It seems pretty clear that the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant will not be approved by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church this summer. Having been rejected in Scotland, stymied in England, turned down by more conservative provinces, and approved by only a handful of churches around the world, the Covenant has had a tough row to hoe. It’s demise, I think, will be little lamented.
Several of the Convention resolutions concerning the Covenant politely turn it down but then use some sort of language about “committing” to the Anglican Communion. No one, it seems, wants the American church’s rejection of the Covenant to be interpreted as a step back from the Communion.
Actions speak louder than words, however, so here’s the question: what steps can this General Convention take to make it clear that its commitment to the Anglican Communion is more than nice words on a piece of paper?
Here’s a short list of ideas:
Fully fund the Anglican Communion Office. Congregations pay money to support the work of their dioceses because they are committed to work in their region. Dioceses pay money to the national church because they see that it does important work. National churches (or provinces of the Anglican Communion) should pay money to the international body that, on a bare shoestring, provides some sort of organization to the Communion and facilitates important projects like the Continuing Indaba or the Bible in the Life of the Church. The first head of the ACO (though it wasn’t called that at the time) was an American bishop named Stephen Bayne. Full disclosure, he is one of my Anglican heroes (yes I have those) and I think his legacy and his vision deserve all the support we can give them.
The budgets that have been proposed for Convention both slash (yet further) the Episcopal Church’s contribution to the ACO. I’m not sure how Episcopalians can gripe about dioceses that don’t pay the full asking when we don’t pay the full asking to the ACO. Other Episcopalians complain the ACO doesn’t do what we want, much in the way that Republicans in Congress are continually threatening to cut off funding to the UN when it “steps out of line.” Fully fund the organization and let it do its job.
Provide increased funding for the networks of the Anglican Communion. These are organizations, like the Anglican Indigenous Network or the Anglican Health Network, that bring together Anglicans from around the world to work on issues that are not, blessedly, the issues that have consumed the Communion for the last decade and more. Networks are important not only for the work they do but for the way they represent an effort to change the discourse in the Communion. The Episcopal Church used to contribute money to some of these networks as a way of bringing people together from different backgrounds to talk about important issues. That money is now gone. (Disclosure: I’ve been involved with the Anglican Peace and Justice Network.)
Challenge dioceses to be involved in at least one companion relationship. Many American dioceses, happily, have overseas partner dioceses. The companion diocese idea (which came out of work done by the Anglican Communion Office, incidentally, way back when) has been an important tool for building relationships across the Communion and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. But not all dioceses have companion relationships. Some dioceses have relationships that need to be reinvigourated. We can challenge parishes to have web sites (Resolution A025); why not challenge every diocese to have a companion? (Or two: some of the most exciting companion relationships involve three dioceses.) Companion relationships challenge the dominant Anglican narrative of fissure with one of relationship across reconciled difference.
(Convention has passed resolutions in the past encouraging companion diocese relationships but to the best of my searching has not passed one establishing an expectation that every diocese have a companion.)
Encourage the companion idea to spread to parishes. The budget of many dioceses around the world is equivalent (or smaller than) the budget of a good-sized parish in the U.S. What if, in addition to diocese-to-diocese relationships, there were parish-to-diocese relationships? (We’d have to think about how these relationships might be complementary or competing in a diocese.) There are hundreds of Anglican dioceses around the world, many eager for companions, as I have learned. There’s no reason large, mission-minded parishes can’t take the lead in partnering with them. (The Diocese of Virginia has done some exciting things around this idea.)
Encourage better communications. Communications in the Anglican Communion is abysmal. As I have found in my travels around the Communion, there is exciting work being done in so many parts of the world that few people know about because no one tells anyone else about it. Instead, the dominant communications medium in the church is something like Virtue Online, a polemical, often-false source of “news” that drives a narrative of fracture and decline. This needs to be matched with, well, facts. Solving the communications problem in the Communion is not something Convention alone can do. It can, however, take steps in that direction, like increasing funding for the Episcopal News Service so that the organization can broaden its horizons and get more Anglicans talking to one another. Right now, Anglican Journal, the newspaper of the (smaller and poorer) Canadian church does a better job covering the Communion than ENS does.
Many of these ideas cost money (not much) but, again, actions speak louder than words. If we mean what we say in these resolutions, we need to back it up. These are some of my ideas to do so. Yours?