A Communion of equals

Religious Intelligence (here) is reporting that the Prayer Book Society are getting twitchy about the Covenant and the direction its heading (though I can't see anything on the PBS site).

In particular they are worried about the diminution of the 'needs to have a less Church of England basis, particularly in regard to the formularies'.

Early on in the St Andrew’s Covenant draft it currently declares that each Church of the Communion affirms the faith “which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear significant witness.” This prominent clause now looks set to be changed.
Well, perhaps it is time that the Anglican Communion grew up and became a family of equal adults rather than a family of mother and her children. (No-one outside the Church of England would see it otherwise.)

Adopting the Covenant would have a number of effects. Membership of the Anglican Communion will then depend of being a signatory to the Covenant not on being in communion with the See of Canterbury. It may be a significant benefit to the CofE to become no more than one communion amongst three dozen, but I guess it'll be a long time before it sinks in.

However the standing of the Archbishop of Canterbury will have to change. In a family of equal adults, all of whom elect their bishops except England, it will be impossibly anomalous for their leader to be chosen by the British Prime Minister at the time.

The options are:
  1. that the Prime Minister agrees to appoint as ABC a person commended to them by the Primates of the Anglican Communion.

  2. that leadership of the Communion (chairmanship of the Primates' Meetings, convenor of a decennial conference etc.) be a person, being a Primate of a Province in good standing with members of the Covenant, and elected by the Primates or some other constituency.

  3. that the title 'Archbishop of Canterbury' be entirely separate from the Church of England and be granted to whoever leads the Communion.

Other changes might also be possible. How about:
  • electing a leader for a single period of, say, eight or ten years?

  • election by bishops across the globe, or by each Provincial synod, or by the ACC (and therefore leaving to each province whether they mandate their representatives or leave them to decide for themselves), or by an electoral college?

  • demanding that leaders account for their actions to their people and that accounts and budgets are transparent.
The choosing of a leader is important. But it is less important than the powers that the new leader will have under the Covenant. To date additional powers are in the Appendix of the St Andrew's Draft and in the terms of reference of the ad hoc Commissions, Panels, Committees etc. Power is being taken to the centre in bureaucratic and unaccountable ways.

The standing of the formularies, though obviously of concern to the Prayer Book Society is, like them, peripheral. If the PBS wish to reassert The Book of Common Prayer, its Ordinal and the 39 Articles at the heart of Anglicanism they first need to watch very carefully what powers are being grabbed in the name of Covenant.


  1. It is most unlikely that plans for a Covenant will achieve a majority, let alone unanimous agreement, across the Anglican Communion. Pace, bodies as disparate as the Modern Churchpeople's Union and the Prayer Book Society have already found common ground in observing that centralising is just not how Anglicanism works.

    Anglicanism is conciliar and comprehensive and from time to time there are small schisms - there's one currently taking place driven by North American conservatives which has gathered up some somewhat naive African Archbishops. It would incidently help enormously to calm things down if there were to be a democrat President in the White House next year.

    Nevertheless, come back in ten years time just before the next Lambeth Conference and observe that the Covenant will have gone the way of the Panel of Reference, that African allegiances will have shifted and that the new Archbishop of Canterbury (Chartres of London, Sentamu of York or Mwmaba of Botswana?) will be less intimidated than the hapless current incumbent.

  2. penwatch, I hope you're right.

    But. I note that the next meeting of the Covenant Design Group is in Singapore this month. It is still chaired by Drexel Gomez who is committed to accumulating the power to expel the Americans.

    All the noises against a Covenant are important - but I'm still not sure they're enough.

    I can see, for example, a Covenant which lacks coercive powers being accepted in reflief that it wasn't worse. (Norman Doe argues that the present draft lacks these powers). This then becomes just a stage on the way - as this Covenant won't 'work' coercive powers will then be demanded, perhaps in small bureaucratically decided steps.

    I can see the flow of powers to the centre even in the absence of a Covenant (after all, that's how we got to this point).

    And I can't see any future ABC saying to Provinces, 'Oh no, we no longer need these powers, you take them back.'

    Maybe I'm just a persistent pessimist.

    On the other hand I do think that a democratic president would make a considerable difference to the mood music, as would the formalisation of the North American schism.

  3. The failure of the Pastoral Forum will do the Covenant no favours.