Why worry?

The Covenant is, as I've said before, part of a twin strategy to change the Communion for ever.  Most recently the focus has been on the Covenant for two reasons: it's now out for adoption by Provinces, and because it is a document in the public domain.

Covenanters: Bishop Gregory Cameron and
Archbishop Drexel Gomez in 2009
The second (chronologically the first) part of the strategy has had much less attention.  This is the creation of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (SCAC). This is because change has been done in long slow steps, many of the changes have been buried in official documents, it has been seen as a matter in internal concern, and because documentation has been less easy to find.  And it's dull.  A Covenant has a symbolic resonance in the Church; constitutional change has not.

The Constitution of the Anglican Communion is now on the ACC page of the Anglican Communion website.  A Q&A style presentation of the Standing Committee is here.

The changes in the constitution of the Communion would give effect to the proposals contained in the Covenant; the Covenant would would give significant powers to the Standing Committee of the Communion (and here).  It would, in effect, make the SCAC a new Instrument of Communion in its own right.

The result of the changes that have already taken place and those which the Covenant may instigate would change the nature of Anglicanism for ever.

The consequences will, over time, stretch right to the heart of each church.  It may be that this will be a good thing (though I don't see it myself) but surely it can't be good to do this by default, without informed consent, without some sharing and general acceptance of a vision for the future.

First, it will turn the Communion into a Church, instead of a family of Churches (irrespective of who's in and who's out).

Local synods will grow less independent, autonomy will be constrained, episcopal authority will be circumscribed.  I don't think this will happen all at once; I think it will happen step-by-step, issue-by-issue and probably with no-one outside the Anglican Communion Office taking stock as it goes on.

From here to eternity, via the SCAC
Second, it will stretch the distance between pew and centre still further.  There's already a long distance between pew and General Synod, let alone pew to Archbishop.

To turn this round: ordinary worshippers will feel even further from the places decisions are made.

Third, the manner in which these changes have already been effected will predispose the manner of future decisions.

In particular the bureaucratic-political nature of the Church will be reinforced with the great majority of people effectively excluded by an glass wall from decision making.  The international elite of fixers and global leaders will talk to one another and operate in ways that most others (including all but the best funded and staffed lobby groups) will not be able to follow, let alone influence.

What is already an overwhelmingly clerical church will become even more so.

Fourth, the voluntary nature of adherence and expression of faith will shrink still further.  In 1828 the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in England effectively made membership voluntary.  That fact has never been part of the church's self-image.  Instead, monarchical (strictly princely) attitudes have characterised the exercise of episcopal authority, mirrored by excessive deference.  In England at least lay members of the Anglican Church are subjects, not citizens.

Fifth, there will be an impact at the local, parochial and deanery level.  Curiously the tendency to ignore or circumvent the rules, and for self-confident clergy to do their own thing, may grow stronger. (This capacity is an internalisaton of monarchical attitudes turned back against the official monarch).

The future of the Anglican Church?
For most people, most of the time, I guess the greater likelihood will be that initiative is further stifled, passivity, dependence and deference will continue to be the order of the day, and the effective engagement of the laity in making decisions that will realise the potential of the people of God will continue to be minimised.

Sixth, there will be a little less money in the local church and an even higher ratio of (relatively better paid) senior clergy and bureaucrats to regular worshippers.

*   *   *

Sometimes I wonder why I worry.  I was once ordained and now I am without episcopal permission to officiate (no-one's refused - I just haven't asked).  This leaves me (and other retired / resigned clergy in this position) unable to be members of the Church.  There is simply no space for us in the constitution.

But I do worry.  The shape, flavour, rhetoric, financing, decision-making, trust, suspicion, competence, clarity, history, vision, style, values, ethos of any organisation predispose how it functions on the ground.  All of these elements are predominantly set by the top. The words and actions of the few senior leaders are setting the church on a particular spiritual path to the future.

I have not seen or heard anything in the debate around the Covenant any official consideration of its impact in the pew.  It's all about inter-Provincial relationships, as though they were separable from the people who constitute the membership, the foundations, the purpose of the Church.  And who are the source of its funding. Could we not seek to shape the Church as though it served the spiritual needs and potential of the people of God?

Covenant between God and the people of Papua New Guinea, signed by the Prime Minister, 2007


  1. Sixth, there will be a little less money in the local church and an even higher ratio of (relatively better paid) senior clergy and bureaucrats to regular worshippers.

    So. If trends continue, there will be less money flowing into the church coffers with more of the less flowing upward to senior clerics and bishops. As the working priests and the people in the pews have less and less of a say in the functioning of the church, who can blame the pew-warmers if they give less or stop giving entirely? Have those in positions of power entirely forgotten who pays for the church?

  2. Is that a picture you've got there of Gregory Cameron with Drexel Gomez? It was he (Cameron) who wrote that Modern Church and Inclusive Church were like the British National Party.

    He doesn't look the type.

    I like the picture of the cardinals as well, in an Anglicanism that might be after the Covenant.

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions.