The centralised state of Anglicanism

Anglicanism now has centralised control over the organs of the Communion and the beginnings of central government in the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (see below).

Which raises the question of the manner in which such a body may, can and probably will exercise that control.

Current powers and duties
(Note: non-members are at a considerable disadvantage since it is known that there are new governing documents for the ACC but they are not yet public. I am assuming that no previous powers will have been discarded but it is impossible to guess what might have been added.)

The role of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) is to facilitate the co-operative work of the churches of the Anglican Communion, exchange information between the Provinces and churches, and help to co-ordinate common action. It advises on the organisation and structures of the Communion, and seeks to develop common policies with respect to the world mission of the Church, including ecumenical matters. (ACC official site).
It is most unlikely that these verbs and roles: 'facilitate' 'exchange' 'help co-ordinate' 'advises' will change. These are servant ministries and will remain invaluable however the Communion develops.

But there are already other verbs and duties which arise from the charitable status of the ACO and the identification of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion as trustees. In particular,
Trustees can generally delegate certain powers to agents or employees, but will and must always retain the ultimate responsibility for running the charity. (The Essential Trustee, Charity Commission CC3)
The work may be done by others but the buck always stops with the trustees. It follows that the ACC and Primates may advise the trustees but they cannot instruct it.

The ACC and the Primates' Meetings are financed pout of the general funds of the SCAC.

Indirect powers
The SCAC also has some responsibility for some of the official international working bodies of the Communion. These include:

  • Ecumenical conversations
  • Commission on Mission and Evangelism.
  • United Nations Observer
  • Task Group on Theological Education.
  • Family Network.
The SCAC is responsible for their running costs, either wholly or in part, and by being a conduit through which money is channelled for specific purposes.

I have no way of knowing how independent these bodies are either in theory or in practice.

Informal powers
The SCAC is also responsible for the Anglican Communion website and for communicating the work of the Communion to a global audience.

The ACO sits at the heart of confidential communication and information networks and control of such information is an extremely important soft power.

There are also a couple of grant making bodies open to applications from members of the Anglican Communion closely aligned to the ACO.

Powers to be given to the SC if the Covenant is effected
I do not think that much will change quickly if the Covenant passes. I do think that change will only be in one direction: reinforcing the centre. The Covenant - both by its presence and by any use of its clauses directed at preventing unwelcome innovation - will be a steady engine driving the communion towards a more uniform and more centrally controlled body. In turn this will lead to demands for more (and more public) regulation of the way the central organs operate and thus a steadily greater legalisation of governance.

The final version has thrown out much of the legalistic language and procedures and also much of the sense of threat of sanctions which would meet any would-be doctrinal innovator. The strengthened affirmations of Provincial autonomy are welcome.

But the punitive mechanisms remain. They've simply been transferred from the document into the discretion of those administering the Covenant - the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. The powers - to declare that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant” (4.2.6) and to make reccommendations on the relational consequences of un-Covenantal innovation (4.2.5) - remain significant.

The SCAC won't merely 'reccommend' in a kind of avuncular way. Such a reccommendation would almost certainly already be cleared with the Primates' Meeting (5 of whose members would be reccommending), and be made with a fair sense of how the ACC might vote (if it came to a vote). Not to do so would risk losing sight of the issue in a battle over which body governed. Furthermore it would be a reccommendation from a body which controls access to much Communion-wide networks and the common purse.

And there is no need to wait for a crisis in a reactive way. The Covenant proposes to give the SCAC the duty to
(4.2.2) monitor the functioning of the Covenant in the life of the Anglican Communion on behalf of the Instruments (though this may in part be delegated to other committees or commissions)
This is duty of scrutiny and oversight which does not currently exist in the Communion and how it will be conducted is not at all clear.

How the SCAC works internally will become a matter of considerable interest. For example, it met in London in December 2009. The only statement from that meeting was in reponse to the TEC's nomination of a partnered lesbian as a candidate to be Bishop of Los Angeles, decisions in North America to permit formal blessings of same-sex partnerships (and, for balance, continued cross-border incursions). The statement reaffirmed the committee's commitment to the moratorium on such actions.

Does this bind all members, including the Presiding Bishop of TEC? Was the decision reached unanimously or by majority vote? Does its decisions bind all members equally? What weight do the Provinces give to its decisions? Indeed, are its decisions reported to all the Provinces governing bodies? And does this statement not constitute an attempt to interfere with the constitutional processes of a member church - itself a 'cross-jurisdictional intervention'?

Presumably the issue did not take up the whole of the three-day meeting. What other matters were on its agenda? Were absentees able to vote by electronic means? When will its minutes be made public? (Wry, cynical laughter.)

There are no visible checks and balances on the executive power being accumulated by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion - and none are envisaged in the Covenant.

Whatever happens, in case of future communion-wide disputes,

these people (and their successors) are the ones to lobby:
  • The Most Revd Rowan Williams ex-officio
  • Canon Elizabeth Paver (Vice Chair, England), a lay canon of Sheffield Cathedral, a former member of the Panel of Chairs of the General Synod of the Church of England and chair of the Board of Mirfield Theological College.
  • The Rt Revd Kumara Illangasinghe (Sri Lanka)
  • The Rt Revd James Tengatenga (Chair, Province of Central Africa) (see here and here)
  • Mrs Philippa Amable (West Africa)
  • The Most Revd Dr Mouneer Anis (Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, resigned) Primate
  • The Most Revd Dr Phillip Aspinal (Australia) Primate
  • The Revd Professor Ian Douglas (TEC) a passionate educator and activist for the worldwide mission of God. A recognized leader in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, Professor Douglas is a member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, was a member of the Design Group for the Lambeth Conference 2008, and member-elect of the Anglican Consultative Council as a priest representing The Episcopal Church.
  • Dr Anthony Fitchett (Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand & Polynesia), a family doctor in Dunedin, New Zealand. He trained at Otago and worked as a house officer and registrar at Waikato Hospital. His involvement in the Anglican Church is at local, national and international levels. Dr Anthony became Lay Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral from 1996, was on the Dunedin Diocesan Trust Board from 2006 amongst many other things.
  • Dato Stanley Isaacs (Province of South East Asia), a lawyer by profession. He is the Senior partner of law firm called ‘Isaacs & Davis’ in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He has been a member of the Diocesan Synod and Diocesan Standing Committee since 1980 and founding member of the Provincial Synod. Currently he is chairman of the Diocesan Properties Development Committee and Trustee of the Diocesan Investment Funds.
  • The Most Revd Dr Katherine Jefferts Schori (TEC) Primate
  • The Rt Revd Azad Marshall (Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East) originally from Pakistan. Bishop Azad was Area Bishop of the Gulf from 1994 to 2007 and became the Bishop of Iran in 2007. He also is the Director of the Episcopal Inter Faith Center in Tehran, Iran.
  • The Most Revd Dr Barry Morgan (Wales) Primate
  • The Most Revd Henry Orombi (Uganda) Primate
  • Rev Janet Trisk (Southern Africa)
  • Ms Nomfundo Walesa (Southern Africa)
And, of course, the ACO staff - and all those (like the other Primates) who may have the ear of any of these people.

This list was taken from the Charity Commission website and from a press release - the biographical bits - from the last ACC meeting which identified the newly elected. It is odd that the Anglican Communion website does not prominently list the current members, the Trustees of the Communion. Perhaps they should include email / facebook / twitter links?

By the way, the site http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ seems to be a mirror site to http://www.aco.org/ - isn't that a neat symbol?


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