Covenant: not dead yet

Members of the Joint Standing Committee planning for the 2009 ACC meeting.

Penwatch said (in a comment on an earlier post) that
The Covenant is in the long grass where it has been kicked. Now that the North American schism is more or less complete it (the Covenant) is less and less necessary.
She may be right. I hope he is right. But I am not so sanguine.

The way of Primates’ Meetings means that it is highly improbable that its communiqué, or equivalent, will simply state, ‘We tried the Covenant and it didn’t work, so we’re not going any further with it.’

Which leaves the question of just how we will know whether the Covenant has been fatally holed beneath the water line even though the ship appears to continue sailing forwards.

1) Timetable
My guess is that the most obvious clue will be if the timetable slips.

So far the Covenant process under Drexel Gomez has stayed tightly within the time table set out in Towards an Anglican Covenant (March 2006) abbreviated in the Report of the Covenant Design Group (January 2007). (This in itself is a notable achievement. It has been possible by resolutely refusing to engage with any group other than tiny coteries who speak for each Province – see my paper Bouncing change through the Anglican Communion (June 2007) available here.)

The timetable requires Provinces to respond to the draft Covenant by March 2009. The Design Group is due to meet in London in April to agree a final draft which in turn should be agreed by the ACC meeting in Kingston, Jamaica (Gomez’ backyard) in May. The ACC is expected to remit the final draft to Provinces who will be asked to sign up by 2010.

It is possible that Provinces will object to this deadline if they wish to respond to the draft coming out of February’s Primates’ Meeting. Equally, as only section 3 of the St Andrews draft is likely to change substantially, this timetable may be acceptable to most.

It is possible that the ACC will reject the draft Covenant, but highly improbable.

The fact that Jefferts Schori has said she would "strongly discourage" any effort to endorse the Covenant at TEC’s General Convention in July will not hold up this timetable. TEC could simply sign up later if they so decided.

2) Budget
One huge hole in the Covenant process has been the absence of any public assessment of the costs of the proposal.

Signing up will cost nothing, financially. But the lodging of a complaint under the St Andrew’s draft would clearly entail some considerable cost in time, travel and office space. I very much doubt the ACO would simply absorb the work and, if it did, it wouldn’t be at nil cost.

To pre-empt formal complaints a permanent Covenant office would probably be necessary. Its job would, presumably, be to monitor the implementation of the Covenant, to act as mediator in minor matters – i.e. heading off formal complaints, and to maintain a list of globally approved ecclesiastical lawyers who could respond (presumably for a globally approved fee) when a formal complaint was laid. It would need staff, an office, and a generous travel budget.

I wonder if those still paying for Lambeth 08 will welcome this additional cost?

The continued absence of a budget and identified funding will also put a question mark against the Covenant, though not yet a fatal one.

3) Last chance?
The St Andrew's draft was most severely criticised for its complex means of adjudicating international disputes between Covenanting members. The Communion’s official ‘Responses’ page still shows none of the Provinces' responses to the St Andrew's draft.

If the Design Group can come up with a scheme acceptable to most Provinces then the Covenant will, I predict, be signed. If it's next proposal is also unwelcome then I think the whole project will be sunk.

In which case a magnum of virtual champagne goes to Penwatch and to each of my correspondents who have told me for so long that the Covenant has as much life as a Norwegian Blue parrot.



  1. On the 12th. January I wrote this on my blog. Suffice to say, I am still very worried.

    We are, at least in America, winning the battle. In fact, from where I'm standing, it's like watching dominoes fall. The Primates will try to stop this at their meeting in February by pretending there is still a stalemate and insisting on continuing with the wrongheaded and illegal covenant as proposed, which is, actually, no longer needed. Things are sorting themselves out of their own natural accord. Throughout its history this has always been the way in our communion and the wise have always known this. It is why we have deliberately maintained loose ties at all levels of the church family and encouraged a wide spectrum of beliefs. The imposition of a covenant will destroy the "community of believers" model that has served us so well and replace it with dictatorship by a self selected elite.

  2. Another issue is the failure of the Covenant and what that would mean. Its failure could underline and even declare diversity, and this may well be why some key people will flog the dead horse until it gets into the knackers' yard.

  3. Penwatch here - thank you for quoting me, I feel flattered. 'Kicking something into the long grass' is a metaphor for procrastination. Rowan Williams is the driving force behind the Covenant, pretty well everyone else is openly or secretly more or less ambivalent about the project.

    Further, now that Gregory Cameron (who was/is a supporter of the Covenant) is off to Wales there is even less enthusiasm.

    This doesn't mean to say that the process will not grind on - it's 'in the long grass' and will eventually go the way of the Panel of Reference, into the history books.

    The North American schism, I repeat, is now more or less complete and running out of steam. There's an almost tangible feel of desperation on conservative websites like Virtue Online.