A personal postmortem

Please forgive the unrelieved bullet points. This list has grown over the last few weeks as the defeat of the Covenant began, surprisingly at first, to look possible.

Comments particularly welcome

The Covenant
  • I doubt the Covenant is dead, but it is symbolically wounded.
  • There is a good chance it will die if (a) sufficient global leaders are luke-warm, even if their provinces vote in favour, or (b) schism ensues.  There is a possibility it will return to General Synod after summer 2015 - though it will presumably have to go through the Section 8 referral process again.
  • There is a possibility that Communion leaders will simply ignore the fact that England (and others) have rejected it and carry on regardless. This would be visible first in appointments to the various Communion-wide boards and bodies.
  • Even a failed Covenant will have a legacy, e.g. a shared credal statement, conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms. 
  • What's not clear is whether Covenant churches will set off in a shared direction on their own initiative. I guess not, unless the ACO supports and leads it.

The Anglican Communion
  • The signs are that there will be widespread opposition to the Covenant in TEC - not least because they anticipate being its first victims. If they decline to join the Covenant:
  • what will happen to their financial contribution to maintaining the Anglican Communion (and the additional costs of implementing the Covenant)?  Could they, perhaps transfer funds to bi- and multi-lateral links of various forms, circumventing the ACO?
  • I guess GAFCON is key. If they (or most provinces including the biggest African ones) decide to walk apart for the rest then this will (finally) crystallize the schism. They will add to their number conservative groups in the West (and the Philippines) - which in turn will sharpen existing divisions in the CofE in particular.
Relations between the Church of England and the Anglican Communion
  • There has been an upsurge (or, perhaps, just an increase) of information and interest in the structure and organs of the Anglican Communion - as opposed to solely diocese-diocese links - amongst diocesan synod members and perhaps a little more widely.
  • The CofE will no longer lead the AC in the same way (or, as strongly). But: the AC structures and bureaucracy are still focused on London and will be for the foreseeable future.

Schism and the Anglican Communion

If the Covenant is finally defeated it represents a rejection of, I guess, two decades of re-structuring of the Communion. This will have a profound impact, but it will be schism (not defeat of the Covenant) which will have the biggest effect.
  • The decision(s) on schism are in the hands of those who wish (or threaten) to leave. 
  • Insofar as the Covenant (and the exclusion of TEC/ACoC) was the price of remaining in the Communion then some provinces may leave. Personally, let them. Blackmail is no basis on which to build communion.
  • The Communion will be weakened by schism. But life goes on. 
  • There will be a(nother, probably internal) root-and-branch review of the structures of the AC, of its style of operating, its communications and its leadership.

The Instruments of Unity(!)

  • The present and next ABC will be in a very difficult position. As chief promoter of the Covenant in a province which has rejected the Covenant he will straddle two modes by which provinces relate to one another.
  • The legal and effective relationship between Covenanted and unCovenanted churches with the ACC is wholly unclear. Presumably any Covenant business at the next ACC will have to be separated out of the ACC agenda in some way.
  • The ACC is, I think, faced with a choice: to become (a) the Synod of the Anglican Church, (b) peripheral and of little consequence except as the electorate for the Standing Committee, (c) an effective and multi-directional consultative body.
  • The Primates embody the divisions of the Communion. This won't change. But if members continue to absent themselves as a form of blackmail the Primates will also (as at Nassau) effect the schism.
  • The Anglican Communion Office simply has to sit tight. Power will accrue to it more through division and conflict than through harmony.
  • Similarly, the Standing Committee gains power from all changes across the Communion. Only Schism will weaken it and, even then, it will be the key body to co-ordinate a response (e.g. to pick up the pieces as some established links break down, and to be the key conduit of communication during the divorce).
  • There are more general questions about the growth of international Ministries and Networks under the wing of the ACO. To what extent will their work be driven / distorted by the Covenant and/or the partial adoption of the Covenant? Will the budget just keep growing?

The internet and church governance
  • The internet enabled relatively lonely anti-covenant voices (bloggers) at the start of the campaign to hear one another and to develop their arguments
  • It enabled an international group to come together on the basis of personal opinion, not place in the system.
  • The internet was little used by those developing the Covenant except for official statements (and, presumably, for internal communications). They largely failed to use it to explain their programme or to assess support.
  • However it gave bloggers easy access to official documents.
  • The dominance of voices  in the blogosphere from the UK and US and, to a lesser extent, NZ and Australia, shows again the uneven distribution of cheap access to the internet and excludes or marginalises voices from other parts of the Communion.
  • It is unlikely that the powers-that-be will ignore the persuasive impact of the internet again. Whether they will also learn the lesson that their culture of secrecy needs to shrink markedly is another question.

The Church of England
  • The defeat will echo round the CofE's structures of governance for some time to come.
  • It puts a question mark against the relationship of bishop to diocese (or, at least, to diocesan synod). Some will draw the lesson that new ways must be found to reduce opposition to the leadership; others, that better - more open, more 2-way communication - working relations between leadership and the rest of the diocese is needed.
  • Synodical government itself came under great strain. Win or lose, the tactics used by some bishops, and the Covenant's inherent overweaning character, was designed to marginalise voters and thus, to diminish the whole system of synodical government. This was possible because it had been steadily weakened over years. The normal tone of deference, the occasional note of 'fear' of opposing the bishops, the appeal to loyalty as a motive to vote, all undermine rational and prayerful decision making.
  • The premium placed on the univocal character of the House of Bishops in recent times may either be reinforced or called into question. 
  • Will liberals feel emboldened again (after 20 years of Evangelicals making the running)?
  • If so, will an increasingly liberal Church of England move further away from the churches of the Global South, schism or no schism?
  • Establishment will be untouched by this - though it might have been had the Covenant been implemented.

What I'm pretty sure will not be learned
  • That monolithic structures are not an appropriate ideal for the C21 church - and therefore moving from a distributed to a more consolidated structure is undesirable.
  • That 'the people' 'members' are full persons in the Church, not an afterthought. Consequently,
  • that the church is best governed by inclusion, not by small coteries, at every level.
  • That shifts in the technology of communication are followed by changes in social structures.
  • That it is time the CofE considered its ecclesiology (including its many partnerships with the Anglican Communion, ecumenical agreements and links with civil society) in some frame other than the Establishment.
Not that anyone would ask, but I won't have a moment's envy for the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Apart, of course, from missing out on his tied cottage.


  1. I fear we have not seen the last of the Covenant in the Church of England. I am certain that there will be another attempt to sign us up much sooner than 2015, and that this one might be direct from the House of Bishops without reference to the dioceses, and quite possibly presented to Synod as a fait accompli. We need to remain vigilant.

  2. Justin, you may well be right, though it will need to be phrased very carefully - a second defeat would be more than twice as embarrassing (and would kill it for ever, not just in this Synod).

    But the bigger threat comes internationally. I suspect there will be a renewed push by the Covenanteers to build sufficient momentum to out-flank the English. On the other hand I expect Scotland, Australia and New Zealand to have decided against by that time. GAFCON provinces are likely to have taken a further step away from the rest.

    The Communion is re-writing itself, but not in the terms proposed in the Covenant.

  3. 9.00pm Thursday 29th March. Diocese of London Synod votes against the Covenant:

    Bishops - For 2 Against 1
    Clergy - For 17 Against 32
    Laity- For 26 Against 33
    Abstentions - hardly any in either House

    London is a big and important diocese and despite an imported speaker in favour the Covenant has been decisively defeated. Deo Gratias the Anglican Communion may yet remain intact.