What is a ‘covenant’?
It can mean different things in different contexts. One of the most frequently used images of covenant is that of a marriage. Being committed to each other ‘for better for worse… till death us do part’ is a powerful symbol. At a time that the Anglican Communion is supposedly on the verge of fracture, the idea of a Covenant for, or between, Anglican church Provinces has been raised.
This is (relatively) new, and is being formed under the auspices of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and chaired by Archbishop Drexel Gomez.
However, in its ‘Second Draft’ stage, published just before Synod’s meeting, it has raised issues about how to deal with provinces of the Communion who do not feel able to be part of the Covenant, because of the principles or restrictions it may put on them. Or how does one deal with a province that steps ‘out of line’ - wherever that line has been drawn?
Several Synod members started to question whether ‘covenant’ was the right word to use in this context, especially if it becomes exclusive or punitive. Yet there are many nuanced Biblical images of covenant, from God’s Covenant with Noah, Abraham, Moses, through even Jonah, and of course the whole New Covenant introduced through Jesus in the New Testament.
A number of Synod members were unsure about Covenant in principle, and this one in particular. Several, even bishops, spoke of a ‘gloomy atmosphere’ around the progress of the Covenant - and yet a number of others see it as giving a clear sense of purpose, mission, and direction to why these provinces would seek to be gathered together in Communion. A huge majority voted to take note of this next draft of the Covenant; conscious that they were not ratifying this particular version.