17 March 2012

An Important View of Mission and Covenant

This is from the "presidential address" of Bishop Jones at the Liverpool Synod. For those of my readers who are not Anglicans, when a diocese in England or America and I think but am not sure, all the other parts of the Anglican Communion comes together in synod, the Bishop gets the first word. That is, before the business, as presiding officer the bishop makes an address. In many American diocese, this is in the form of the sermon at an opening Morning Prayer liturgy.

The bishop in American diocese traditionally offers a review of the last year, and comments on the business to come. These comments can, they do not always, contain recommendations. Bishop Jones used his address this morning to comment on and recommend a vote against, the Covenant. His entire address is available on line at the diocese of Liverpool web site and it is worth reading. In my view, however, the following is the central, indeed critical point.
The problem with the Covenant is that it introduces a dynamic which makes the Communion essentially introspective and resistant to change. Instead of setting us free to engage with a changing world it freezes us at a given point in our formation, holding us back and making us nervous about going beyond the boundaries and reaching out to God’s world. Indeed, just at the point that the church needs to be innovative and courageous against the forces ranged against us we will find ourselves constrained by fears as to whether our bold actions might mire us in procedures of dispute resolution.

There are any number of reasons to reject the Covenant. Section One's history of the polity is an incredibly bad piece of work that completely and one can only think intentionally ignores the history of the Churches in Scotland and the USA, while badly miss-stating the history of the first woman ordered as an Anglican priest. Sections Two and Three attempt without much success to create a "traditional framework" of the "instruments of unity" and assign to it authority the creators of the Lambeth Council and Anglican Communion never envisioned. Section Four takes this alleged framework and builds an amazingly convoluted scheme of canon law that seeks to make the "instruments" including the Covenant's creation, the "standing committee" into an international over-arching authority. All of that is simply wrong.

But Bishop Jones correctly hits a central point. None of this has to do with what the church needs.

In a time when we need to be experimental, open to electronic media as tools, electronic communities as a new kind of "church," and open to a new level of inclusiveness as we understand people, and the span of global ideas, anew; the Covenant turns its back on innovation, and new thoughts. It is the temple failure of our day, the reaction of the high priests condemning Jesus as he calls for a new viewpoint, writ into our age. We cannot afford the weight of the Covenant holding down our experience of the love of God, nor can we let it hold back our evangelism.

So it is fitting that the covenant failed crucial tests today, the feast of Patrick, Patron of Ireland and Patron of Evangelism. Without the Covenant, we can be evangelists. With it we cannot.

Well done England! I pray next week will formally end the threat of the Covenant in England. Then we need to speak truth to other provinces.

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