Instead, the governing body will consider a motion that continues the conversation and delays a final decision on the covenant until the next General Synod in 2016.
The covenant is a set of principles recommended by the 2004 Windsor Report as a way of healing relationships severely damaged by divisions over human sexuality among member provinces of the Anglican Communion.
At its recent spring meeting, the Council of General Synod (CoGS) agreed to recommend that General Synod ask the church’s Anglican Communion Working Group to “monitor continued developments” around the proposed covenant. It requests that the group render a report to the spring 2016 meeting of the council and directs the council “to bring a recommendation regarding the adoption of the covenant” to the next General Synod in 2016.
In 2010, General Synod had approved a resolution that received the final text of the covenant, requested the working group to prepare study and consultation materials for parishes and dioceses, and requested that the faith, worship and ministry committee and the Governance Working Group provide advice on the “theological, ecclesiological, legal and constitutional implications of the decision to adopt or not adopt the covenant.” It also directed the council “to bring a recommendation regarding the adoption of the covenant” to the 2013 General Synod.
Archdeacon Harry Huskins, working group member, described the 2013 motion as “a neutral vehicle” in which to deal with the covenant and is one that “recognizes the division of opinion” around the issue.
Huskins asked the council, however, whether it could consider ways in which General Synod members who feel strongly for or against the covenant could have opportunities to express their opinions on the floor; “Might it be useful to take time as a committee of the whole so people can say what they want?” suggested Huskins.
Some council members questioned whether the covenant issue was a “hot topic” that warranted extra time at an already compressed General Synod. Others said the working group’s report was “comprehensive enough” to explain the reasons for the motion.
Earlier in the discussion, council members said that there wasn’t any appetite for such discussions, noting how copious study materials prepared by the working – as requested by the 2010 General Synod – have not sparked interest among Canadian Anglicans.
“I’ve tried to begin conversations in Ottawa and its neighbouring dioceses, but there’s simply no interest. We just assume this is dead,” said Ron Chaplin, from the diocese of Ottawa.
“I don’t think it’s a burning issue,” said Cynthia Haines-Turner, from the ecclesiastical province of Canada. She added that this year’s General Synod, with its compressed schedule, was better spent on “more pressing matters.” She added that the covenant was a “fairly weighty issue,” and members shouldn’t have to be rushed into a decision. “2016 is a better time.”
The diocesan bishop of Calgary, Gregory Kerr-Wilson, said he supported the motion but cautioned the council about how it talks about the reception of the covenant. “Leadership means taking an interest in some things that may not be interesting to others, but which have an impact down the road,” he said.
It was agreed that the General Synod planning committee would look into the matter as it finalizes the agenda. As things currently stand, discussions around the covenant have been allotted 45 minutes, said Dean Peter Wall, chair of the General Synod planning committee.
Dean Peter Elliott, who was one of the church’s three representatives to the Anglican Consultative Council, which discussed the covenant last fall, noted that even the Anglican Communion is “literally over the map” with regards to action on the covenant. “The discussion within provinces and communion (about the covenant) was more highly valued than the product of approval,” said Elliott.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, concurred with Elliott, saying that while some provinces have adopted the covenant, others have rejected it outright, while others have adopted it “with some caveats.”
[Editors’ note: In July 2012, the Episcopal Church’s General Convention declined to take a position on the covenant, saying via Resolution B005 that, following extensive study and prayerful consideration of the Anglican Covenant, there remains “a wide variety of opinions and ecclesiological positions in The Episcopal Church.” The resolution called for the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies to appoint a task force “to continue to monitor the ongoing developments with respect to the Anglican Covenant and how this church might continue its participation.” That task force would report its findings to the next convention in 2015.]