Covenant Design Group issues communiqué and draft

Updated 2008-02-06 5:45 PM

The most recent draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant was released today in London. You can find a copy of the Saint Andrews draft here, an important appendix here and the accompanying communiqué here. The group also issued commentary to the draft here.

We will be updating this story throughout the day, and would be grateful for your evaluation of the document, particularly the conflict resolution process outlined in the appendix.

The Episcopal News Service story is here.

Mark Harris at Preludium “On first read. A snippet: “Several questions arise from all this: Do we really want something out there that begins to look like constitution and canons? What is the process by which Draft II and its ancillary documents will be considered by the member churches of the communion? I would suggest that at least Draft II and its Appendix ought to be considered as separate and unequal documents.”

From the other side of the aisle, Peter Ould writes, “Do you know what – if the last bit of the appendix had the decision making going to the Primates meeting, we might have something pretty powerful here. At present though, it looks like a carefully planned fudge.So howabout all the Primates (and attendent bishops) go along to Canterbury in July, amend the appendix so everything is ending up at the Primates, and pass the Covenant like that?”

A statement from the evangelical Church Society – “A number of liberal dominated provinces, including the Church of England, produced submissions which would have severely weakened the initial Covenant and at least this new draft does not seem to have given too much ground in that direction. However, the whole thing still remains entirely inadequate to meet the needs of the hour.”

Ruth Gledhill sees a link to the past – “Even though Melitius lived and preached back in the fourth century, the parallels between then and now are obvious. Melitius broke clear rules already in place about not interfering in the provinces of others by ordaining pastors for himself in St Peter of Alexandria’s patch of ecclesiastical territory. But Melitius would have argued that Peter’s liberal theology made his actions necessary.”

The Pluralist speaks – “Why can’t there just be open processes of consultation to begin with? Matters that are crucially different across cultures, such as inclusivity, are going to end up in the dreaded state of “relinquishes the force and meaning of the purposes of the Covenant” and trying to get a Church back in to that force and meaning.”

Ephraim Radner, a member of the design group, has commented here (and scroll down for more) – He asserts the covenant “is to go to the bishops at the Lambeth Conference, where it will receive quite explicit and concrete comment and response, which will inform the 3rd draft later this year. It should by now be clear where the direction of the Covenant is oriented.”

Anglican Journal has quotes from Eileen Scully who represented the Canadian church in the meeting of the group – ‘The latest draft of the covenant “really reflects a movement away from creating new structures,” said Ms. Scully.’

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  1. While this draft certainly lessens the broad authority handed to the Primates Meeting in the original draft of the Covenant, it seems, given current political realities in the Communion, a tool by which any individual Church or Instrument of Communion could tie up any other Church in long processes of dispute resolution that could result in an up or down vote on membership by the Anglican Consultative Council. The ACC is the body best constituted to take this vote assuming that the Primates are not made members. Still, the advantage in the process would seem to rest with the aggressor–thus encouraging aggression. Additionally, certain questions are left unanswered, such as whether a simple majority vote is all that is required for the Primates Meeting to initiate a complaint, or for the Anglican Consultative Council to decide whether a province has “relinquished” membership.

  2. Nicholas Knisely

    Following up on Jim’s comment, there’s also a question remaining for me at least, of what the make-up of the ACC is going to be. Will it reflect a group dominated by the Primates or will it return to its former structure which it had previous to the Primate’s meeting in Dromantine?

    I’m still reading through the new draft. I find it more likely to be accepted by a larger portion of the Communion – especially now that it makes the autonomy of each member Province much more explicit. I’m not sure I recognize yet the same issue that Jim is raising in his comment, but I’ve really only had a chance to skim so far.

  3. John B. Chilton

    From Religious Intelligence,


    Central to the concerns raised were the terms laid out in section 3.2 of the draft concerning how to deal with divisive issues while still respecting the autonomy of each member Church. “This was the most contentious section of the Nassau draft, and the one which therefore required our greatest attention, and which has been considerably rewritten,” says the Group.

    “In articulating a model for interdependent life, we have tried to be faithful to a few models developed in the Windsor Report. The section therefore begins with a commitment to a common life which also respects the proper autonomy of our Churches.” In a commentary on the new draft, the authors say: “The draft stresses that there is no intention to erect a centralised jurisdiction and that the Instruments of Communion cannot dictate with juridical force on the internal affairs of any Province. “However, since Communion is founded on the mutual recognition that each Church sees in the other of our Communion in Christ, we recognize that it cannot be sustained in extreme circumstances where a Church or Province were to act in a way which rejects the interdependence of the Communion’s life.”


