LONDON – Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams has advised the Anglican Communion's 34 provinces to approve a document aimed at preventing a split in the global church body.
While the draft Anglican Covenant sent out to provinces for consideration this past week sets out a framework for dealing with conflicts among the provinces, it is not, as the archbishop put it, a "penal code" by which to punish provinces that do not tow the line.
"It's not going to solve all our problems, it's not going to be a constitution, and it's certainly not going to be a penal code for punishing people who don't comply," stated Williams, who stands as the spiritual head of the 77-million-large Anglican Communion.
Instead, the covenant offers a way of discerning the nature of any disagreements and whether they were a "Communion-breaking issue."
It also reflects the distrust and strained relations between churches that have emerged as a result of differences in opinion over the consecration of women and homosexuals as bishops, as well as over the authority of Scripture and uniqueness of Christ.
"We really need to build relationships, and we need to have a sense that we are responsible to one another and responsible for each other," Williams said.
"In other words, what we need is something that will help us know where we stand together, and help us also intensify our fellowship and our trust."
The release of the draft covenant comes shortly after the Rev. Canon Mary D. Glasspool, a lesbian who has been with her partner for 19 years, was elected to the office of bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Los Angeles.
If her election is confirmed by the bishops and standing committees of The Episcopal Church's other 108 dioceses, Glasspool would become the second openly gay bishop to be consecrated within the U.S. Anglican arm.
The first, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, was consecrated in 2003 to much uproar.
Since 2003, relations between The Episcopal Church and the rest of the worldwide Anglican Communion have been strained to the point of tearing.
In 2006, amid reports of possible schism, Anglican leaders worldwide agreed to practice restraint concerning the election of partnered homosexuals.
Despite the agreement, The Episcopal Church's top legislative body earlier this year approved a resolution declaring the denomination's ordination process open to all individuals, including practicing homosexuals.
Episcopal leaders also adopted a resolution stating that "bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church."
Though Williams said this week that he wants most provinces on board with the draft Anglican covenant by the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in three years time, he acknowledged that the process "clearly … won't all be over by then."
"[B]ut we're hoping to see some enthusiasm, some general adoption of the principles," said the Anglican head.
"We hope to see a new kind of relationship emerging. We hope to see people agreeing to these ways of resolving our conflicts," he added.
Meanwhile, U.S. Episcopal bishops have until March 5, 2010, to decide whether to confirm the election of Glasspool.
In the months following July's General Convention, several dioceses in the United States and Canada have also decided to lift bans on the blessing of same-sex unions.
The Diocese of Massachusetts is allowing clergy in the eastern part of the state to solemnize marriages for gay and lesbian couples.
Christian Post reporter Lillian Kwon in Washington and Christian Today reporter Jenna Lyle in London contributed to this article.