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
La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico - General Synod adopted the Covenant in June 2010
The Church of the Province of Myanmar - Provincial Council adopted the Covenant in November 2010
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
Church of the Province of South East Asia - Provincial Synod adopted the Covenant, together with their own Preamble, in April 2011
Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea - Provincial Council adopted the Covenant in November 2011
Provinces who have rejected the Covenant
The Church of England through its Diocesan Synods
The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
The Episcopal Church in the Philippines
The Scottish Episcopal Church
The following Churches are in the process of debating it
The Anglican Church of Australia - 2 Dioceses have aready rejected it
The Anglican Church of Canada
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.
|28/10/2011||Europe (Bishops council)||Bishops||2|
|10/11/2011||Edmundsbury & Ipswich||Bishops||2|
|1/3/2012||Sodor and Man||Bishops||1|
|10/3/2012||Ripon & Leeds||Bishops||2|
|10/3/2012||Bath & Wells||Bishops||1||1|
|24/3/2012||Oxford (exact figures vary but result confirmed)||Bishops||3||1|
|21/4/2012||Southwell & Nottingham (date corrected)||Bishops||2|
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.