Covenant - wobbling but still on track

Drexel Gomez, Archbishop of the West Indies, retired, and
chair of the Covenant Design Group

Episcopal News Service reports:

Anglican bishops meeting at the Lambeth Conference on August 2 said there were passionate disagreements about aspects of a developing covenant designed to hold
together churches with theological differences.

In addition, the bishops on the next-to-last day of the July 16-August 3 meeting clashed over proposals that would require churches to stop entering other provinces to minister to conservatives, blessing same-sex unions and consecrating partnered gay persons to the episcopate.

It will be interesting to see to what extent the differences of opinion are contained in the final Reflection from the conference, but it very much sounds as though those who dissent are being given every opportunity to have their say so that, when the covenant is pushed through, they can be told they were fully consulted and listened to.

[Later in the article ...]
Several bishops said the most contentious area of the St. Andrew's Draft of the covenant is an appendix [flow chart of its procedures here, pb.] that suggests a procedure for churches that breach the covenant. There are various bureaucratic options involving the Archbishop of Canterbury and a group of assessors but in the end, wrote Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies, "if a church exercises its autonomy to reject a request made to it … then a decision has to be made whether rejecting the request amounts to abandoning the commitments of the covenant." Gomez is chair of the Covenant Design Group.
The covenant is "not setting out to be punitive," said Aspinall, but if a church is found to have abandoned the covenant, "what might flow from that is still being talked about -- whether that would mean no invitations to Lambeth or you lose seats on the ACC …those kinds of things might be possible." But, he added, "immediately there is established a process to seek reconciliation."

That's alright then - it's a non-punitive covenant so any sanctions are imposed for the sake of unity and, presumably, those not-punished should be grateful for the wisdom of the others' actions. Surely if a Province is pushed away from the table it will feel a aggrieved, perhaps even insulted: it faithful witness will have been deemed invalid. In such circumstances why should they seek reconciliation?

All these suggestions - of exclusion from one or more aspects of the communion - are derived from the ultimate punishment of excommunication. To be treated as a penitent seeking readmission after a period of penance is just not going to wash.

Jim Naughton at The Lead suggested that the covenant, especially its punitive aspects, was being 'soft pedalled'.

Canon Gregory Cameron, of the Anglican Communion Office, secretary of the Covenant Design Group, discussed progress toward a covenant at this morning’s news conference, and was at pains to emphasize that the St. Andrew’s Draft of the covenant is open to revision.
The appendix of the St. Andrew’s Draft, which many Episcopal Church leaders find overly legalistic and potentially punitive, is “a first draft,” Cameron said, merely “an attempt,” to determine how disputes should be settled within the Anglican Communion.

I am also intrigued that Drexel Gomex has lengthened the timescale for implementation to 2015 (see my Bouncing change through the Anglican Communion here).

This is a recognition that the power currently lies in the Provincial legislatures. They have a veto. (This has been evident from the earliest discussions of covenant in the Windsor Report. Till now the programme has been to make this step seem as small and as inevitable as possible. It is neither.)

Provincial legislatures will now be the target of any campaign to stop (preferably) or neuter the convenant. Perhaps all it needs is to remind people of the maxim that constitutions should be written blind: you can never be sure that you or your group will remain in control. Powers that can be used against your enemies can also be used against you.

I have disagreed with Pluralist in the past as to whether the covenant is dead. I suspect (and fear) that my earlier judgement is correct: the bureacratic momentum and support from a few people at the centre of the Communion, not least the ABC, will drive through against the opposition and reluctance of the majority. They genuinely believe it is for the best. It won't even be irrelevant if the Communion crumbles: some sort of covenant will be drawn up for each of the smaller groups.


  1. While I was at the Lambeth Conference it was difficult to get interesting news about what the bishops were doing, but the general impression I picked up was that there is going to be a covenant, however much watered down, because Rowan Williams is so committed to it and many bishops are unwilling to oppose him.
    In my view this is a cop-out. They are not facing the real reason for the tensions. Disagreeing about ethical issues is normal. What we are dealing with is people who think anyone who disagrees with their opinions should be kicked out. Churches which allow themselves to be governed on that basis just keep splitting because there's always something to fall out over.

  2. The deadness of the Covenant is a judgment that it won't pass sufficient number of Churches to be worthwhile. Of course it is being pushed hard, but it faces the same problem that either it is too future looking and inclusive to discipline or too disciplining to be future looking and inclusive.

    What now seems to be the case is the Pastoral Forum will do the work of the Covenant whether the Covenant is there or not, and before it arrives, and the bet must be that if it tries to operate without consent of the province, it will create huge tensions.

    The programme remains essentially from what it was at the beginning of the Lambeth Conference, but so do the dynamics. Don't be suprised if GAFCON doesn't bring out its own Covenant soon to usurp the Canterbury one, despite the fact they have no need of one, or that the non-GAFCON Global South starts doing its own self-management. By the time a Canterbury Covenant arrives, many will be doing their own thing anyway, and in this sense it is also dead before it lives.

  3. Not sure if I didn't do a Rowan Williams there and double negative myself into nonsense...

    There is a possibility that GAFCON will produce its own Covenant to usurp the process via Canterbury...

  4. Pluralist, good to hear from you again. In this particular matter I sincerely hope you are right about the covenant. I haven't yet got my head around the bouquet of proposals presented at Lambeth, let alone flags run up the pole.

  5. I've just spotted these blogs and I think they are from MCU members and Jonathan Clatworthy is the MCU Secretary?

    If it is a 'cop-out' for bishops not to oppose Rowan Williams because of the tensions - surely it is a 'cop-out' to drop the Anglican Information articles on the MCU site - because of the tensions?

    Sorry, I don't wish to be facetious but it just feels a bit disingenuous for the MCU Secretary to use such an argument on this site without explaining the previous debacle on the old MCU site.

  6. Fair point, penwatch, on the other hand Jonathan is most welcome to post comments here. I wouldn't want anyone to be made unwelcome simply because of a position they happen to hold.

    Although, of course, if anyone were to be rude, offensive, abusive or just to get up my nose, that would be another matter. RHIP.