Incompatible with the Covenant 4

An early shrine with the locally popular dedication 'To Our Lady of the Vacant Spaces', Deception Island. This is a possible site for the new Cathedral, construction of which has yet to begin.


Incompatible with the Covenant ~ One ~ Two ~ Three ~ Four

Briefing Paper for the Primate of the Province of Antarctica, Archbishop of Deception

Prepared by PB

Private and Confidential


The adoption of the Covenant will mean that 'bonds of affection' will be replaced by covenanted bonds.

The Covenant is one part of more extensive change in the Communion in which power will be reallocated and the existing structures of the Communion will continue to be reformed. It is far from clear what the new arrangement will look like - nor what the place of the True South Churches will be in the new dispensation.

My brief was to examine what 'incompatible with the Covenant' (§§ 4.2.6, 4.2.7) might mean in the context of (a) possible adoption of the Anglican Covenant, (b) revised Anglican structures and (c) the shared conviction of the Church of the Antarctic that
the Church of England is (a) complicit in church blessings of same-sex marriage and (b) dishonest in that the highest levels of the Church deliberately fail to acknowledge and/or regulate the reality on the ground. (previously reported here)

1) The quality of Covenanted Communion

(The Introduction is not considered in this paper because of its uncertain status. See reflections here.)

a) as verb
To covenant is a matter of 'affirmations and commitments' (Preamble). It is to be moving 'into a more fully developed communion life' (§2.1.2) in which we are called to 'pursue all things that make for peace and build up our common life' (§3.1.1; see also, §4.1.1). It is done cheerfully (Declaration).

The basic consequence of signing is:
In adopting the Covenant for itself, each Church recognises in the preceding sections a statement of faith, mission and interdependence of life which is consistent with its own life and with the doctrine and practice of the Christian faith as it has received them. It recognises these elements as foundational for the life of the Anglican Communion and therefore for the relationships among the covenanting Churches. (§4.1.2)
b) our present communion
Communion lies in: membership of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church under one God (§1.1.1). Within that wide ocean, Anglicans to share a particular current of common historic inheritance in the articulation and expression of faith and church order (§1.1.2-1.1.8). [And/Or] our unity lies in our 'participation in Baptism and Eucharist' (§3.1.1).

Communion is purposeful: we are a communion in order to declare and enact God's sovereignty and redemption (§2.1.1). Thankful for what we have received we are also repentant at our falling-short (§2.1.2-3). We are a missionary church engaged with Christ in 'establishing Christ's reign.' (§2.1.4) - and ecumenical in both senses (§2.1.5).

Communion is a fact: we are 'a world-wide family of interdependent churches' (§2.1.4), a 'Communion of Churches' (§3.1.2; also §4.1.1).

c) the means of communion
Communion is retained and enacted through the Instruments of Communion, mutual loyalty and the wise advice of bishops in council (§§3.1.2, 3.1.4). Bishops locally embody unity, facing towards both the global and the local church, exercising that episcopacy personally, collegially within the eucharistic community (§3.1.3).

In particular: the Instruments of Communion are important in assisting our 'discernment, articulation and exercise of our shared faith and common life and mission.' Indeed, 'Each Instrument may initiate and commend a process of discernment and a direction for the Communion and its Churches.' (§3.1.4)

Our communion together is complex and multi-layered and the Instruments 'express' 'co-operative service in the life of the communion.' (§3.1.4).

d) our present differences
We are drawn from “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev 7.9) (Preamble; 2.1.1) and each Church is autonomous (§§3.1.2, 3.2.1, 4.1.3).

Covenanting together and being a member of the Instruments of Communion are not inherently the same (§4.1.5, 4.3.1).

e) disCovenanting
Any signatory may leave voluntarily, but there may be consequences (§4.3).

2) The commitments of Covenanting
Approximately half of the Covenant text expresses the commitments which signatories accept as they sign.

a) commitment to continue as at present
§1.2.1 - §1.2.6 commits each Church to continue its faithful existence with a proper balance of tradition and renewal, conservatism and prophecy, similarly §2.2.1 - §2.2.5 commits each Church to continue its evangelization and mission.

