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Executive Council notes concern with covenant's disciplinary section

Response to communion outlines divergent views on current draft

[Episcopal News Service -- Memphis, Tennessee] The Episcopal Church's Executive Council said October 8 that the majority of the General Convention deputations and individual deputies that expressed an opinion do not support the disciplinary process outlined in the latest draft of a proposed Anglican covenant.

The comment came in the council's official response to the Ridley Cambridge Draft, which the members said addresses "some of the most difficult matters and substance relating to such a covenant."

The Anglican Communion's provinces were asked for specific comments on the draft's Section Four, which contains a dispute-resolution process.

"One [General Convention] deputation stated that Section Four is 'disturbing' because it creates a system of governance contrary to our understanding of Anglicanism and establishes a punitive system executed by a select committee," the council said. "On the other hand, a deputation felt that the fourth section is important because a governance section is needed to maintain a covenant."

Another response called the authority the communion's Standing Committee would have in the disciplinary process so "ill-defined as to endanger the very essence of Anglicanism." (The Standing Committee is a group of elected representatives of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) and the Primates Meeting).

The Executive Council said that the comments it received on Section Four were "so interwoven" with comments on the covenant as a whole that "separating the two is difficult."

"The majority of deputations and individual deputies that responded are not convinced that the covenant in its current form will bring about deeper communion," the council said. "Several stated that the overall idea of a covenant is 'un-Anglican.' One went as far as to say that the 'document incorporates anxiety.'"

On the other hand, the council noted, another deputy called the covenant "a presentation of the Christian community as a dynamic spiritual body in which God-given freedom is inextricably bound up with God-given accountability."

The Executive Council's response also noted that comments about the covenant have come from sources outside of its formal process. Thirty-six active and retired bishops of the Episcopal Church have signed the Anaheim Statement in which the bishops objected to some of the actions taken during the July 8-17 meeting of General Convention. The council cited the signers' commitment to the covenant process and their "hope of working toward its implementation across the communion once a covenant is completed" as additional evidence that the Episcopal Church takes its membership in the communion "very seriously" and is committed to participating in the covenant development processes.

The council also said that it was "grateful" for the opportunity given to provinces to consider the Ridley Cambridge Draft "in the hopes of realizing a fully matured Anglican covenant." It also pledged that its ongoing participation in the covenant development process would be entrusted "to the leading of the Holy Spirit" and that it "look[s] forward to the next three years as we grow more deeply into our common life in the Anglican Communion."

The members reiterated the council's frequent statement that, because the General Convention is "the highest legislative authority of the Episcopal Church," it "is the body that will ultimately decide the Episcopal Church's position with respect to its participation in an Anglican Communion covenant."

The council had earlier this year predicted that a decision by General Convention would not come until at least 2012, or even 2015 if such approval was deemed to require changes to the Episcopal Church's constitution.

"There are some in the Episcopal Church and beyond who want to prejudge the General Convention's decision on the Anglican Communion covenant," the council said. "We find such predictions and pronouncements premature and unhelpful."

Background of the current process
The current draft was released in April. Its first two sections, "Our Inheritance in Faith" and "The Life We Share with Others: Our Anglican Vocation," are little changed from the two previous drafts. The third section, "Our Unity and Common Life," attempts to outline how Anglican churches relate to each other. The fourth section, "Our Covenanted Life Together," provides the method for resolving disputes in the communion.

In May, the Anglican Consultative Council postponed asking the Anglican Communion's 38 provinces to consider adopting the Ridley Cambridge Draft. The ACC said instead that it wanted Section Four to get more scrutiny and possibly be revised.

ACC members were also concerned about the lack of time for their provinces to respond to the Ridley Cambridge Draft between the time it was released April 8 and the May 2 start of the ACC meeting. The Covenant Design Group had released the two previous drafts with longer comment periods.

The Archbishop of Canterbury later appointed a small working group to consider Section Four. The members, all of whom served on the original Covenant Design Group, asked for provincial comments on the section by November 13. The working group will meet November 20-21 in London and report to the communion's Standing Committee meeting December 15-18.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson and Rosalie Ballentine, the Executive Council member who chairs the council's task force on the covenant, in July asked General Convention deputations and their bishops to study and comment on the draft by September 1.

To assist that study the task force developed a study guide in English and in Spanish. The comments that were received (34 from diocesan deputations and individual deputies) are summarized in the third section of council's response.

The council now has responded to all three of the draft versions of the covenant. Those responses have come as a result of the Episcopal Church's commitment in 2006 (via General Convention Resolution A166 to follow the covenant development process.

And the July 8-17 meeting of the General Convention in Anaheim, California, commended (via Resolution D20) the Ridley Cambridge Draft and any successive drafts to the dioceses for study and comment during the 2010-2012 triennium.

In March 2007, the Executive Council said that "responding to the draft covenant does not presuppose agreement with the terms and principles advanced in the draft."

When the council released its official response to the second draft in January 2009, it reiterated that stance, that the church's participation in the covenant development process "does not implicitly commit" it to ultimately approving a covenant.

The council's response to the first draft (the Nassau Draft) is available here. The response to the second draft, known as the St. Andrew's Draft, is here.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

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