  4. John B. Chilton

    Mad Priest:

    “It is disingenuous in the way it makes a big play of the fact that provinces are independent and then says if a province makes a decision that upsets bishops in other provinces then the offending province will have, de facto, thrown itself out of the communion….”

  5. Nick, one of my concerns is that there is no downside to bringing complaint after complaint against a member Church. No disincentive to file what in civil litigation would be regarded as nuisance suits. If the American right wants to continue its campaign aainst non-Evangelical Protestant churches–and it does–all it has to do to continue to hamstring the Episcopal Church is to keep putting cash in the pockets of symapthetic Primates willing to keep us tied up defending ourselves in these dispute resolution processes.

    This draft of the covenant depends on the good will and mature judgment of members Churches not to bring frivolous or trivial complaints for the sake of gaining political advantage. I don’t think such good will exists.

  6. Nicholas Knisely

    Fair enough Jim. I take your point. I wonder if there is any way though to guard against that. Short of “loser pays” sorts of arrangements I mean.

  7. Chris Ashley


    I hope our collective “good will and mature judgment” are not that thoroughly compromised. If they are, then the communion has already broken completely in ways that nothing, covenant or otherwise, could fix.

    Yes, the evidence in “Following the Money” and elsewhere is disturbing. But I think we have to be willing to expect more from our communion partners than that they simply act as the tools of malign American interests. Otherwise, why be in relationship at all?

    That said, I share your sense that, broadly speaking, everybody gets a veto here. Perhaps we shouldn’t trust each other with them. But, at minimum, we should be working to love and care for one another enough that we could come to trust each other– not so that we can then all have vetoes, but because loving and trusting each other is the whole point.

  8. Fair enough, Chris. But I can’t imagine the Episcopal Church bringing a complaint against the provinces that have not initiated a listening process or defended gay Christians against the repressive powers of the state. But I can imagine Nigeria, Uganda and the Southern Cone bringing complaints against the Episcopal Church for whatever was on the minds of right-wing bloggers that morning. And what we have here is a system that will reward those who shoot first.

    Were it in place now, do you have any doubt that somehow Bishop Dawani, having refused to cast his lot with the GAFCON crew, would have to defend himself for something or other. The GAFCONmen have already released an anonymous letter smearing him that has been picked up by various outlets, some of whom should know better. Do you doubt they’d use whatever official mechanisms were available?

    I guess all I am trying to say is that some of the Churches in the Communion behave as though their principle interest is harming other Churches in the Communion. At this point, thier reputations and revenues depend on them continuing to behave this way. The Communion should not create processes to help them inflict damage, however attenuated those processes might be.

  9. Chris Ashley


    I repeat: If it’s that bad, then we’re all in serious trouble. How do we deal with an abusive, psychopathic family member? I’m reminded of Bonhoeffer’s dictum that we dare speak to each other only through Christ our mediator. That’s never truer than in times of irremediable conflict.

    The key question, I think, is whether things are actually that bad. On the blogs, they certainly are. On the ground, I just don’t know. It seems to me the real evidence there would be fruits of common mission, in which case my diocese (MA) gives me plenty of reason to hope, but maybe that’s too naive.

  10. Chris, I agree that things aren’t that bad “on the ground.” I think the average African or Asian Anglican doesn’t care much about this one way or the other. And I think that many African bishops don’t care much either, as their rebuff of Akinola’s proposed continent-wide Lambeth boycott and their choice of Earnest, rather than Kolini as the new president of CAPA makes clear. But the Primates who have caused trouble for us don’t need to factor that into their calculations.

    This covenant, like the last, gives an unusual amount of power to a small number of people. It is something of an improvement, though, in that the number of people who need to be, um, influenced, is larger than in the Nassau Draft.

  11. duggiec

    As Winnie-the-Pooh would say, this whole thing is A Very Bad Idea.

    First, there will be an action against TEC for ordaining a gay bishop. Then, wait, we can’t have gay priest or deacons, either. And anyone divorced. And then we have to expand these rules to lay leaders–such as vestry members–as well. Then a solemn declaration that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered.” [Oops, sorry, that’s already been done by, well you know.]

    Also, they have codified the Instruments of Communion (which I had always thought were the piccolo and double bass, with a Fluglehorn on major feasts), and endowed them with “kick-out” power. And wait, look at the IOC:

    1). The ABC;

    2). Lambeth, called by the ABC, and includes only those whom He invites;

    3). The Primates Meeting, which the ABC chairs; and

    4). The ACC, which the ABC…well, you get the picture.

    Is an invitation to Lambeth really WORTH this can of worms? And do we need another Vatican in Canterbury?

    Doug Curlin

  12. Christopher Worthley

    I would like to know whether this new “formula” means – in effect – that no province signing on to it would ever again be able to ordain a partnered gay bishop or bless sam-sex unions.