§3.2.2 restates the continuing nub of the problem. Churches, as now, commit themselves:
to respect the constitutional autonomy of all of the Churches of the Anglican Communion, while upholding our mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ, and the responsibility of each to the Communion as a whole.
b) commitment to change
Signatories commit themselves to remain in communion 'in accordance with existing canonical disciplines' [meaning and implication uncertain to me] towards ecumenical unity, whilst also seeking what is new within Christian truth (§§2.1.7, 2.1.8).

The manner in which autonomy and mutual responsibility are to be expressed (§§3.2.3-3.2.7) is the core of the Covenant. Some statements reiterate existing presuppositions (even if honoured in the breach) whilst others are new.

Differences should be explored with shared 'prayer, study and debate' marked by 'openness' and 'patience' and innovations tested by 'shared discernment' (§3.2.3). The goal is to find 'a shared mind' which will be based on received faith and canon law and which will be found through 'wide consultation' with other Churches and with the Instruments of Communion [as though the Instruments were additional to and distinct from the Churches] (§3.2.4).

On anything potentially threatening to the unity of the Communion Churches are to act with 'diligence, care and caution' (§3.2.5). Where such circumspection fails and conflict ensues Churches are to engaged in structured mediation (§3.2.6). At all times the goal is the 'highest degree of communion possible.' (§3.2.7).

Finally, the biggest changes are outlined in §4.2 on maintaining the Covenant and resolving disputes.

§4.2.1 replaces the 'bonds of affection' with the bonds of the covenant-contract. [The relationship with membership of the ACC as constitutional membership of the Communion is not addressed here.]

In §4.2.2 responsibility for monitoring the working of the Covenant (and thus the Communion) is accorded to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (SCAC), described as 'responsible to' the ACC and Primates' Meeting, which may draw on other assistance as it requires.

§4.2.3 refers churches back to §3.2. When goodwill and mediation fail and a 'shared mind' has not been attained the matter is referred back to the SCAC. It shall also seek agreement, seeking help for elsewhere as appropriate and, if it wishes, seeking advice from the ACC and Primates' Meeting.

§4.2.5 enables the SCAC to request a deferral of a contested action (or, presumably, decision). However,
If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.
By §4.2.6 The SCAC, on advice from the ACC and Primates' Meeting, may declare that an action or decision 'is or would be "incompatible with the Covenant".' (inverted commas in original) [note: it is not the Church that is declared incompatible].

Thereafter (§4.2.7) 'relational consequences' may follow. The SCAC may recommend certain consequences either to Churches or to Instruments of Communion [apparently not to both groups]. It is up to those Churches or Instruments of Communion to take such action as they see fit.

§4.2.8 & §4.2.9 are procedural clauses. §4.2.8 limits who on the SCAC may adjudge incompatibility with the Covenant [of questionable legality] and §4.2.9 sets up an office in each Church responsible for Covenant matters [under Archdeacon Penguin in our case].

3) Critique of Covenanted Communion
The author has made extensive and sustain criticisms of the Covenant and its predecessors (see here) Re-reading has not altered his views but has, if anything, suggested further layers of difficulty.

However the key question for this briefing paper is:
What would constitute 'incompatible with the Covenant'?
This narrower question has no easy answer. No specific grounds for incompatibility are spelled out in the Covenant itself. Probable incompatibility would arise where:
  • A Church refuses to defer a controversial action (§4.2.5)
  • A Church has not respected the constitutional autonomy of another Church in the Communion (§3.2.2) [The offended Church does not appear to be limited to those Churches which have themselves signed the Covenant.]
  • A Church has acted secretly and without proper prayer and reflection (§3.2.3), recklessly, precipitately or in a manner careless of its impact on others (§3.2.5) and/or without wide consultation (§3.2.4).
  • A Church refuses to engage in mediation (§3.2.6)
Incompatibility is determined when the SCAC, on advice from the ACC and Primates' Meeting, says there is incompatibility.

