General synod step closer to Anglican Covenant

General synod
Image caption Some Liberal Anglicans fear the covenant will create a "two-tier" Communion

The general synod has voted to press ahead with the Anglican Covenant, a worldwide deal designed to keep Anglicans around the world united.

The synod, the Church of England's national assembly, voted to send the covenant to dioceses for consideration.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has backed the covenant.

But the traditionalist lobby group Gafcon (the Global Anglican Future Conference) rejected the covenant, saying it was "no longer appropriate".

Gafcon issued a statement saying: "For the sake of Christ and of his gospel we can no longer maintain the illusion of normalcy and so we join with other primates from the Global South in declaring that we will not be present at the next primates' meeting to be held in Ireland."

The statement added: "While we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well-intentioned, we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate."

Gafcon's statement was endorsed by archbishops from West Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Australia as well as the Anglican Church of North America, a splinter from the Episcopal Church.

Several speakers at the synod said it would create a "two-tier" Anglican Communion.

Under the covenant each of the 38 provinces of the Communion would be invited to sign the covenant.

It is expected to return to the general synod for consideration in 2012.

The covenant was first mooted in 2003 after Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, was chosen as bishop of New Hampshire in the US amid uproar from many in the Anglican Communion.

Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, a chaplain at Durham University, told the synod meeting in Westminster: "We are told that the covenant sets out a framework for family relationships but what sort of family draws up a covenant with 'relational consequences' for breaches of the rules?

"To me, this text sounds rather like a couple in marital difficulties deciding to ask their wider family to vote on whether they should divorce or not."

'Properly accountable'

The Bishop of Lincoln, the Right Reverend John Saxbee, said Anglicans would be forced to "stand in the corner until they have seen the error of their ways and return to the ranks of the pure and spotless".

The Right Reverend Michael Perham, Bishop of Gloucester, said he was voting for it partly to support Dr Williams and added: "Not to vote for it is to make more difficult the task of the Archbishop of Canterbury in his ministry to the Communion. I want to strengthen, not weaken his hand."

Dr Williams explained the need for the covenant: "We are trying to understand what it is to be properly accountable to each other.

"We are not ruling out innovation and we are not attempting through the covenant to declare in advance the impossibility of this or that development."

The Reverend Simon Cawdell, from Bridgnorth, Shropshire, supported the covenant. "As a community, we sometimes have periods of time when we become dysfunctional, there are arguments, there are disputes, which need to be worked out between us," he said.

"The covenant seeks to provide a way in which these disputes about our own life can be resolved in love."

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