'effective and forceful'

From the Church Times: caption competition anyone?
Given that GAFCON have turned their backs on the Covenantwhy pursue it further?  

It seems, according to the Church Times, that at least 10 Primates - a quarter of invitees - won't be at the next Primates' Meeting in Dublin in January.

Drexel Gomez' repeated assertion was that, if we didn't agree the Covenant asap, it would be too late and the Communion would break up.  Only the Covenant could save the day.

But as it is evident that the Communion is already breaking up - why do we still need to sign a Covenant?

I suggest there are four mutually-reinforcing reasons: 

  • I've started, so I'll continue:
The Covenant has been coming since the Windsor Report (2004). It wasn't inevitable. In fact the draft in an appendix to the report was pretty extensively panned. 

But when the Archbishop of Canterbury took it up as the way forwards for the Communion it moved centre stage and a lot of political capital was invested in it.  It has developed a momentum of its own and referral to the Provinces mean that there is no way of stopping the process without so much egg-on-faces that at least some of those faces would not have wanted to appear in public again.

Never underestimate the imperative power of institutional inertia.

  • lor'n'order demand it
I think that the Archbishop of Canterbury believes deeply in an ordered church. Or, more precisely, that if a church is to be ordered it must have the means of enforcing that order.  

That is, what sort of church is not ordered and what sort of order can't be ordered?  If you see what I mean.

Therefore, if the Anglican Communion has no means of enforcing the ordering it purports to have, it follows that (a) it is disordered and (b) it's not a Church.  If it's disordered so too is its faith, its witness, its criteria to judge what constitutes a faithful development in the expression of the Gospel.  

The key phrase of the Windsor Report turned out to be nearly at the report's end:
This Commission recommends, therefore, and urges the primates to consider, the adoption by the churches of the Communion of a common Anglican Covenant which would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion. The Covenant could deal with: the acknowledgement of common identity; the relationships of communion; the commitments of communion; the exercise of autonomy in communion; and the management of communion affairs (including disputes). ... (Para. 118)
In effect  the Eames Commission asserted that, when loyalty and affection could no longer be presupposed, force remained.

  • To make a Church
The Communion is not a Church but a federation or flotilla of Churches.   

But although that is a statement of legal fact it was also perceived to be a statement of the problem.  A 'real' church, not least in the eyes of the Archbishop of Canterbury, is Vatican-shaped: centralised and definitive, clear in the key areas of doctrine, worship, the discipline of clergy and ecumenical relationships.

And the Communion had been moving in the direction of greater centralised decision making for a long time.

The Covenant is only one tine of a two-pronged strategy.  The other, locating power within the ACO / Standing Committee, is already in place and beginning to work.

The Covenant is still necessary even if only a proportion of the present membership of the ACC sign up because it gives powers to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (and thence to the officers in the Anglican Communion Office) which they don't currently possess.

The resultant Church may be Vatican-lite. But it will be much more ordered than it is now.  Instead of a bunch of untidy and ill-dressed strangers who just happened to be on the same pilgrimage at the same time it will be a bit more of a guided tour wearing company branded jackets.

  • In the end trouble makers will just have to go
It follows entirely logically that the road the Communion is on means that some of the group will just have to leave. Some are simply misbehaved and won't listen to leaders or to anyone else.  Some have decided they want to go on a different pilgrimage altogether.

From the perspective of the Archbishop it was always evident that some would have to go.  An ordered Church required the visible enforcement of discipline so that all members would understand the new kind of Church they no belonged to.  Second, the Communion had simply become so widespread on any dimension you could imagine that only a narrower Communion had any future.

The Archbishop of Canterbury envisaged a two-tier Communion from the outset.  Not, I think, as second best but as inevitable, even desirable.  Therefore even if the GAFCON Church won't participate any further then TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada must still be penalised.  Authority has no substance in the abstract: it only exists when it's exercised.  The Covenant will make this possible.
Future Directions
The idea of a 'covenant' between local Churches (developing alongside the existing work being done on harmonising the church law of different local Churches) is one method that has been suggested, and it seems to me the best way forward. It is necessarily an 'opt-in' matter. Those Churches that were prepared to take this on as an expression of their responsibility to each other would limit their local freedoms for the sake of a wider witness; and some might not be willing to do this. We could arrive at a situation where there were 'constituent' Churches in covenant in the Anglican Communion and other 'churches in association', which were still bound by historic and perhaps personal links, fed from many of the same sources, but not bound in a single and unrestricted sacramental communion, and not sharing the same constitutional structures. The relation would not be unlike that between the Church of England and the Methodist Church, for example. The 'associated' Churches would have no direct part in the decision making of the 'constituent' Churches, though they might well be observers whose views were sought or whose expertise was shared from time to time, and with whom significant areas of co-operation might be possible.
The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today: A Reflection for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Tuesday 27 June 2006

Thus the future holds a new Church, a new order and, in my view, a diminishment of the vision which sustains us as pilgrims, an impoverishment of the spiritual imagination, which is the life-blood of faith.


  1. It'll actually be a three tier of is that 'tear' Communion if the Covenant is passed. Those who will sign (out of loyalty to Canterbury) , those who won't (Gafcon et al) and those who can't (TEC and perhaps Provinces like Brazil).

    Conservatives are declaring 'broken and impaired' communion all the time but without a formal Covenant that doesn't mean very much and we are all technically and in practice still in communion with each other and Canterbury.

    We can kiss and make up later as time heals - but the Covenant will set irrecoverable boundaries and formalise schism.

    For the sake of the Communion we all know and love - drop the idea.

  2. When Rowan or anyone else refers to the Anglican Communion as "a church", it makes me wild and crazy. The AC is not a church! If it is a church, then it is not a church I want to be a part of.

    Those Churches that were prepared to take this on as an expression of their responsibility to each other would limit their local freedoms for the sake of a wider witness; and some might not be willing to do this.

    And what kind of wider witness? A witness of exclusion and injustice? No thank you.

  3. There is still a lot to play for, let's wait and see. If we do get the Covenant, we constantly remind of the assurances that were given, it that it was "not envisaged as an instrument of discipline" and that it would facilitate dialogue. And we need dialogue, real dialogue more than ever.

  4. You are right, Grandmère.

    But: one of the consequences of the debate about the Covenant since 2004 has been the normalisation of the idea that the Communion is a Church. I suspect that even if the Covenant is dropped tomorrow that shift in thinking will remain.

  5. Paul, the AC is looking less like a church with every day that passes. I suppose Rowan is using the placing-facts-on-the-ground strategy. If you say something is so enough times, then it will come to be so.