning. We want to be part of the bringing to birth of a new phase of Communion life. Finally and more subtly, our particular attitude to authority - rooted in the collegiality of a College of Bishops – finds an echo in the Anglican Communion’s aspiration to dispersed rather than centralised authority.

We approached this decision with great care and with some apprehension. We too are a diverse church. We have congregations who see the Anglican Covenant as important and necessary for their security within our church. This decision has called on our reserves of internal trust. Those congregations needed to know that, whether or not we adopted the Covenant, we intend to take a measured and respectful approach to our diversity. But therein lies the first of the problems. The Covenant addresses what it sees primarily as inter-provincial disagreement. But its effect may actually be to heighten intra-provincial tensions.

Provinces will continue to consider the Covenant and come to their own decisions. The Anglican Communion will continue to seek unity in an astonishing diversity of culture and context across the world. It already has structures and processes through which we build communion life. There are the four Instruments of Communion. There are networks - family, environment and others. There is the Anglican Alliance. There is Continuing Indaba - for which I serve as Chair of the Reference Group. There are Diocesan Companionship Links.

But we need a more comprehensive understanding of the challenges. We also need to recognise that no single measure can address them all.

The genesis of the Anglican Covenant lay in the Windsor Report – which arose from the development of conflict around issues of human sexuality. In my experience, conflict is almost never ‘single issue’. It is a complex of issues which sometimes don’t quite match in a directly adversarial way. And the passion with which those conflicts are experienced tells us that other issues are in play. It’s about more than the ‘presenting question’. Let me suggest two other issues which are part of this.

The first is one to which we are tangentially linked through the Seabury story - it is the legacy of history. The sharp word is colonialism. People assert independence of thought and action more strongly - challenge authority more resolutely - when relationships are shaped and conditioned by the legacy of history. In the Anglican Communion, that history affects interactions between the New World and the old world and between the developed and the developing world. The challenge is to build an Anglican Communion which transcends its history – a post-colonial Communion.

At the Primates Meeting in Dublin last year, I learnt that another of the great diversities of Communion life is in our understanding of authority. A bishop in the Church of England does not exercise authority as we do in Scotland - different again in America and in Nigeria and in Hong Kong. That diversity enriches – but it has led to misunderstanding and disappointment in one another.

I believe that a new understanding of the problems we face is needed. By challenging the legacy of history, new axes of relationship will be encouraged. We shall be better able to address the deeply adversarial divisions which gather around the human sexuality issues. Communion grows when we share together in mission, grow together as disciples and act with a self-discipline which is the foundation of unity in diversity.

Our Communion is a gift to the world - a global institution which aspires to exist largely without centralised authority and to celebrate its rich diversity. Such a Communion models things which are important for the world community. Such a Communion is attractive in mission because it has learned to transcend conflict. I believe that we now have a historic opportunity to reshape the Anglican Communion so that it may become an instrument of God's mission to the world in the next generation.

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