    Is that why Archbishop Gomez was convinced the provinces of the “Global South” would like this latest draft, even if there is now no attempt to oust Bishop Robinson or “discipline” the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada?

  13. As I’ve said before, the most I’d be willing to accept would be a formalized process of non-binding consultation. The autonomy of member churches and the absence of any global synod, primacy, and canon law is what distinguishes Anglicans from Roman Catholics. I’m willing to accept, as Rowan Williams has suggested, something like mutual recognition of autocephalous churches, though I don’t think this polity has the same implications that he seems to think it has.

    I don’t think that any Covenant or enforcement powers can cause the rift to be bridged. We need to come to some kind of theological consensus or agreement to disagree. I don’t think that some of the players can continue to co-exist under one roof. I think the solution lies in shared theological education, ecumenical exchange, and common mission. The whole Covenant process has been flawed from the outset and nothing good can come of it. We ought to say no more than General Convention has already said: we desire relationship, but not on any terms whatsoever. In one instance, we should say less than General Convention has already said, i.e. absolute repudiation of B033 and the peacemongering attitude it represents. My hope is that the stronger members of the HOD and HOB will be able to define where we stand in terms of our theology of the Church and its ministry, and resist all efforts to get us to conform to homophobic Lambeth resolutions, which are sinful and destructive of human flourishing.

  14. Dr. Radner’s comment would seem to settle the question of whether there is going to be an up-or-down vote on the Covenant at the Lambeth Conference as some hoped and some feared. There isn’t.

  15. Donald Schell

    Behind this new draft I hear a range of clearly Anglican voices including our own – progressive, theologically articulate, historically and Biblically alive American and Canadian Anglicans. The document is finally trying to include the breadth of our experience and understanding. It acknowledges explicit that we ARE one because we’re in communion (rather than in communion because we’ve agreed to be one). That’s a huge step forward.

    Line by line, the new draft seems more descriptive (and accurately descriptive) of how our church has functioned and sustained global relationships (and internal church relationships) than the previous document or Windsor itself.

    What I still find troubling here is naming this description a ‘Covenant’ (and so also the parts of it that look like they’re not describing but preparing to lay out a contractual relationship).

    It’s possible that we in the American church have set ourselves up for this in the use of the word ‘Covenant’ in the ‘Baptismal Covenant’ in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. An older Biblical theology would reserve language of Covenant for God’s certain promises to us. But for some centuries now (1979 BCP a continuing this process) we’ve been reshaping sacraments around our promises to God (and one another).

    Anciently the wedding ceremony was blessings rather than the bride and groom’s promises to each other. The early church sometimes forcibly ordained people against their will (how’s that for calling!) which couldn’t have happened by the ordinand – priest or bishop – making promises. And Luther’s antidote to despair was to recall, ‘I have been baptized,’ not a covenant or promise he had made, but something God had done for him through the action of the Christian community.

    Elizabeth I’s vision of our church was that common prayer would hold us together. God blessed that vision and inspiration, and we grew far beyond Elizabeth’s royal imaginings and became a worldwide communion. Do we want to abandon that blessing and become a trans-national organization or corporation?

    In line by line and paragraph by paragraph substance the St. Andrew’s document feels much more Anglican than anything we’ve seen from this process to date. It’s a relief that it’s slated for Lambeth discussion (and not endorsement). Does it have enough room (and godly humility) for us to embrace? Or does it prime us to abandon our God-given unity for a more defined commitment of our own making?

  16. I don’t think that I was ever afraid of that! Even Rowan Williams knows that would be premature. I think the whole Covenant idea is not even helpful as a heuristic structure for thinking about what kind of Communion we want to become. It frames the whole question in ways that promote abandoning distinctively Anglican ecclesiology in favor of curial and conciliar solutions.

  17. One of my complaints with the “Nassau Draft” (which is, it must be said, a nice handle) was its treatment of the Quadrilateral. It took the historic episcopate out of the context of the other elements, and used it as an opening to empower the Primates, both meeting together and individually. However, I find the St. Andrew’s Draft has a much more troubling problem, again in its reference to the elements of the Quadrilateral in Section 1.1: specifically, there is no reference to the Historic Creeds – no reference at all! Indeed, I see no reference to the historic Creeds as summations of the faith anywhere in the St. Andrew’s Draft at all (although I’m open to correction if someone else finds something I missed).

    I am also troubled by unqualified commitment to “the central role of bishops as guardians and teachers of faith.” From Hooker and Jewell through Donne and Maurice to MacQuarrie, much of our understanding of the faith has been shaped by scholars who were not bishops, and more who were influential as scholars before they were bishops.

