Posted On : November 16, 2010 10:36 AM

Many things have already been said in the public arena about the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant. As Provinces around the world continue to discuss this important document I think it worth clarifying some points about it. I am not arguing here for or against the Covenant, merely pointing out that it should be debated fairly, with an accurate reading of the text.

The first thing to say is that for any Anglican or Episcopalian to be able to properly enter into a discussion about the Covenant it is vital that they first read it for themselves here:

Having done that, let me then clear up some misconceptions that some people have about the document. The Standing Committee is not new; it is made up of elected Primates and elected members from the Anglican Consultative Council and it co-ordinates work in the Communion. Regarding the Covenant, it would have the role of monitoring developments and has no power other than proposing to the Instruments of Communion (the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting) steps to be taken to encourage discussion and discernment about disputed questions among the Provinces, or, if processes of mediation have broken down, what the relational consequences might be.

The point of the processes outlined in the Covenant is precisely to encourage one part of the Communion, when seeking to respond responsibly in its own context in mission, to consider how that will affect other parts of the Communion It is not that one Province would exercise a veto over another, but that there would be collaborative discernment. In a globalised world, it is no longer possible (if it ever was) for one church to act entirely for itself; decisions have ramifications, and the intention is for these to be explored together.

Some critics in the Church of England have suggested that Provinces would become subordinate to the judgements of the Standing Committee. This is not true. The Covenant explicitly says in section (4.1.3): “Such mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance. The Covenant does not grant to any one Church or any agency of the Communion control or direction over any Church of the Anglican Communion.” It is also not true that non-signatories would no longer count as part of the Communion. There will be Provinces which have adopted the Covenant, and there may be (though one hopes not) Provinces which have not. They are equally members of the Anglican Communion, according to the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council. The difference would be that signatories will have made a commitment to live in that communion in a particularly enhanced way, and to a process of consultation and common discernment.

The assertion is often made that the ordination of women could not have occurred if the Covenant were in place. It is not at all clear that this would have been the case. The consultative processes of the Anglican Communion actually resulted in the discernment that this was an issue about which Anglicans were free to differ. That is exactly the kind of discernment that is needed when any new matter emerges: how do churches in communion distinguish between that which may further the Gospel and that which may impede it? There are never simple answers, but the intent is that the Anglican Communion Covenant provides a way of doing this in a collaborative and committed manner.

Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan
Director for Unity Faith and Order
The Anglican Communion Office

COMMENT: They really do think we are stupid. It is obvious that as the majority will be able to veto the aspirations of minorities under the Anglican Covenant and police the Communion as they see fit (which Rowan Williams has already, unconstitutionally and immorally,  done), the Anglican Covenant will hand over local, provincial authority to whoever happens to be able to swing the most votes at the worldwide communion level.

If the Covenant is only about discernment then the answer is very simple. If a province proposes a change within their own province that is vetoed by other provinces, then a fixed time should be set (three years would be appropriate) for conversation within the province proposing the changes and between provinces. If, at the end of the fixed period, the province proposing the changes still wishes to proceed  it should be allowed to do so without further permissions being required and without punishment. That the Covenant does not contain such a sensible process for discernment is proof that it is about control and not discernment.

I now look forward to the ACNS circulating a press release stating the opposing view to that which is propounded by the Archbishop of Canterbury.



  1. Why, thank you but I always feel there is room for a little enhancement.
    I’m not sure if de-enhanced exists as a word but this phrase does feel a bit like that. I’m desperately trying to avoid talking about football but it sounds like she’s not kicking anyone out just creating a Premier League of the considerably richer than thou.

  2. To be accurate, there were no “consultative processes of the Anglican Communion” that led to a discernment among the Churches of the Communion around the question of ordination of women candidates to the diaconate and the priesthood. The absence of a formal processes is what enabled Churches to proceed according to their own constitutional processes and consciences. Just because the proposed covenant claims that no Church’s Constitution and Canons will be superseded by this supposed ‘covenant,’ does not make it necessarily so. The Standing Committee would be an oppressive presence in every one of the Churches. We all know it. The difference is that some favor that presence and its oppression, and some do not.

  3. Personally, if I belonged to a province that was relegated, I wouldn’t mind in the slightest. It’s the fact that I belong to a province that will more than likely stay up that embarrasses me and makes me very fearful of the future nature of the freedoms I now enjoy.

  4. The assertion is often made that the ordination of women could not have occurred if the Covenant were in place. It is not at all clear that this would have been the case.

    Upon reading this “Damning With Faint Praise” line, is it possible that Canon Barnett-Cowan is actually TRYING to scuttle the Covenant? O_o

  5. I think your proposal of a three year discussion period – and then allowed to proceed with the proposed changes without permission or punishment – is quite brilliant.

    No wonder they fought so hard to keep you off the group putting together the Windsor Report and the Anglican Covenant.

  6. I dunno. There are lots of advertisements here in the U.S. for products promising “male enhancement” already. Why would one need to sign on to a covenant to be enhanced when one can just take a pill for the same effect?

    I do note that I’ve never seen a commercial for “female enhancement.” This is of course because women need no enhancing, as we are already perfect. 🙂

  7. But we already have a Standing Committee that has acted punitively so that those in TEC or Canada cannot be heard. It has left the Southern Cone unrepresented too. It means that no substantive discussion CAN take place first because the ABC won’t have it and second because the we AREN’T THERE.

    If those who threaten to pick up their marbles and flounce off, that is THEIR problem and should be the ones excluded, not those who are willing to sit down and discuss the issues before the various provices

  8. This is of course because women need no enhancing

    Of course, that is true, Suzer. However, both the success of the plastic surgery and cosmetic industries seem to demonstrate that it is women, not men, who need to be convinced of this fact.

  9. I once served on an episcopal search committee and when I hear things like discernment and presence of the Holy Ghost and such, I try to find the hidden agenda. There is always someone in the background (or foreground) trying to force their will on others.

  10. Well, our Cavalier King Charles Spaniels would certainly agree with TMTIM, and further, that they are more equal than the bride and me. At least this is the way that things seem to have worked out…..