Therefore the issue dissolves into one of politics: if there is a sufficient majority (and no special majorities have been suggested in public) than an action or decision may be judged incompatible with the Covenant - and that may or may not be followed by action depending on the consequent decisions of Instruments of Communion and other member Churches.

Conversely, by §4.2.5, action against a Church may be taken before there has been a formal finding of incompatibility. Recent actions (here 'recent developments in the Communion') against TEC and possibly other Churches by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the General Secretary suggest that the SCAC do not need to assent to, or even be consulted on, such action.

The presence of the Covenant will in some ways compound the political process:
  • The Covenant is largely procedural - procedures used to sustain unity can be (will be) the procedures used to challenge and disrupt unity.
  • Clarifying (albeit insufficiently) some of the process by which sanctions may be applied to errant or offending churches also identifies the locations where those decisions are made. The politics to control those locations will be intensified. The resilience of the Communion stemming from its distributed centres of power and authority is reduced to the extent that decision making is centralised: mechanisms intended to unify the Communion will make it easier to split the Communion.
  • Conversely the autonomy of member churches means (as is the case now) that some Churches may decide to implement recommended sanctions and others not. The likely consequences are (a) that the Instruments of Communion, not Churches, are much more likely to be asked to impose sanctions, or (b) that the threshold for applying sanctions is almost complete unanimity of member Churches and thus almost unattainable, or (c) autonomous Churches make their own different decisions and the covenanted communion crumbles.
The Covenant is generalised and key concepts are vague. This is deliberate and necessary in order that the Covenant be accepted by as many Churches as possible. However it opens the door to considerable refinement and elaboration once the Covenant is adopted. This will mean, first, that the direction of travel will be towards ever more law-like governance of the Communion and second that those asked to draw up such statements will be disproportionately influential.

Most fundamentally, what does 'a shared mind' mean? Who decides what's shared? By what mechanism is a shared mind determined - by a majority vote of the Primates, by three-quarters of the ACC, by the Archbishop of Canterbury and General Secretary acting in concert? In the context of disagreement and self-evident lack of shared mind this question is pivotal.

Finally, the Covenant is almost wholly focused on retaining unity by tipping the balance of relationships between Provinces towards greater central co-ordination. In so doing it vindicates the charge of those who accuse the Anglican Church of making unity a greater value than truth or justice. Serious, Communion-splitting disputes, invariably entail the promotion of (perceived) truth over unity. The Covenant may enable the Communion to take retrospective action against participants in the current dispute; it will not protect it against the next one.

What is 'incompatible with the Covenant' is (a) what key people say is incompatible or (b) what a sufficient vote says is incompatible.

It is not the Covenant alone but the combination of the Covenant with the strengthened SCAC and the (so far unspecified) future changes to the ACC's committee structure (reported here: 'General Secretary's Report') which is critical.

  1. That Archdeacon Penguin, in his capacity as Covenant Link Penguin, keep a careful record of all reported statements and formal documents which detail, explain, modulate or clarify the meaning of words, concepts and procedures of the Covenant - they will steadily accumulate into persuasive case law.
  2. That the Province of Antarctica adopt a political approach to the Church of England's apparent lack of honesty concerning same-sex relationships within the Church.
  3. That more of our Penguins be trained and enabled to participate in the decision making nodes of the Anglican Communion and its regional bodies with a clear mission of implementing the decisions and programme of the Province of Antarctica. We will need more lawyers.
It is time that the voice of the True South Anglican Church is heard all the way from Deception to Lambeth Palace.


Donations to the Archbishop's Appeal to build and endow a beautiful Cathedral on Deception Island may be made through PayPenguin or by cash or fishing vouchers. We are very grateful to our ecumenical partners for their offers of help and other suggestions.

The Cathedral will be dedicated to Saints Jude and Thomas More.


Incompatible with the Covenant ~ One ~ Two ~ Three ~ Four

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