An Anglican Covenant - Consultation Paper

 

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

Appendix 1: The Windsor Report, paragraphs 117-120

117. This Commission recommends, therefore, consideration as to how to make the principles of inter-Anglican relations more effective at the local ecclesial level. This has been a persistent problem in Anglicanism contributing directly to the current crisis, and could be remedied by the adoption by each church of its own simple and short domestic ‘communion law’, to enable and implement the covenant proposal below, strengthening the bonds of unity and articulating what has to-date been assumed. Our opinion is that, as some matters in each church are serious enough for each church currently to have law on those matters - too serious to let the matter be the subject of an informal agreement or mere unenforceable guidance - so too with global communion affairs. The Commission considers that a brief law would be preferable to and more feasible than incorporation by each church of an elaborate and all-embracing canon defining inter-Anglican relations, which the Commission rejected in the light of the lengthy and almost impossible difficulty of steering such a canon unscathed through the legislative processes of forty-four churches, as well as the possibility of unilateral alteration of such a law.

118. This Commission recommends, therefore, and urges the primates to consider, the adoption by the churches of the Communion of a common Anglican Covenant which would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion. The Covenant could deal with: the acknowledgement of common identity; the relationships of communion; the commitments of communion; the exercise of autonomy in communion; and the management of communion affairs (including disputes). A possible draft appears in Appendix Two. We emphasise that this is only a preliminary draft and discussion document, and at this stage it would be premature for any church to adopt it. To the extent that this is largely descriptive of existing principles, it is hoped that its adoption might be regarded as relatively uncontroversial. The Covenant could be signed by the primates. Of itself, however, it would have no binding authority. Therefore the brief ‘communion law’ referred to above (paragraph 117) might authorise its primate (or equivalent) to sign the Covenant on behalf of that church and commit the church to adhere to the terms of the Covenant [5] . As it is imperative for the Communion itself to own and be responsible for the Covenant, we suggest the following long-term process, in an educative context, be considered for real debate and agreement on its adoption as a solemn witness to communion:

  • discussion and approval of a first draft by the primates
  • submission to the member churches and the Anglican Consultative Council for consultation and reception
  • final approval by the primates
  • legal authorisation by each church for signing, and
  • a solemn signing by the primates in a liturgical context.

119. This Commission believes that the case for adoption of an Anglican Covenant is overwhelming:

  • The Anglican Communion cannot again afford, in every sense, the crippling prospect of repeated worldwide inter-Anglican conflict such as that engendered by the current crisis. Given the imperfections of our communion and human nature, doubtless there will be more disagreements. It is our shared responsibility to have in place an agreed mechanism to enable and maintain life in communion, and to prevent and manage communion disputes.
  • The concept of the adoption of a covenant is not new in the ecumenical context. Anglican churches have commonly entered covenants with other churches to articulate their relationships of communion. These ecumenical covenants provide very appropriate models from which Anglicans can learn much in their own development of inter-Anglican relations.
  • Adoption of a Covenant is a practical need and a theological challenge, and we recognise the process may lead to complex debate. A Covenant incarnates communion as a visible foundation around which Anglicans can gather to shape and protect their distinctive identity and mission, and in so doing also provides an accessible resource for our ecumenical partners in their understanding of Anglicanism.
  • The solemn act of entering a Covenant carries the weight of an international obligation so that, in the event of a church changing its mind about the covenantal commitments, that church could not proceed internally and unilaterally. The process becomes public and multilateral, whereas unilateralism would involve breach of obligations owed to forty-three other churches. The formality of ratification by the primates publicly assembled also affords a unique opportunity for worldwide witness.
  • A worldwide Anglican Covenant may also assist churches in their relations with the States in which they exist. At such moments when a church faces pressure from its host State(s) to adopt secular state standards in its ecclesial life and practice, an international Anglican Covenant might provide powerful support to the church, in a dispute with the State, to reinforce and underpin its religious liberty within the State.
  • As with any relational document of outstanding historical importance, which symbolises the trust parties have in each other, some provisions of a Covenant will be susceptible to development through interpretation and practice: it cannot predict the impact of future events. For this reason the draft Covenant is designed to allow the parties to it to adjust that relationship and resolve disputes in the light of changing circumstances.

120. Whilst the paramount model must remain that of the voluntary association of churches bound together in their love of the Lord of the Church, in their discipleship and in their common inheritance, it may be that the Anglican Consultative Council could encourage full participation in the Covenant project by each church by constructing an understanding of communion membership which is expressed by the readiness of a province to maintain its bonds with Canterbury, and which includes a reference to the Covenant.