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Yes to Covenant, Pastoral Care

Via Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa has adopted the Anglican Communion Covenant. Its Provincial Synod voted unanimously Oct. 4 to ratify the decision taken at its previous meeting in 2010 to adopt the Covenant. This completes the legal process.

The Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba, proposed the motion. Addressing the Synod, meeting this week in Benoni, Johannesburg, he emphasized ACSA’s commitment to being at the heart of Anglican life, often acting as a bridge-builder, and drawing on its own experiences of living with considerable diversity and wrestling with difference.

Seconding the motion, the Dean of the Province, Bishop Rubin Philip of Natal, quoted from the Introduction to the Covenant:

6. To covenant together is not intended to change the character of this Anglican expression of Christian faith. Rather, we recognise the importance of renewing in a solemn way our commitment to one another, and to the common understanding of faith and order we have received, so that the bonds of affection which hold us together may be re-affirmed and intensified. We do this in order to reflect, in our relations with one another, God’s own faithfulness and promises towards us in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20-22).

With debate only addressing a minor wording amendment, the motion was passed without dissent.

The text of the motion follows.

This Synod

  1. Notes the adoption of the Anglican Covenant at the Provincial Synod of 2010;
  2. Recommits the Anglican Church of Southern Africa to playing the fullest possible role at the heart of the Anglican Communion, working to promote its unity in diversity and strengthening of bonds of affection, in a life of mutuality and interdependence, shared between autonomous churches, acting each as we are called in our own particular contexts and according to our own ordering, in response to this common gift and calling we have received in our Lord Jesus Christ;
  3. Reaffirms its belief that this ordering of shared Communion life may be furthered as set out in the Preamble to the Covenant:
  4. We, as Churches of the Anglican Communion, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, solemnly covenant together in these following affirmations and commitments. As people of God, drawn from “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev. 7:9), we do this in order to proclaim more effectively in our different contexts the grace of God revealed in the gospel, to offer God’s love in responding to the needs of the world, to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and together with all God’s people to attain the full stature of Christ (Eph. 4:3,13).
  5. Resolves to confirm its adoption of the Anglican Covenant.

The Provincial Synod also has called for bishops to provide a pastoral response to civil unions of same-sex couples. Provincial Synod adopted a resolution Oct. 4 urging its Synod of Bishops to complete the guidelines “as soon as possible.” The ACSA neither marries same-sex couples nor ordains or licenses priests or deacons who live in same-sex unions.

The Rt. Rev. Martin Breytenbach, Bishop of St. Mark the Evangelist, said in proposing the resolution that “civil unions are a reality, whether we like it or not.” Breytenbach said he was on the conservative side of the debate but added that “we have people in our church who are same-gender couples who regard themselves as married, even though I find it difficult to accept.”

The Rt. Rev. Garth Counsell of Table Bay, in the Diocese of Cape Town, said the resolution does not concern “same-sex marriage or whether we will do that or not” but is about “confronting legal reality.”

“Within our membership we do have people who have exercised their right to be in committed civil unions, and the reality is that they are fully committed members of our church. We have a responsibility to be pastorally caring to people in our pews, irrespective of who they are.”

Bishop Breytenbach said the guidelines involves “living with tension.” He referred to the church’s breadth of approaches to the issues it faces: on some, rulings might bind the whole church across Southern Africa. On others, individual dioceses could have discretion to adopt their own guidelines.

There might also be situations in which priests could exercise their own discretion, sometimes in consultation with their bishops, and some matters might be left to the individual consciences of church members.

He also highlighted the need to look at the guidelines within the wider context of the church’s approaches to marriage, divorce, polygamy, and other related perspectives.

The Rt. Rev. Jo Seoka, Bishop of Pretoria, spoke of pain expressed to him by a young man who wanted to marry his partner. The man accepted that a priest could not marry him, but he was hurt that his father, an Anglican parishioner, could not escort him down the aisle without breaching church norms.

The full text of the resolution follows.

This Synod

1.     Noting

1.1.  The progress that has been made by the Synod of Bishops and various Dioceses in developing guidelines for pastoral ministry in response to Civil Unions, and to those who experience themselves as homosexual;

1.2.  That we have accepted Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference 1998 as the basis for our engagement with the issues of human sexuality

1.3.  That we are still not of one mind on these matters.

2.     Affirms

2.1.  That God calls us to love and minister to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, while at the same time upholding God’s standards of holiness;

2.2.  That this is a highly complex and emotive area which affects many people deeply and has a far reaching impact on the mission of the Church.

3.     Commits the Anglican Church of Southern Africa

3.1.  To journey together in humility and mutual respect as we seek God’s mind on the difficult issues of human sexuality;

3.2.  To continue to engage in a process of listening to the whole variety of experiences and viewpoints so as to increase our understanding of these issues;

4.     Resolves to

4.1.  Respectfully request the Synod of Bishops to work towards finalizing the Guidelines for pastoral ministry in response to Civil Unions as soon as possible.


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