Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Future Watching

If you watch a long match of snooker on television (or watch bits of it; it's all that interests me!) consisting of many games, you know some actual undeniable aspects. Every game won advances the score by two different from what otherwise would have been, because no one can draw a game. Winning includes not losing and losing involves not winning. Someone must always be at least one game in front after an equal score of games. As the match progresses towards its end, to be one or two games from the winning line introduces a random element. In other words, the slightest error, even a 'kick' can let a player in, and if good can stay on the table, win the game and take the match.

In the votes over the dioceses for the Covenant, there is a similar process with a difference between positive approval or not: whilst there can be a draw, a draw is not an approval. Either the Covenant is approved, or it is not, and this therefore makes it like snooker where a diocese vote is like a game: and the need to approve is why it takes 23 to pass and 22 to fail.

Furthermore, the vote to approve is not across a whole synod, but within each house of each synod, rather as if there are absolute required sets to a game. Lose or draw a set and you lose the whole game, regardless.

A simple majority of games to a match is all that is needed, but it is quite tough to achieve. Lose a set and the game is lost, and each game lost contributes to the 22. This is why the measure to ordain women bishops has done so well, and carried large-scale consent. The Covenant is now 2 'games' from defeat, and it takes just a few votes the wrong way (for proponents) in a 'set' within a 'game', with so many games still to play, for the Covenant to fail. I can't see Lincoln approving it anyway, and the chances of an accident among the others with opinion so divided is not low. Dioceses that might reject it still might pass it, and dioceses that might pass it may well reject it and thus cause the whole thing to fail. The Covenant could be dead next weekend, or soon after. It would be remarkable if it went on to win every 'set' and every 'game' to get to 23 to approve.

But will it be dead? I suspect that the powers that be will try to resurrect something like it, and it might go like this.

First of all, even with the core Church (of England) approval, there would have been Churches having said no to the Covenant. I think what they will do is regard such Churches as non-Covenanting Anglican Communion. When such a Church decides something controversial, a Church might still approach the instruments of Communion; the non-Covenanting Church will still be invited to centralised discussion and process and there will still be an opinion expressed from the centre. There will be no relational aspect, but still moral pressure, however Covenanting Churches can still find themselves ejected out to the others, and there will still therefore be a 'Communion opinion' in terms of what the centre thinks.

The obvious alternative to this is to scrap section 4, but a number of Churches have signed up because section 4 is included. This more patchwork approach will be a recognition that some Churches will identify themselves closer with others, and some others won't.

The honest thing would be to scrap the Covenant, but then why scrap it if the Church of England says no, but not scrap it if New Zealand or Hong Kong says no? Also, as seen with the women bishops process in the Church of England, the leadership will push its agenda with the smallest room to do so. The bishops will still try to find wriggle room when the dioceses said no to significant alteration to retain traditionalists.

Nothing will prevent a willing Archbishop of Canterbury from managing the Covenant, or, rather, managing the wider invitations to present cases for change to the centre. He won't have his Church behind him, but he will still have an international role. A clever Archbishop might allow the Covenanted Churches to operate their way, and introduce other ways for 'indabas' regarding Churches to explain themselves. These indabas will be Rowan Williams's one lasting legacy, probably.

Churches outside the Covenant might indeed still provide explanations to the centre, or via other means, but it would be expected that GAFCON type Churches would be the most ignoring of the centre and become competitive. Indeed, not passing the Covenant might make the GAFCON Churches take on the Church of England with GAFCON's international oversight, membership of the FCA, have approved colleges, congregations and bishops in dioceses. A different Archbishop ought to take them on as competitors. If they want a test of strength, let's see how they do when resources are refused to such undermining competition. Conservative Evangelicals ought to discover that they are quite a minority in a widespread parish based Church, even if they have some large suburban congregations. The present Archbishop tried to keep things together, but by the wrong policies and Churchship, whereas another one may have to start dealing with division. This is what the Americans have done: when priests started walking off with the buildings, the answer was they were free to walk off and with anyone else but not to take the resources. It will be a lot tougher for entryists to take Church of England resources - if they want parallel systems they will have to pay for them, and out of live money. Let them be honest and set up an Anglican Church of Northern Europe, an ACNE to go with ACNA, if they are so determined to be evangelically pure and force their policies.

Rowan Williams tried to include a far too wide span of types of Anglican Churches via a purple Catholic vision that they could be one Church. It was not possible. The next Archbishop will have the reality that his Church is a non-Covenant Church and that he is dealing with a co-operative patchwork and potential competition.

In other words, the next Archbishop over the Church of England is going to have to manage the Church from threats of deliberate competition as well as deal with the Churches that would like to Covenant and those who would not but nevertheless can at least talk.

Alternatively the Covenant, having failed at the core, will just crumble and be lost, and that way there will be Churches talking and agreeing and disagreeing, and those that are competitive.

The dividing point will be - as at home - among the evangelicals. It was before and it will be again. Do they maintain themselves in the broader talkative Anglican Communion that stretches into liberal views too, or do they separate off and finally become competitive to produce a new strongly doctrinal form of Anglicanism via their own Continuing Church.

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