Our beloved blog turns 10 today. Please lift a glass and celebrate with us!
To mark the occasion, I offer ten memories and encouragements, with gratitude.
§1. A dozen or so Anglicans and several ecumenical allies launched Covenant on September 5, 2007, having developed ties as colleagues and friends before, during, and after the Episcopal Church’s 2006 General Convention, a watershed of would-be response to the Anglican Communion. We shared a commitment to offering persistent, traditionalist witness concerning questions of sexuality without unchurching our fellow Episcopalians. We understood this position to be catholic, and the ecclesiological rationale held a primary interest, with a view to the maturation and healing of the Anglican Communion, thence the Christian Church. The Anglican vocation to communion converged with a wider call to “full, visible unity” among all Christians (Lambeth Conference 1988, 1998, 2008); and because ecumenism necessarily starts at home, a patient accompanying of one another across difference and division could only inculcate the virtues needed more broadly in the body of Christ.
§2. As Fr. Tony Clavier wrote in an introductory email to the House of Bishops and Deputies listserv from his post in West Virginia:
I want to commend to you all a new, well, I suppose it is a blog site…, born in hope and faith, and even some charity, for those who do not want to see our church and the Communion torn apart, particularly but not solely because of our mutual responsibility to our journeyers in Baptism in other jurisdictions, churches and denominations for whom Anglican anarchy cannot be anything but a dreadful blow to all Christians have worked for for a century.
He added: “Covenant is also a small act of confidence in the God whose will is to be done on earth as it is in Heaven…. Please pray for those of us to whom this has become a faith-project of significance.”
§3. We identified closely with the Windsor Bishops (later Communion Partners), named for their acceptance of The Windsor Report’s summons to restraint on the way to developing more articulated structures of Anglican communion (§ 107 et passim; appendices 1 & 2). The Instruments of Communion had welcomed this ecclesiological call, and in June 2006 Archbishop Williams published his seminal pastoral letter, “The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today.” The Anglican Communion lacks, he wrote,
adequately developed structures … to cope with the diversity of views that will inevitably arise in a world of rapid global communication and huge cultural variety. The tacit conventions between us need spelling out — not for the sake of some central mechanism of control but so that we have ways of being sure we’re still talking the same language, aware of belonging to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ. It is becoming urgent to work at what adequate structures for decision-making might look like.
In the next paragraph, he threw the weight of his office behind “the idea of a ‘covenant’ between local churches,” as proposed in Windsor. Soon thereafter the Covenant Design Group was constituted and the project off and running.
§4. We called the blog Covenant to signal support for this cause, and we led decidedly with the ecumenical and the theological in a mission statement once characterized as comprehensible only to theologians, a point we took to heart seven or so years later. As it began:
We are evangelical and catholic Anglicans, and fellow travelers from the wider household of God, assembled and summoned to a common labor in the ecumenical Church of Christ, not least through the present struggles and gifts of our communities.
We recognize that the Anglican Communion — the first instance of ecclesiality with which we, in this particular online assembly, wrestle for a blessing — is incomplete by itself, because we have seen with our eyes and touched with our hands the wounds of our Lord’s body: the countless factions and disputes that do not bring Him glory, leaving us all together far short of our call to “share,” as sisters and brothers visibly united, in the “partnership” of His offering (1 Cor. 10.14ff.).
Get it? It went on from there.
§5. From the start, we named Augustine of Hippo as our patron, and the first site prominently featured an icon of the great saint of Catholic orthodoxy (his absence at the moment is an accident of new platforms and sundry revisions). We had in mind especially Augustine’s structural thinking regarding the Church’s visibility and consequent bounds, set alongside a supple understanding of sacramental character (in baptism and ordination) and the preeminence of divine freedom in effecting and electing all ends. Also: the love of Christ, as beginning, end, and way of every Christian thing. Conflict must occur, of course, but Augustine “asked that it should always be conducted in charity and humility, in that to love God is to love his Church” (Henry Chadwick, Preface, Not Angels but Anglicans, rev. edn. 2010, p. 8).
§6. This line of thought led us to the Passion, which animated Covenant from the beginning, as a main stream of ecumenical thinking in the last several centuries. One may find the theme — of the cross and sacrifice as constituting Christian discipleship and community, gathering all of Scripture — in the pages of Michael Ramsey and Rowan Williams. We learned it especially from the bumper crop of Ephraim Radner’s researches. God uses the controversies and divisions of the Church, both inherited and perpetuated, for the transfiguring of her members after the pattern of his Son. For this reason, the faithful should renounce attempts to control the Church or cordon off pockets of “real” communion. Our task in historical terms is to understand where Christ has led us, as himself the suffering servant. Our task in pentecostal terms is to remain focused on the main thing, which is divinely initiated unity after division. The churches of the Church cannot and will not be the end, but God will be. This is the most interesting, common fact of the faith that all Christians can confess and prepare to accept.
§7. We tried to get at this in the initial mission statement by sustained appropriation of 1 Corinthians 10-11, read with reference to the Latin convenire, meaning to come together or agree, to covenant. As St. Paul writes to the Corinthians in chapter 11, “I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For … I hear that there are divisions among you.” And yet, Paul continues, “there have to be factions (hairesis) among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine” (vv. 17-19). What is he saying? At least that the Church’s unity and orthodoxy are complicated, neither simply given nor obviously taken away. Instead, as a provision of providence, God seeks to reorient the faithful through the spiritual curriculum of accompanying Christ, by sharing in his blood and body (10:16).
§8. In this “communion” (koinonia) of the humiliated church of Corinth, a church with “nothing that it has not received,” thus learning “of unity through its nothingness before the Cross of Christ,” as Michael Ramsey famously wrote (Gospel and the Catholic Church, 2nd edn [1936, 1956], p. 220): just here, Christians of every stripe may find and answer a call both to humility and to reconciliation in love. That is, we eat together as we “wait for one another” in the single body of the One whose blood is our new covenant (1 Cor. 11:33).
§9. What else? Covenant found an institutional home at the Living Church Foundation in 2009; and, after years of incubated friendships by email and a largely mothballed blog, we relaunched in 2014 as a daily source of reflection and encouragement. We seek to give voice to the broad, ecumenical tradition with generosity and joy, as befits Catholic Christianity. We are learning and relearning to appropriate and inhabit the riches of the Anglican tradition — not as “the best type of Christianity” (Ramsey again, ibid.), nor in a mode of continual contrast with other churches, doubling down on denominationalism. Rather, as we borrow from every other corner of the Church, we likewise trust that Anglicanism bears peculiar gifts; gifts, perhaps, in an especially devotional and doxological mode, “love’s redeeming work.” We hope that all Anglican comers, plus longsuffering siblings from elsewhere, may find at Covenant a pleasing path along which to practice “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, … toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
§10. For the coming decade, for all with whom we labor, and above all for the Church: May the Lord show us the splendor of his works, and so transform our own. “Prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork” (Ps. 90:17)!