The Executive Council has published "A SHORT STUDY GUIDE TO AID THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN RESPONDING TO THE DRAFT ANGLICAN COVENANT AS PREPARED BY THE COVENANT DESIGN GROUP." This may be one of the few instances where a study guide only adds two pages to the length of the document under discussion. In addition to an introduction to the document, the study guide consists of fourteen questions, spread through the text. The questions, except for the ones at the end, are in reference to the materials in the section just preceding. It's all pretty straightforward.
Readers of this blog are already likely to know a good bit about the draft of a Covenant proposed by a group called together by the Archbishop of Canterbury called the Covenant Design Group. (For more on its composition and origins, see my blog posting HERE. )
Some readers will also be somewhat suspicious of ANY talk of Covenant in the present highly charged Anglican environment. The disastrous example of a Covenant in the Windsor Report, so bad that almost everyone was quick to point out that it was NOT part of the Windsor Report itself, has given a bad name to the whole undertaking. Matters have become more confused by the Primates Communique of March 2007 which suggests that we MUST buy on to the Draft Covenant, at least in broad outline, if there is to be progress in forming a perfected Covenant in the next few years. Suspicions of coercion abound and do not give confidence that covenant discussions are on the up and up.
It seems to me that instructive as those suspicions may be, this is one of those times where the work of thoughtful examination of the Draft is worth the effort. It is time to put the suspicions aside, if only for a moment.
Remember, the effort to find some way of drawing up a set of commonly agreed on understandings of what it means to be part of the Anglican Communion is a long standing one. The Anglican Communion is a product of nineteenth century commercial expansionism and religious enthusiasm and its "instruments" a product of the post World War II concerns for international coherence in the midst of the rapid expansion of nation states, reflected in ecclesial structures. So it is no wonder that there would be a growing need to articulate just what it is that makes the Anglican Communion an appropriate organizing factor in modern Christendom and in a Christian faith responsive to multi-denominational and interfaith environments.
The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888) and the idea of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ (MRI) (1963) are products of these two phases of our exploration. For some time there has been talk of a document, sometimes called a covenant, that would provide an understanding of the vocation of the Communion and something of a structure for Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence. So the issues in the current conversations continue both longstanding concerns: vocation and accountability.
My sense is that VOCATION is the real issue. Does the Anglican Communion have a vocation within the Christian community? Does it have some particular gift to bring to the whole? How might that gift be expressed? Or, alternately, is the Anglican Communion simply an accident or even worse a mutation, providing only a dead end or a wild strand? And, for us particularly, how does our own vocation as The Episcopal Church relate to the Anglican Communion sense of self?
It is only in that context – the context of vocation – that any structures of accountability among the member churches make much sense. If we are without a common vocation, or there is one that we as Episcopalians do not share, then it matters very little if we are structured. If we do have a vocation then perhaps the structures of accountability can reflect that call.
It is for this reason that your comments, and mine, to the proposed Draft Covenant are important. If we can in a wide variety of ways begin to establish a sense of our vocation as a Communion and from that find some way of developing a sense of what mutual responsibility and interdependence would look like, we will have gone a long way to address both issues.
YOU CAN DO THIS. Read the Study Guide on the Draft Covenant write down your thoughts and send them in. What good is the opportunity to comment on the Covenant if it is not taken up?
STIR THE POT.