Paul Bagshaw has written an essay on the state of the Anglican Communion after the most recent Primates Meeting, and his thoughts are similar to mine. The threat of the primates dictating terms beyond the borders of their own provinces ebbs as the threat of a Communion run by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a London-based bureaucracy flows.
Bagshaw's essay is all the more significant in light of today's development in the Church of England's General Synod. The synod defeated a resolution that would have made it more difficult to pass the proposed Anglican Covenant by requiring a two-thirds majority. The archbishop now seems increasingly likely to have his own church's backing for the covenant, a key piece of his centralizing agenda.
The Standing Committee is to be the Archbishop's 'consultative council'. In effect the Diocesan structure of the English Church is writ global: the monarchical Archbishop rules and courtiers advise. They have no veto.
So this would now seem to be the shape of the Communion:
Each province is autonomous.
There is a stronger recognition of the differences of structure, decision making and distribution of powers within each province. Pressures towards harmonisation have been rebuffed.
The motif of 'family' has resurfaced, specifically in its aspect of 'blood is thicker than water', i.e. we disagree but continue together. Clearly this is only true for those family members who are prepared to stay together.
There is a renewed emphasis on regionalism, facilitated by the Primates' Standing Committee. This will be a difficult trick to pull off effectively: on the one hand the centralising agenda will still pull matters towards the Archbishop of Canterbury and, on the other, the defence of autonomy will pull people apart. However, if successful, regional groupings could well supply an intermediate layer of debate and discussion which will enable better co-ordination of a looser Communion to the benefit of all.
It is an ever more clerical Communion. Unless regional meetings include the laity as full participants they will reinforce the dominance of bishops.
The more deliberative nature of the Lambeth Conference (if continued) and Primates' Meeting will leave a vacuum. Some people will always want clear and authoritative statements despite and because it's a murky and ambiguous world. There will still be a demand for the equivalent of Lambeth Conference Resolutions - but these should remain of moral and persuasive authority, given force only when incorporated in each separate province following their own distinct procedures .
Power will flow to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Leadership of global deliberation will flow to the international consultative bodies. Thus power will flow to the Anglican Communion Office. Information and administration is power and it will all go though the ACO & Lambeth Palace staff.
The Anglican Consultative Council will be marginalised. Like an English Deanery Synod it will make work for itself but its primary function now is merely to vote for (some of the) members of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.
The SCAC itself, which briefly looked as though it would hold the Communion's strings, will become a rubber stamp to endorse decisions made between the Archbishop of Canterbury, the General Secretary of the Communion, the ACO & Lambeth Palace staff.
The place of the Covenant in this is not clear. Clearly the Covenant is not dead. The logic of this shape of the Communion would marginalise it, perhaps draw any teeth, but the question remains: will the Covenant be an effective document or will it now join the honoured ranks of documents with little or no consequence?
I'm still afraid it's the former. If passed the Covenant contains so many powers-in-embryo that it will inevitably be used.