by Jean Mayland, August 2012

The process of debating the Covenant is continuing throughout the Communion. The GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) Churches have declared that it is too weak and so do not support it - though many of the members of this group have still to vote as Provinces.

Provinces who have adopted the Covenant

  1. La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico - General Synod adopted the Covenant in June 2010
  2. The Church of the Province of Myanmar - Provincial Council adopted the Covenant in November 2010
  3. Church in the Province of the West Indies - Provincial Standing Committee in November 2010 ratified an approval in principle by the Provincial Synod of December 2009, thus adopting the Covenant
  4. Church of the Province of South East Asia - Provincial Synod adopted the Covenant, together with their own Preamble, in April 2011
  5. Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea - Provincial Council adopted the Covenant in November 2011

Provinces who have rejected the Covenant

  1. The Church of England through its Diocesan Synods
  2. The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
  3. The Episcopal Church in the Philippines
  4. The Scottish Episcopal Church

The following Churches are in the process of debating it

  1. The Anglican Church of Australia - 2 Dioceses have aready rejected it
  2. The Anglican Church of Canada
  3. The Anglican Church of Southern Africa

The Church of Ireland 'subscribed' to the Covenant on 13 May 2011. The General Synod intended to make it clear that the Covenant did not supplant existing governing documents of the Church of Ireland.

The Church in Wales passed a motion on 18 April 2012 indicating its willingness to consider the Covenant but asking the Anglican Consultative Council to 'clarify the status of the Covenant in the light of its rejection by the Church of England'.

In the United States the Episcopal Church considered the Covenant at the General Convention in July 2012. The General Convention voted to 'decline to take a position on the Anglican Covenant' and 'to continue to monitor the progress of the Covenant until the next General Convention in 2015'. The General Convention went on, however, to pass a resolution to agree services for the blessing of same sex unions. This shows where that Church really is.

For now we must wait to see what the Anglican Consultative Council does when it meets in November and who the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be; an appointment which is crucial for the Church of England and the whole Anglican Communion.


Jean Mayland is a retired priest and former Co-ordinating Secretary and  Assistant General Secretary at Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.

All Church of England diocesan synods were asked to decide whether to support the Anglican Covenant. By a majority of 26-18 they voted against.

