An Anglican Covenant - Consultation Paper


Joint Standing Committee 'Towards an Anglican Covenant' A Consultation Paper on the Covenant Proposal of the Windsor Report

The Implications of a Covenant

  1. What consequences and implications might flow from the adoption of a Covenant within the Communion? At this stage, this question cannot be answered in the abstract, since any full answer would depend on what the Covenant in its final published version actually says.

  2. For the Covenant concept to work, it will need to consist of a single formulation, which is not subject to negotiation and opt-outs by each Church or Province. There will need to be a formulation around which most Anglican churches and provinces can gather, not 38 or 44 (or even half-a-dozen) variants on it.

  3. That is not to say that the single formulation must require uniformity in all things. It is part of the genius of Anglicanism that it has proved capable of embracing a wide range of Christian emphases derived from many sources. Successive Lambeth Conferences have emphasised the role of cultural diversity, social change, and theological development, and have demonstrated that there is a proper place in our life together for change and disagreement as well as for consistency and continuity.

  4. In principle, therefore, the Covenant could identify where legitimate differences of view over matters even as important as, for example, the ordination of women could be recognised. In doing so, it could indicate how such “agreement to disagree” on other issues might be reached, and what processes might be used to foster trust and unity during periods of extended or sensitive discernment. It could set out strategies for protecting conscientious objectors to such developments within an authentically Anglican understanding of catholicity, and propose mechanisms for handling fundamental differences of view.

  5. Nevertheless, it will not do to say “There is one Anglican Covenant for this group and another Anglican Covenant for that group”. For the Covenant concept to work, there comes a point at which Provinces and Churches will have to say about the Covenant that they will “take it or leave it”.

  6. What of those who say that the content of the Covenant is such that, for the time being at least, they cannot “take it”, and they will have to “leave it”? Do they leave the Anglican Communion as a result? That may not be a necessary result of failing or refusing to sign up. Just as it would be wrong to assume that the Anglican Communion did not exist before the first Lambeth Conference, so it would be wrong to assume that failure to sign the Covenant meant that a Church ceased to be Anglican. The marks of Anglican identity go rather deeper. There is bound to be a lengthy period when synodical bodies are considering the Covenant, prior to adoption. They will not be “less Anglican” during that period than they are now; and it remains to be seen in what sense they might become “more Anglican” if they decide to adopt it for themselves.

  7. It might be expected that, as time goes on, stronger presumptions of mutual recognition and interchangeability of ministry and membership would arise between those Churches and Provinces that had signed up than amongst those that had chosen not to do so. That is not to say that the present arrangements for mutual recognition and interchangeability would be swept away by the introduction of the Covenant. What might emerge is a two (or more) tiered Communion, with some level of permeability between churches signed up to the Covenant, and those who are not.

    Action Point

  8. This discussion document was adopted by JSC at their meeting in London in March 2006, as a basis of consultation across the Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury is currently moving towards the appointment of a CDG, as recommended in this report (paragraph 23); the group will be staffed by the Anglican Communion Secretariat, and will, it is hoped, meet in late 2006. Provinces and Inter-Anglican Commissions and agencies are invited to consider this document, and to offer their reflections and responses to the Secretary General at ACO in the meantime.

The Provenance of this document

This document was prepared by a small working party convened by the Deputy Secretary General at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Secretary General. It was intended to inform the deliberation of JSC upon the proposal for an Anglican Covenant and was adopted by them as a basis for further consultation across the Communion. Since this is only a tentative and consultative document, the drafting group was deliberately kept small and relatively inexpensive, which meant confining membership to those who could come easily to London for two day meetings. The CDG mandated by the decision of the JSC will be a body more representative of the wider Anglican Communion.

The members of the group were:

  • Professor Norman Doe, Director of the Centre for Law and Religion, Cardiff University, author of “Canon Law in the Anglican Communion” and member of the Lambeth Commission on Communion;
  • Dr Andrew Goddard, Tutor in Christian Ethics, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and Fellow of the Anglican Communion Institute;
  • Canon Robert Paterson, Senior Bishops’ Adviser, Church in Wales and Vice-Chair of the Primates’ Working Party on Theological Education for the Anglican Communion;
  • Canon John Rees, Legal Adviser to the Anglican Consultative Council, consultant to the Lambeth Commission and to the Reception Reference Group, and convenor of ACLAN;
  • Canon Vincent Strudwick, Fellow Emeritus of Kellogg College, Oxford;
  • Canon Gregory Cameron, Deputy Secretary General, Secretary of the Lambeth Commission and of the Reception Reference Group, ACO Staff Consultant to ACLAN.

London, 20th March 2006