By Jered Weber-Johnson
The Anglican Covenant Conference began last evening at the recently opened Desmond Tutu Center in New York City, with participants from across the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada as well as representatives from various bodies within the wider Anglican Communion. The General Theological Seminary convened this conference with the intent of engaging participants in dialogue and debate over the draft Anglican Covenant.
The format over the next day and a half includes panel presentations by theologians, scholars, and faculty from the several seminaries represented at the conference with responses by student panels. Each seminary was asked to select a faculty and student representative to send to the conference.
Interspersed between the panel discussions will be three keynote speakers. The first of these keynoters was last night, the Most Reverend Drexel Gomez, Archbishop and Primate of the West Indies and the Bishop of the Diocese of the Bahamas. Also on the schedule are Canon Dr. Jenny Te Paa, a member of the Lambeth Commission on Communion which produced the Windsor Report in 2004, as well as the Reverend Canon Gregory Cameron, Director of Ecumenical Affairs and Studies, and Deputy Secretary General in the Anglican Communion Office in London.
The question posed to the presenters and keynoters by the conference organizers was “Would an Anglican Covenant clarify Anglican identity and strengthen mutual interdependence? Or would it be a tool of exclusion and dominance?”
In his talk, “The Case for an Anglican Covenant”, Archbishop Gomez asserted that not only would it clarify Anglican identity, but, he further argued, “covenant is the only available mechanism” to keep us together as a communion.
The majority of Archbishop Gomez’s comments centered on the necessity and practicality of an Anglican Covenant, drawing heavily from Section C 119 of the Windsor Report, on Canon Law and Covenant.
Seeking to demonstrate prior precedent for covenanting in the history of Anglicanism, Gomez sited the Bonn Agreement of 1931 between Anglicans and the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, noting that that particular covenant was brief due to the amount of trust by both parties entering into it.
Gomez argued, “brevity can only survive in a situation of complete trust. Where matters are disputed, the matters must be clarified.”
In his responding remarks, the Reverend Dr. Peter-Ben Smit, a priest in the Old Catholic Church and a student of the General Theological Seminary noted that rather, the tenor leading up to the Bonn Agreement was anything but trusting, and issues were far from resolved at the time of the agreement.
“Over seventy-five years of full communion, of which my presence here is a living example, show therefore that your premise that ‘where matters are disputed, the matters must be clarified’ holds not true”, said Smit.
Smit further noted that in lifting up the example of the Bonn Agreement, Gomez had not argued for a lengthy agreement such as the proposed covenant, but rather “for a short statement of fundamental agreement”.
John Lock, a seminarian from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry pointed out that he agreed with Gomez that an Anglican Covenant might be practical and necessary in troubled times such as these.
At the same time Lock argued, “we cannot achieve unity, the precious gift of the Spirit, merely on the grounds of Anglican polity.” Rather, “unity comes when” he continued, “we are reconciled to God and have peace with God, and as a result we can have peace and be reconciled to those who are redeemed in him.”
In perhaps the most pointed comment of the evening, Leonel Abaroa Boloña, a student at Trinity College, Toronto, stated that Archbishop Gomez had preached at the consecration of two bishops whose consecration was expressly for the purpose of pastoral care to Anglicans in America disaffected by the Episcopal Church’s stand toward homosexuality. Boloña argued that Gomez’s presence at the consecration, which took place in Kenya, seemed to be inconsistent with the stance of the Windsor Report and the Anglican Covenant, both of which Gomez played a part in producing and is expressly supportive of.
“I need consistency”, said Boloña, “and as the Primate of the West Indies and as a person who says he supports the Windsor Report, you are saying one thing and doing another.”
Gomez responded that his presence at the consecration was not as Primate, but as close friend of the two men being consecrated. He denied that his actions were in any way inconsistent with his words.
After the evening’s discussion the Reverend Dr. Ian Douglas reacted for Episcopal Café to the presentation and subsequent comments.
“I was quite impressed by the questions. People got right into it, and the questions people had were well researched.”
Noting the significance of the Anglican Covenant Conference: “I think it’s important to have substantial discussion, discussion that is considered and gracious, which surfaces valid and important differences. If we’re going to be genuine to the covenant process—these conversations are going to be necessary.”
For more information about the Anglican Covenant Conference, its keynote speakers and other presenters, and to look for papers as they are posted, go to www.tutucenter.org
Jered Weber-Johnson, a candidate for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Olympia, is a student at the General Theological Seminary.