brave new world

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.

18 thoughts on “brave new world”

  1. I had big problems with that ammendment, if I’m honest. It was a resounding NO to the question that the Anglican Communion had put before us – but rather than me being allowed to say my “no” or my “yes”, that ability was taken away from me. Far from thinking it brave, I thought it was a convenient cop-out and was rather angry at the time of the vote (I’ve calmed down a bit since then on the train back to Glasgow…) That frustration was further compounded in the in the subsequent motion where we voted to spend time and resources as a province looking at the covenant as it was presented in the St Andrews Draft and compiling a response. This seems pretty crazy when we have just decided we want nothing to do with covenants (as they have been presented thus far) – for that seems to me to be the truth of the matter

    Peronsally, I have no problem with being involved in the process of exploring a covenant – not that I subscribed to the St Andrews Draft, largley for similar reasons to yourself. That the drafts have been flawed and have had much that we disagree with does not discount the process, they are after all only drafts for consideration. That the texts we have recieved have been flawed does not indicate that the process itself is flawed, but that we are working with a flawed church and a flawed humanity struggling to make sense of something which has simultanously caused much joy and much pain in our worldwide church

    rant and ramble over – see you bright and early at synod tomorrow 🙂

  2. Thank you for this Kimberley. I’ve been at a training session all day, so have no brain left to formulate thoughtful comment. But this post fills me with gratitude – to Synod for being brave and for you for sharing this with us with such eloquence.

  3. Just to correct one small point, Mother K, it was actually Nancy A who suggested the amendment and wrote it but she didn’t want to present it so IP did that for her.

  4. Thanks, Kimbeley for a magnificent summing up of this thorny issue! You’ll be up for Rob Warren’s job next year, I’m sure!

  5. I am very glad to read this – in my experience, little is gained by sounding as though you agree with something while you do not, and signing up for the covenant would have been just that IMV. Agreeing to the covenant in its present form is in effect saying: ‘We don’t have the moral authority to stand up for the things we believe in, so we will agree to be beaten out of believing in them.’ All the same, sounding too negative towards it would have an undesirably polarising effect.

  6. Was it the brave thing to do?

    I would have thought the brave thing would have been to vote with a resounding “NO” and go on to instruct our Bishops not to go to the Lambeth Conference.

  7. Robin, I suppose that depends on whether you think it is still desirable to be part of a world-wide communion. I do, but not necessarily at any price.

    Ali, I think you are braver than I am. I’m not sure if I would have dared vote no, and I knew I couldn’t vote yes.

    I think there may be value in looking at the document in dioceses because it invites serious conversation about how we see our relationships in the church. And if we ever come, as a church, to make decisions that lead to our being out of communion with, oh, let’s say, England… then we need to know why we have chosen that. I’m concerned that synod it coming closer to saying no to a covenant, but that the conversations haven’t filtered widely enough through congregations. By inviting diocesan response, we might the likelihood of congregational discussion.

  8. As usual a brilliant summing up of the situation. No one could have done better.

    Still think that Synod should have voted to instruct the Bishops not to go to Lambeth under any circumstances.

  9. No. Whatever happens, however painful, never, ever underrate the importance of being there, and of listening. OK, it’s a cliché, (‘I hear you, I hear you’ while doing nothing) but it remains true that just listening and taking the pain on board is often the ONLY meaningful thing conscience permits. If push comes to shove, better, by far, to be there, and to hear and to say: ‘Well, we can’t sign that’. Better and more Christ-like.

  10. Congregation discussions, excellent idea! And I think I’m with Rosemary on this one. I can think of lots of good reasons for the bishops not to go to Lambeth – but at the end of the day, I think they should be there. I think. I’m not completely sure.

  11. wonderfulexchange, I do think it desirable to be part of a worldwide communion – just not the Anglican Communion as it is at present and as it looks like developing in the future!

    I feel ashamed to be associated with it nowadays and believe it to be an impediment to the Gospel. The time is past, I think, for seeking to influence it or moderate it, and ++Rowan seems increasingly to prefer expediency over truth.

    For our Bishops not to attend would send out a clear and forceful message that we believed the Anglican Communion had taken a wrong turning and that we preferred to stand with the marginalised and despised rather than the rigid and repressive. To attend merely makes us complicit in what we know will happen anyway.

  12. Robin, if our bishops didn’t attend they would be behaving in a way comparable to those who wouldn’t associate with tax-collectors.

    And Ali, compromise and fudging is often the price to be paid for keeping the channels of communication open.

  13. Eamonn, I could respond with Matthew 7.15, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves!”

    OK, that would be far too glib. But I really do feel that some of the Lambeth bishops are false prophets who (I accept, with the best of motives) are doing harm to the flock. Our bishops’ first duty (after their duty to God) is to their flock here, and the signals sent out by negotiating with the more repressive element among the bishops would in my view be wrong and hurtful. As a friend of mine remarked, “I’d rather sacrifice Anglican unity on the altar of truth, than truth on the altar of Anglican unity.”

    > compromise and fudging is often the price to be paid for keeping the channels of communication open <

    Yes, but history shows that sometimes the price can be too high.

  14. I have no issue at all with our bishops — or any of us — gathering with members of churches of whatever spectrum. Gathering is a visible sign of our desire for reconciliation (which is not the same as finding agreement), and that is a goal I think we can never let go of, no matter how hurtful the present conflicts are.

    The issue about Lambeth –as Kelvin has said elsewhere– is that the invitation made it clear that to go means that you are willing to work with the Windsor Process, and that puts our bishops in a difficult position.

    Let’s see what happens. The church (thank God) is bigger than Lambeth.

  15. Kimberly, thank you for you perspective, I watched in amazement as you tippety tapped during proceedings,

    I too thought the amendment seemed to help me be able to stay on board whilst having reservations,

    Then I herd upset purple saying,” they ” won’t take us seriously any more, all we asked was for the Synod’s go ahead to keep talking, which I think we genuinely want to do, don’t we.?
    So much of Synod was about affirming our connections , even starting new ones , not cutting ourselves off.

    It seems we are so conscientious we must show all our cards of misgiving before we have herd or seen the deck… though I agree voting on the proposed motion seemed to commit us to something more than we could was over the lip of the horizion.

    The metaphor that it is better to be in the tent pissing out ,than outside the tent pissing in comes to mind!

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