By Mary Frances Schjonberg, June 14, 2007
[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal Church dioceses that change their constitutions in an attempt to bypass the Church's Constitution and Canons were warned by the Executive Council June 14 that their actions are "null and void."
The Council passed Resolution NAC023, reminding dioceses that they are required to "accede" to the Constitution and Canons, and declaring that any diocesan action that removes that accession from its constitution is "null and void." That declaration, the resolution said, means that their constitutions "shall be as they were as if such amendments had not been passed."
The action came on the last day of its four-day meeting at the Sheraton hotel in Parsippany, New Jersey. The Council spent June 11, 13, and 14 in New Jersey, and on June 12 traveled to the Episcopal Church Center at 815 Second Ave. in New York City. Earlier in the day, the Council issued its reply to the communiqué issued by the Anglican Primates at the end of their February meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. ENS coverage of that statement and a link to the statement itself is available here.
At the close of the meeting, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori congratulated the Council for engaging a variety of issues "faithfully and with clarity," recognizing the diversity of opinion that exists within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. She also noted that Council learned that there are sometimes other ways to cope with tough issues rather than legislation that can result in winners-and-losers situations. She observed that during the Parsippany meeting, members worked pastorally behind the scenes to achieve consensus on some issues.
House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson echoed those sentiments, saying that the members had used their gifts and skills in an atmosphere of prayer. She singled out Belton Zeigler of South Carolina, who opposed the Council's statement on the Primates' Communiqué, thanking him for speaking his mind and taking "the will of the group with great grace."
Resolution NAC023 names the dioceses of Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, San Joaquin and Quincy.
Some council members argued against naming the dioceses, including Ted Yumoto of San Joaquin, who said the resolution was a "statement of alienation" rather than reconciliation.
Bishop Julio Holguin of the Dominican Republic also urged the Council not to name dioceses but to make the resolution more obviously applicable to all dioceses. He also called on the Council to "soften [the resolution] in favor of dialogue." Bishop David Alvarez of Puerto Rico disagreed, saying that the resolution needed "more teeth."
The Rev. Gay Jennings of Ohio reminded the Council that General Convention had agreed about how to "order our common life" through its Constitution and Canons, and that the specific dioceses' actions have been "injurious to our common life."
Lexington Bishop Stacy Sauls, who helped to draft the resolution, said it was important to name the dioceses, in part because a judge in any future legal action connected with the dioceses' actions might ask why the Church never made a statement against those constitutional changes.
Covenant-development review process
Rosalie Ballentine of the Virgin Islands, chair of the International Concerns (INC) Committee's draft-covenant subcommittee, told the Council her group was surprised and pleased with the depth of the responses to the questions in the study guide on a draft of an Anglican Covenant.
Among the responses, 201 came from the laity, 100 from priests and deacons, 64 from organizations and groups including General Convention deputations, 27 from parishes, and 18 from bishops. The stack of responses is about three inches high and they range from one-sentence replies to each of the guide's questions to 10-page replies.
The comments are meant to help Council create a response to the draft covenant at its October meeting in Detroit, Michigan.
"The drafting committee will be informed by these responses but will not be constrained by them," Ballentine said, adding that the sub-committee will urge the drafting group to consider stances taken by previous meetings of General Convention about issues that are now included in the draft covenant.
In a related action, the Council approved Resolution INC021, authorizing Jefferts Schori and Anderson to appoint a work group to draft the Council's response. That group would also follow the covenant-development process, enable comments from the wider Episcopal Church and provide comments on behalf of the church to the Communion's Covenant Design Group.
The Windsor Report, released in October 2004, proposed a covenant as a way for the Anglican Communion to maintain unity amid differing viewpoints. The Primates received and discussed the draft during their February meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. They then released both it and an accompanying report to the entire Communion, asking for comment from of the 38 provinces by January 1, 2008.
Based on those responses, it is expected that a revised version of the covenant will be presented to the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops, to be followed by a final text that would be proposed to the 2009 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC). If the ACC adopts the text, it would offer it to the provinces for consideration.
The Executive Council's guide and the work group come in response to Resolution A166 passed by the 75th General Convention this past June. The resolution calls for the Episcopal Church, "as a demonstration of our commitment to mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Anglican Communion," to support the process of the development of an Anglican Covenant "that underscores our unity in faith, order, and common life in the service of God's mission." It also called for the INC and the Episcopal Church's members of the Anglican Consultative Council to follow the development processes of an Anglican Covenant and report regularly to the Executive Council as well as to the 76th General Convention in 2009.
In a letter to the Episcopal Church at the close of its March 2-4 meeting in Portland, Oregon, the Executive Council said "responding to the draft covenant does not presuppose agreement with the terms and principles advanced in the draft."