Wednesday 6 February 2008

What a Lot for So Little

We can now all see the St Andrews Covenant Draft.

The Covenant Design Group (CDG) met at the Anglican Communion Offices, St. Andrew's House, London, from Monday, 28th January to Saturday, 2nd February, 2008, under the Most Revd Drexel Gomez, Archbishop of the West Indies.

It developed a second draft for the Anglican Covenant. In January 2007, the CDG produced the Nassau Draft, which was received at the Primates meeting and the Joint Standing Committee in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in February 2007. This went out to the Provinces, Churches and Commissions.

There were thirteen provincial responses and a large number of responses were received from commissions, organisations, dioceses and individuals.

In the 2008 meeting the CDG reviewed the comments and submissions and developed the new draft.

The St Andrew's Draft goes out to the Communion and is for the Lambeth Conference from 16th July to 3rd August 2008.

It also includes a tentative draft of a procedural appendix.

After the Lambeth Conference, the CDG will meet again to submit a further Covenant draft to the Provinces and ecumenical partners of the Communion. After this comes definitive proposals for March 2008 and synodical processes to follow.

Some key bits I'd identify start with a statement to limit the whole Covenant procedure:

[Whilst] Churches of the Anglican Communion are not bound together by a central legislative, executive or judicial authority. ...we seek to affirm our common life through those Instruments of Communion by which our Churches are enabled to develop a common mind.

Just as a reminder, these are:

[1] The Archbishop of Canterbury - first among equals
[2] The Lambeth Conference, expressing episcopal collegiality worldwide
[3] The Anglican Consultative Council - co-ordinates and advises for mutual responsibility and interdependence
[4] The Primates' Meeting - called by the Archbishop of Canterbury for mutual support, prayer and counsel in doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters

In accepting the Covenant, each Church has a commitment to other Churches and the Communion itself - which can be summarised as below, and I have added bold to some interesting bits:

(3.2.1) having the common good of the Communion in the exercise of its autonomy, supporting the Instruments of Communion

(3.2.2) to respect autonomy while upholding interdependence and mutual responsibility to Churches and Communion

(3.2.3) having prayer, study and debate... led by the Spirit into all truth and to proclaim the Gospel afresh in each generation

(3.2.4) seek a common mind on essentials consistent with the Scriptures, common standards, and canon laws

(3.2.5) act with care when any part sees a threat to the unity of the Communion or its mission

(3.2.5.a) consulation - with other Churches or Instruments and Commissions of the Communion

(3.2.5.b) evaluation - that Communion processes are legitimate

(3.2.5.c) mediation - to participate in conversation and given procedures

(3.2.5.d) receive requests - to adopt a course of action according to Instruments of Communion, and although these have no legislative, executive or judicial authority they have a moral authority to be respected

(3.2.5.e) A request is not binding but in the most extreme circumstances saying "no" means relinquishing by that Church "the force and meaning of the covenant's purpose with others" - until restored

(3.2.6) try to seek the highest possible degree of communion

Regarding Clause 3.2.5, the Nassau draft placed the Primates Meeting in a significant co-ordinating position but now the St Andrew's Draft limits commitments by the Churches to care and receptivity in mutual relations.

Any Church, region or Instrument can identify what threatens unity or mission. Yet there is no intention to erect a centralised jurisdiction and Instruments of Communion cannot dictate on the internal affairs of any Province.

The guts of it must be an as yet tentative draft of a procedural appendix.

Given 1.2. that the autonomy of any Church of the Communion is not affected, there are stages of procedures on conversation [para 2] that might solve the matter, or a consultation of the Archbishop of Canterbury [para 3].

Thus the Archbishop of Canterbury can 3.4 (a) issue a request to any Church involved; (b) refer the matter to another Instrument of Communion (if needs speed); (c) refer the matter to a Commission of the Communion for evaluation (if there is time); or (d) send the matter for mediation using assessors if non-essential. This takes about a maximum of four months in one month stages end to end.

If the request of the Archbishop (3 a) is rejected [para 4] it goes to the Joint Standing Committee and then, after an appeal by the affected Church is lost but the Church doesn't budge then it goes to the Anglican Consultative Council where the all important paragraph 8 kicks in.

An Instrument of Communion [para 5] (as 3 b) may request the Church to change but if the Church rejects this it goes to paragraph 8.

If a Commission chosen by the Archbishop in consultation with the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion [para 6] (as 3 c) issues a request and that is rejected then it goes to paragraph 8.

If mediation via an independent third party, reported on annually by assessors goes nowhere after three years [para 7], then it goes to paragraph 8.

So Paragraph 8 is all important. I summarise.

A request is rejected and the Anglican Consultative Council has received notice of this. At its next meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council has to decide whether the Church's rejection of the request is compatible with the Covenant (8.2).

