Anglican Covenant will unite, not divide - Sentamu

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has thrown his full support behind a covenant Anglicans are hoping will end painful divisions in their worldwide Communion and bridge the way to complete unity and fellowship in Christ.

The 70-million member Anglican Communion started the process towards an Anglican Covenant at the recommendation of the 2004 Windsor Report as one way in which trust and co-operation could be rebuilt between the churches of the Anglican Communion in light of serious tensions over a number of issues, most notably homosexuality.

A second draft of the Anglican Covenant - the St Andrew's draft - was issued at the start of February for consideration by Anglicans prior to and during the July Lambeth Conference, the 10-yearly gathering of senior Anglican clergy from around the world.

"The whole intention of the covenant is 'to identify the fundamentals that we have in common and to state the basis on which our mutual trust can be rebuilt'", said Dr Sentamu, quoting from an address in the July 2007 Synod given by the Chair of the Anglican Covenant Design Group, Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies.

It is "not a new creed of Anglican-wide Canon law, nor an 11th commandment chiselled out on Mount Kilimanjaro by the Anglican Primates," Dr Sentamu added during a debate in the Church of England's General Synod on Wednesday.

He ended his address to Synod by turning to the Archbishop of Canterbury and handing him the stick of a tribal chief he had received during his recent trip to Kenya, a display of unwavering support for the Anglican Communion's spiritual head.

Patting Dr Williams on the back, Dr Sentamu said, "Among the 38 tribes of the Anglican Communion he is still the chief."

His address was followed by a debate which drew out mixed feelings from Synod members towards the covenant.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev John Gladwin, said he was "weary" of the covenant, to which the Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Rev John Saxbee, appeared later to respond: "It is important that we don't get weary but that we get excited with this process. We can make it better. We're enriched by these kinds of exercises and opportunities."

The Rev Brian Lewis of the Diocese of Chelmsford said it would be "a mistake to introduce a formalised method of division into the life of the Communion".

"When you have an institutionalised method of division it is much more difficult to come back together again," he told Synod.

The Rev Canon Ann Stevens of the Diocese of Southwark added her concern over the prospect of the Anglican Consultative Council having the authority to "deem that a particular province has relinquished the 'force and meaning of the Covenant's purpose'".

The Archbishop of York maintained, however, that a covenant would not exclude churches of the Anglican Communion.

The covenant "is not erecting a great Anglican wall of exclusion", Dr Sentamu told Synod members. "As I see it, its purpose is to hoist the sails to empower the boat of Communion to sail again unafraid of the storms. It is a clarion call to hear again God's invitation to us to participate in Christ's death and resurrection."

The Archbishop of Canterbury expressed his support for the Anglican Covenant by reminding Synod members of the need for self-giving.

"A covenant relationship between Christians is a promise to be willing to be converted by each other. I think that works ecumenically and in the Communion as well. But that's why I think the word 'covenant' is not so wildly inappropriate," he said.

Dr Williams continued, "I think we ought to be excited and enthused by the notion that our Anglican family might just find new life and new vigour if it were prepared very consciously and prayerfully to make the sort of commitments to each other within the family that involved the willingness to be converted by each other, and therefore to see our relations within the Communion not as a constant struggle of power and leverage but something deeper."

The latest draft covenant has now been offered to the provinces for wider reflection until the Lambeth Conference.