Well, the church was brave today. By a very small margin.
The motion under debate at Synod was about how we would respond to a questionnaire on the Anglican Covenant. The motion simply echoed one of the questions Lambeth asked us to answer:
Motion 3: That this Synod affirm an ‘in principle’ commitment to the Covenant process at this time (without committing itself to the details of any text).
When the motion was first under discussion at the Faith and Order board, I think most of us assumed that we had simply to answer it: yes or no. And the consequences of ‘no’ might be very high.
But then again, so might the consequences of ‘yes’.
There is a lot of dis-ease about the covenant around the SEC. We very much want to be a part of the Anglican Communion, and present to the discussions about the shape of that communion. But the covenant itself is flawed on at least two counts: first, you cannot legislate trust, and second, we cannot pretend that the covenant is simply expressing what has always been true of Anglicanism, when it is clearly doing something new (introducing disciplinary procedures).
It was only last night that I was able to say clearly to myself that I did not support this process. The realisation came as I re-read the Introduction to the St Andrews Draft of the covenant. It says:
Recognizing the wonder, beauty and challenge of maintaining communion in this family of churches, and the need for mutual commitment and disipline as a witness to God’s promise in a world and time of instability, conflict, and fragmentation, we covenant together…
But I don’t. I don’t think we need mutual discipline. We may need to support each other in discipleship, and challenge each other to live more disciplined, more disciple-like lives; but we don’t need ‘discipline’ if that connotes ‘ways of punishing transgression’. Our provinces are too different, our understanding of each other (let alone our understanding of God) is too partial for one part of the world to have disciplinary authority over another.
But I still didn’t know how I would vote, because I did fear a ‘no’ would make it impossible for us to continue to be heard in the Communion.
And then, a clever amendment came along, from a priest I much admire. The amendment said:
This Synod affirms an ‘in principle’ commitment to continue to participate actively in discussion regarding the future shape of the Anglican Communion at this time (without necessarily committing itself to the concept of a covenant).
The vote was close: 65 for, 56 against; but it passed.
And in that moment, the church took a huge leap forward. We moved out of the black-or-white thinking that conflict has driven us to. We said no to choosing things because choices were being forced upon us. We chose instead to speak the truth of who we are.
I suspect that the decision we made will make Lambeth more difficult for the Bishops. More than one episcopal face fell at the vote. But I am proud of the church today.
Long may the bravery continue.
addendum: Thanks to Mother Ruth for a correction in the comments. The proposal was drafted by Nancy Adams, and presented by Ian Paton.