DateDiocese Legislatureforagainstabstain
12/3/2011 Wakefield cross Bishops 2    
Clergy 16 17 1
Laity 10 23  
19/3/2011 Lichfield tick Bishops 4    
Clergy 39 11  
Laity 57 9  
26/9/2011 Durham yes Bishops 1    
Clergy 22 12 1
Laity 41 14 4
28/10/2011 Europe (Bishops council) yes Bishops 2    
Clergy 13   1
Laity 9   1
10/11/2011 Edmundsbury & Ipswich no Bishops 2    
Clergy 9 29 4
Laity 8 33 9
19/11/2011 Birmingham no Bishops 1    
Clergy 17 17 1
Laity 12 25 1
19/11/2011 Truro no Bishops   1  
Clergy 5 18 3
Laity 8 28 3
3/12/2011 Bristol yes Bishops 2    
Clergy 14 9 1
Laity 17 3 3
4/2/2012 Canterbury yes Bishops 1    
Clergy 26 14  
Laity 39 13  
4/2/2012 Derby no Bishops   1  
Clergy 1 21 2
Laity 2 24 2
4/2/2012 Gloucester no Bishops 1   1
Clergy 16 28 1
Laity 14 28 6
18/2/2012 Salisbury no Bishops 1 1  
Clergy 11 20 2
Laity 19 27  
18/2/2012 Leicester no Bishops 2    
Clergy 15 21 3
Laity 21 14 4
18/2/2012 Portsmouth no Bishops 1    
Clergy 12 17  
Laity 13 17 2
18/2/2012 Rochester no Bishops 1    
Clergy 8 30 3
Laity 14 26 7
25/2/2012 Sheffield yes Bishops 2    
Clergy 16 6 1
Laity 31 9  
25/2/2012 Winchester yes Bishops 3    
Clergy 22 11 4
Laity 38 10 2
1/3/2012 Sodor and Man no Bishops 1    
Clergy 5 12  
Laity 21 15 1
3/3/2012 Chelmsford no Bishops 2 1 1
Clergy 27 29 7
Laity 31 30 3
3/3/2012 Bradford yes Bishops 1    
Clergy 15 9 2
Laity 16 15 3
3/3/2012 Hereford no Bishops 2    
Clergy 15 15 1
Laity 21 23 1
10/3/2012 Carlisle yes Bishops 2    
Clergy 19 13 2
Laity 33 17  
10/3/2012 Ripon & Leeds no Bishops 2    
Clergy 12 22  
Laity 8 17  
10/3/2012 Bath & Wells no Bishops   1 1
Clergy 17 22  
Laity 18 23 4
10/3/2012 Coventry yes Bishops 2    
Clergy 22 7  
Laity 26 2  
10/3/2012 Southwark no Bishops 1   1
Clergy 10 27 2
Laity 21 32  
10/3/2012 Worcester no Bishops 2    
Clergy 5 19  
Laity 6 22  
17/3/2012 Norwich yes Bishops 3    
Clergy 26 10 1
Laity 19 15 1
17/3/2012 Liverpool no Bishops   2  
Clergy 10 26 1
Laity 8 28 5
17/3/2012 St Albans no Bishops 2    
Clergy 21 31  
Laity 17 44  
17/3/2012 Chester yes Bishops 3    
Clergy 22 14 5
Laity 26 23 5
17/3/2012 Ely no Bishops 1   1
Clergy 16 23 1
Laity 19 19  
24/3/2012 Lincoln no Bishops   3  
Clergy 6 28 3
Laity 2 34 2
24/3/2012 Oxford (exact figures vary but result confirmed) no Bishops 3 1  
Clergy 14 36 2
Laity 32 24 3
24/3/2012 Blackburn yes Bishops 2    
Clergy 40 7 1
Laity 33 16 1
24/3/2012 Exeter yes Bishops 3    
Clergy 28 8 1
Laity 30 20 2
24/3/2012 Guildford no Bishops 2    
Clergy 14 22 1
Laity 23 18 2
24/3/2012 Peterborough (corrected) yes Bishops 2    
Clergy 22 19 1
Laity 28 13 7
29/3/2012 London no Bishops 2 1  
Clergy 17 32 1
Laity 26 33 2
31/3/2012 Manchester no Bishops 1 2  
Clergy 15 25  
Laity 12 23 7
21/4/2012 Southwell & Nottingham (date corrected) yes Bishops 2    
Clergy 15 5  
Laity 31 6 1
21/4/2012 Chichester yes Bishops 2    
Clergy 29 9 1
Laity 39 25 1
28/4/2012 Newcastle no Bishops 2    
Clergy 8 18  
Laity 14 15  
28/4/2012 York yes Bishops 4    
Clergy 26 5  
Laity 38 5 1

Historically the Anglican Communion has comprised a group of Provinces and other Churches which have always worked together, prized their autonomy, and struggled to hold these two notions together.

Most provinces do not want to give up their autonomy, yet unless they do the Covenant will have no power to impose its wishes on them.

How does the Covenant resolve the dilemma? By signing it, member Churches would agree to give the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (SCAC) the right to be forceful against an offending member.

This creates a new basis of relationship between member Churches. The Covenant sets out (in sections 1-3) a statement of Anglican faith and order to which every signatory must consent. By whatever route Anglican Churches arrived at this point, from here onwards:

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)

How can all this centralisation be reconciled with provincial autonomy? By presenting the Covenant as a voluntary arrangement. To be a member of the Anglican Communion is to sign the Covenant voluntarily. Thereafter each province of the Anglican Communion may continue to act in whatever way it pleases - so long as no other province suspects or believes its actions to be outwith the provisions of the Covenant. The punishment for transgressing the Covenant is 'relational consequences': withdrawal from some, many or all of the international structures of Anglicanism (§§4.2.4 - 4.2.7).

Yet there is no difference in reality between being expelled and everyone else turning their backs on you. So a province may still act in whatever way it pleases, just as before, except that now it does so conscious that the other members of the Communion may act against it, forcefully, if it offends. Autonomy becomes a legal fiction.

For all its talk of being 'reliant on the Holy Spirit' (§1.2) and seeking 'to discern the fullness of truth into which the Spirit leads us, that peoples from all nations may be set free to receive new and abundant life in the Lord Jesus Christ' (§1.2.8), the Covenant is in reality an example of power politics. A significant minority of Anglicanism's senior leaders wish to punish or even expel The Episcopal Church (USA) and The Anglican Church of Canada because of their acceptance of gay people as full members of the church (and because of the cultural assumptions behind this acceptance). The Covenant gives them the right to do so and the SCAC gives them the means.

In this way a new foundation stone is to be inserted beneath the existing historical arrangements. Dispersed authority will be centralised as a conciliar and consensual church becomes a confessional church grounded on a new fundamental document.

The consequences will take years to emerge - yet it is being driven through with very little debate.