The coup has already occurred

One of the key objections to the Covenant was that it would lead to a concentration of power within the Communion and a centralising of decision making.

That doesn’t matter now. Concentration and centralisation have already happened: the coup has occurred and very people seem to have noticed.

(Some have, of course. See, from a couple of points on the spectrum, Mark Harris, Bishop Mouneer Anis, and the Anglican Communion Institute.)

The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion has become the executive body for the Communion and is in the process of arrogating more powers to itself. If the Covenant is passed it will become the governing body of the Anglican Communion.

How we got here.
1) Joint standing committees
From its beginning the Anglican Consultative Council has had a standing committee in order to conduct its business between meetings. This is a sensible and unexceptional arrangement for many organizations, not least an elected body that meets every 3 years.

In ACC-10 (Panama, 1996) joint meetings of the standing committees of the ACC and the Primates’ Meeting were noted as a ‘recent practice’. The hope, following a suggestion in the Virginia Report, was that the then Standing Committee of the ACC could be expanded ‘to allow an appropriate balance of bishops, clergy and laity, with consideration to age and gender’ [Resolution 6].

At ACC-11 (Dundee, 1999) and 12 (Hong Kong, 2002) the ACC had its standing committee, the Primates’ Meeting had theirs, and there were also joint meetings. Matters were referred either to the ACC standing committee or to the joint standing committee depending on the nature of the business.

In 2002 further constitutional revision was requested which was agreed at ACC-13 (Nottingham, 2005) [Resolution 4]. Five Primates were added ex officio to the membership of the ACC in a little class of their own and were appointed to the standing committee.

In constitutional terms this is quite misshapen. The joint standing committee is thus only partly accountable to each of its different parents and its members are elected by different mechanisms and for different terms (I’m guessing, since the Primates’ mechanisms are entirely opaque). Politically, however, it makes perfect sense to bring the key people of the three most active Instruments of Unity together formally.

Resolution 6 is indicative of the concern that members of the ACC must have had about their creation. They asked that the standing committee

circulate the agendas of Standing Committee meetings to all members of the
Council prior to meetings, and the minutes of the Standing Committee meetings to
all members of the Council as soon as possible following the meetings.
Only in this way could they possibly hope to keep any sort of watch on the activities of their runaway child.

Most recently, at ACC-14 (Kingston, 2009) the ACC asked for a quid pro quo for their largess in allowing Primates privileged access to their Council. They requested that ‘an equal number of non-Primatial members of the Standing Committee [should attend] as non voting participants in the Primates' Meeting.’ Thus the boundaries blur still further. [Resolution 38]

Furthermore, it would seem (resolution 39) that the ACC now has a new constitution which is operative, has had the assent of two-thirds of its members and yet has not been made public. If this is a straw in the wind it is a worrying indicator of the way the new communion will work.

This is why the title ‘Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion’ does not appear in the resolutions of the ACC. But it was referred to by Bishop John Patterson in his concluding sermon:
Anglican polity has always held that it is bishops in synod, or bishops in council, that are able to make decisions that guide the life of the church locally. For the Communion, the Primates’ Meetings cannot do that, although we should be able to look to our Primates for wise guidance and theological insights, but in my view that is quite different from making binding decisions
from which the rest of the Church is excluded.
We have now moved to seeing what we have known as the Joint Standing Committee of the primates and the ACC become more simply the Standing Committee of the Anglican communion, possibly meeting more than once a year, with the right balance of Primates, clergy and laity represented. That is a significant advance in the tightening of our structures, a significant advance in helping the four ‘Instruments of Communion’ work more cohesively together, without taking anything away from any of those Instruments.
2) A charitable company
In 1978 the ACC was registered as a charitable trust in England (no. 276591). Between 1999 and 2009 discussions led to agreement that the ACC should also be a charitable company. At ACC-13 Memorandum and Articles for this new company were endorsed though not made public – then or now. [Resolution 3] The finances of the ACC have been transferred to this new company.

The detail of the rules is important (there has been dark discussion of a ‘secret’ constitution on some conservative sites). But there is a much more immediate and significant point. Trustees cannot be mandated by another body but must exercise their own discretion. Directors are legally responsible for the financial and other aspects of their company. They are autonomous.

and the point of this is ...
Thus is created the fifth instrument of unity of the Anglican Communion (if we forget, as everyone else apparently forgets, that this accolade was once formally given to Canon Law).

The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion is legally constituted, controls the finances of the Communion (except, on this latter occasion, the costs of the Lambeth Conference), and is embedded in the Primates’ meeting and the ACC. It is governed by the law of England and Wales. It gives an account to Companies House and the Charity Commission.

No doubt it will also report to the Primates’ Meeting and the ACC. But, formally, this is now a courtesy. Neither of these bodies can instruct the SCAC and, if its members accepted such instruction, they would be at risk of breaching their duties as trustees and directors.

The effect of the Covenant
In this setting the Covenant takes on a new significance. The ACC has given all its powers (except those specifically reserved to the Council) to its standing committee (previous Constitution, Article 8). Presumably, though its procedural rules are not online, the same applies to the Primates’ Meeting.

The point and effect of the Covenant is now this: to turn the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion into a body which, whatever its origins, will have significant powers of governance in its own right – in fact, a whole new tranche of powers which do not currently exist.

The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion will thus become the regulator of relationships between Provinces. It will have the capacity to limit the degree of participation Provinces may have in the communion’s Instruments of Unity – and potentially also its commissions, working groups and other international bodies. All, that is, except one: invitations to the Lambeth Conference will remain in the personal gift of the Archbishop of Canterbury.


  1. Interesting analysis and probably correct.

    I'd say six Instruments now, in order of importance:

    Joint Standing Committee
    The Archbishop of Canterbury
    The Anglican Consultative Council
    The Primates
    The Lambeth Conferences
    The Canons (ius commune)

    And on a related matter, if by any chance the General Synod of the Church of England choses to recognise the ACNA, anything goes, Third Province, GAFCON etc, etc. Then where will the Instruments be?

  2. Penwatch,

    I guess order of importance depends on the purpose - though, for any pupose, law is the least important internationally because all jurisdictions are Provincial or smaller.

    There is precedent for a province recognising ACNA. The Church of South India was not recognised by the Communion when it was formed. South Africa recognised it first and then others followed. I guess the same would happen with ACNA.

    The position now is that some priests and bishops (who happen to be women) are not recognised in other parts of the communion. Though this does not affect (at least, not too much) institutional relationships.

  3. Dear Paul,

    My list of Instruments is rather arbitrary in terms of political power I must admit. However, like all historical precedents that of the former problems with the Church of South India doesn't tell us much in this case except that in the words of Mother Julian of Norwich 'all shall be well'.

    The ANCA's agenda is not benign like that of the old CSI it is schismatic as it seeks to usurp the position of the Episcopal Church.

    I think it will fragment into its constituent parts (including those for and against the ordination of women) before any formal recognition is given to it

    In my opinion the problem lies with weak and incoherent leadership in Canterbury. RW has sold his soul to preserve unity as a result he has lost his natural liberal constituency and failed to convince the conservatives. Also his type of theology makes a virtue out of undeserved suffering of which he is getting plenty at the moment.

    We need a new ABC - but who?