October 3, 2011
Two weeks ago I was in England for the annual meeting of the Compass Rose Society. There we had the opportunity to engage in the inevitable discussions of the proposed Anglican Covenant. Most observers to whom I spoke believe that the Church of England will adopt the Covenant “out of loyalty to Rowan”. There is some thought among some Episcopalians who dislike the proposed Covenant that we should adopt an imperfect thing in order to ’stay at the table’. After listening to the conversation, I still hold the view that the Anglican Communion does not need this innovation. I would also prefer that we stop the ‘bureaucratic creep’ that is going on with the development of an expensive ‘secretariat’ in the Anglican Communion Office, and return all those functions to Lambeth Palace, properly funding the Archbishop of Canterbury’s staff instead. It won’t happen as that train has already left the station. In the event that the Covenant is adopted by enough churches that there is a ‘table’ from which we are excluded, we could then decide to adopt it later as I understand what is going on.
I bring this up because I have been reminded of the importance of the baptismal covenant in the life of The Episcopal Church in two ways recently. At the Presbyters Conference of the Diocese of Atlanta we centered our conversation around the development of a proposed rite for the blessing of same gender unions. (We were not allowed to see the proposed rite itself which made the whole exercise a bit silly.) In the process of discussion however we had to articulate what we thought made liturgy ‘Anglican’. One of the distinctive features of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is the centrality of baptism in all of our worship.
At our parish weekend at Kanuga, Bishop Peter Lee, formerly of Virginia and more recently of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and General Theological Seminary in NYC (now preparing for another interim position at the American Cathedral in Paris, poor baby) centered his reflections on an enduring church in uncertain times on our baptismal rite and in particular, our Baptismal covenant.
In England, I was reminded once again how unusual this is among Anglican Churches. The way we include a brief moral catechesis or consequence following the Creed in the Covenant and make it central to our common life is quite alien to most other Anglicans. I cannot help but believe if they focused more clearly on baptism they would not be taken in by the proposed ‘Anglican Covenant’. Instead of embracing the centrality of baptism, what I heard and experienced was yet another snide dismissal of the baptismal covenant as “an American thing”, and therefore presumably something that does not have to be taken into account in Anglican conversation.
I’m leaving for the Diocese of Western Tanganyika this afternoon with a small team from All Saints’ for the purpose of furthering a relationship that has been strained to breaking point in recent years. I continue to believe it both important and valuable that international relationships among Christians be maintained across theological and cultural differences for the unity of the church. More than that I believe that it is in such relationships, founded in the promises of baptism, (more than will ever be nurtured by the proposed covenant,) that the reality of a relational catholic communion is found.