If it is (8.3), then that is it, and it all goes back to autonomy, seeking a common mind and consultation (in other words, it could start all over again).

If it isn't (8.4) then during the meeting the affected Church may say it "relinquishes the force and meaning of the purposes of the Covenant" or the ACC may declare it.

If either of these happens then the Anglican Consultative Council must as soon as is practicable initiate a process of restoration (8.5) with the Church, consulting other Churches and Instruments of Communion.

That's it. In other words, an awful lot for not a lot. There would be a lot of noise, a lot of tooing and froing, and not much else. Any disciplining (if it can be called that) and excluding (but only from the force and meaning of the Covenant) would be met by unstated procedures and open processes to get the Church back into agreeing with the Covenant.

Why can't there just be open processes of consultation to begin with? Matters that are crucially different across cultures, such as inclusivity, are going to end up in the dreaded state of "relinquishes the force and meaning of the purposes of the Covenant" and trying to get a Church back in to that force and meaning.

Is this the equivalent of Monty Python's Comfy Chair?


Ephraim Radner ( a Communion supporting conservative on the Covenant Design Group) wrote this on the blog Titus One Nine (comment 26) as part of a much larger entry:

The fact that individual churches might choose to ignore their commitments, or choose to contravene them, or choose to reject counsel, admonishment, and even common judgment is simply a part of what it means to be a free partner within a Covenant that involves multiple parties (i.e. the Church of Christ!).

So my later thought, that it not only is the Covenant the equivalent of Monty Python's Comfy Chair, but even this chair is one that the accused can decide not even to sit in, but all can walk around it, or walk away, seems to be about right.

I suspect now that the Covenant will be worked on simply because no one can get off the bus that has started its journey. However, surely the passengers, the driver, the conductor and the bus company have realised that this journey is pointless, and indeed will end where it started.

As it always was, the Covenant is a pointless enterprise and is not part of Anglicanism.


Paul Bagshaw said...


I don’t quite agree, but I do see the force of your argument. I think that the opening phrase of the Preamble suggests that covenanting together is identical to membership of the Anglican Communion:
“We, the Churches of the Anglican Communion, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, solemnly covenant together in these following affirmations and commitments”
The Commentary makes this more explicit:
“The Preamble uses the form, “the Churches of the Anglican Communion”. These are the churches recognised in the Schedule of Membership of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC). At present they consist of 34 national or regional Provinces, the 4 United Churches of South Asia and 6 extra-provincial churches, dioceses or, in one case, a parish, duly recognised by ACC procedures.”
I would also point to the very similar wording of the operative clause 6(6) in the Nassau Draft and the much less elegantly labelled clause (3.2.5.e) in the St Andrew’s Draft. No difference of import seems to be intended and (to the best of my knowledge) no-one suggested then that the implication was a tiered communion.

Nonetheless the difference is so slight you may well be right. If the phrasing had been
“We, Churches of the Anglican Communion, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, solemnly covenant together in these following affirmations and commitments”
and if there had been any indication in the Commentary of the optional nature of the covenant I would agree with you. Though the apparently cavalier attitude to the lack of responses also tells in your favour.

As I understand your argument you are suggesting that the critical phrase
‘the force and meaning of the covenant’s purpose’
refers solely to being a covenanted member of the Anglican Communion, so to speak. It would be conceivable and perhaps possible to have non-covenanted members of the Anglican Communion – as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today suggested in 2006.

‘Expulsion’ would then mean no more than downgrading – and there is no means to expel Provinces from the second ring because there is no formal structure to which they belong.

Which would raise several questions, amongst them:
What would the difference be between ‘covenanted’ and ‘uncovenanted’ members?
Would there be differences in the relationship between the Instruments of Communion and the ‘covenanted’ and ‘uncovenanted’ members? Perhaps, to be flippant, Bishops of the covenanted Anglicans get B&B at the Lambeth Conference and the others only day passes. Or the Primates’ Meeting lasts a week for the covenanted Primates and the others are only invited on the Friday.
More seriously, what would prevent the Anglican Comunion breaking into ‘clusters’ of Provinces?

The most Machiavellian interpretation of this approach, if you are right, would avoid the ‘expulsion’ of TEC by another route: they simply would not be allowed to join in the first place.

But you have put your finger firmly on a fundamental ambiguity of the text: what, with legal exactitude, is the covenant’s purpose?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I'm going to have another go at this. I'm sat puzzling at what a Covenant would read like if it were voluntary and without sanction. What stops me is that I don't want it. Another point that stops me is that mine would be so loose it would fail to meet all sorts of assumed doctrinal standards. It's the old one about leaving sleeping dogs to lie there, in that although some dogs are running around and need to be brought to the kennels, we don't want to wake them all up in the process.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

See the entry Covenant for the Anglican Communion and on my website it can be found at Learning - Religion - Denominations - then scroll down and it's at Covenant for the Anglican Communion.