    With its emphasis on the authority of Scripture, and how it is to be approached, and lack of reference to the historic Creeds, I fear this will be a kinder, gentler Reformed covenant to shift the Anglican tradition in a decidedly Evangelical direction.

  18. All right, not to look entirely dense, I did reread paragraph 1.1.2, which does make reference to “the catholic creeds.” However, the context of that reference seems to frame the Creeds as expressive of the Scriptures, and not as independent expressions of the Spirit in the life of the Church. In the extreme, this would seem to me to press us to the Eastern expression of the Nicene Creed, and to disposing of the filioque clause, since it is not itself Scriptural. As I would have preferred an expression of the Quadrilateral that, in the Nassau Draft, would have held the episcopate in its original context, so I would like the expression in the St. Andrew’s Draft to hold the Apostles and Nicene Creeds in their original context in the Quadrilateral.

  19. The problem with Anglo-Catholic, conciliarist fantasy is that it can’t come to terms with what the historic episcopate, LOCALLY ADAPTED might mean in a society with some commitment to democracy. The Episcopal Church is not a democracy. We remain committed to the historic episcopate, i.e. oversight is focally present in an order which is a sign of historical continuity with the eyewitness testimony of the apostles. At the same time, we have democratic elements in our polity, i.e. the role of vestries, standing committees, diocesan conventions, and, above all, the General Convention as the sole metropolitan. We also remain committed to Catholicity, both in the sense of the comprehensiveness of our ecumenical commitment both within and without the Anglican family of churches and our commitment to the faith of the undivided Church enshrined in the Catholic creeds.

    What Rowan Williams and the Covenant Design Group seems not to understand is that the Anglican Communion has always included at least one Church (TEC), which is not committed to the model of episcopal oversight that many others seems to espouse, i.e. bishops (in some cases a small group of primates) as empowered to act unilaterally to determine what constitutes a departure from historic teaching. For us, the General Convention is the final court of appeal. Something like the Lambeth Conference has a great deal of moral authority, as embodying the fraternal advice of the bishops of our closest ecumenical partners, but it’s not a synod, nor has it ever claimed to be, nor should it ever be.

    If you look at Windsor, the Covenant proposals, the writings of Ephraim Radner, you see the opposite presupposed. Council and synod. Not even desirable. This is where, we ought to draw the line.

    Autonomy and the local adaptation of the episcopate are at stake.

  20. Christopher Worthley

    Whatever might be done with this latest draft at Lambeth this year, wouldn’t all this have to be approved by individual provincial synods to take effect anway? We are thus likely to be in for much more discussion and a lot of redrafting to address the concerns of the provinces over time – a lengthy process.

  21. John B. Chilton

    Chris Sugden says it makes the Primates meetings “group therapy”.

    The Rev Dr Chris Sugden, executive secretary of Anglican Mainstream which is backing the alternative GAFCON meeting instead of the Lambeth Conference, criticised the new draft which he said reduced the power of the Primates. He said: “It appears to downgrade the role of the Primates’ Meeting in the Communion to a therapy group, and it doesn’t deal with the current difficulties we are facing. “Its proposals merely describe the current process we have for dealing with disputes which so far hasn’t provided a satisfactory result.” He added that this view was shared by other members of the Anglican Communion in other provinces including America and Australia.

  22. Ruth Meyers

    This new draft covenant, while a significant improvement on the last, still leaves much to be desired. If we are to have a covenant (and I have grave reservations, for many of the reasons well stated by others), I would like to see much more about the diversity of our expressions of Christian faith and life. Using the language of the Lambeth Quadrilateral, the St. Andrew’s draft acknowledges that the historic episcopate is or can be “locally adapted in the methods of its administration,” and the draft also recognizes the “constitutional autonomy of all of the churches of the Anglican Communion.” But I’m talking about something far richer, the reality that our local contexts, our particular heritages, histories, and cultures, affect the way we receive and live out the Christian faith. Our communion is experienced in our diversity. Indeed, as a bishop once said to me, the Holy Spirit can be up to different things in different places. How do we respect and cherish each church’s response to the movement of the Holy Spirit as that church discerns it?

    The discussion of the so-called “instruments of communion” in Section 3 fails to acknowledge that 2 of the 4 so-called “instruments” are relatively young, having developed only within the past half-century, and the concept of “instruments” is even more recent. There is value in various means of taking counsel together, and in particular I welcome the inclusion of laity and of clergy other than bishops in the Anglican Consultative Council. Nonetheless, elevating these bodies to the status of so-called “instruments of communion” moves toward a more centralized form of authority. I hope we in the Anglican Communion will ponder the wisdom of such a designation. The procedural appendix, as others have pointed out, is redolent with canonical language and so moves in the direction of a centralized judicial authority that does not value the diversity of local churches.

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