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Band of bloggers tilting at the Covenant windmill

Band of bloggers tilting at the Covenant windmill

The Rev. Malcolm French, Canadian coordinator for the No Anglican Coalition, reports on the status of the proposed covenant with 1/3 of the Church of England synods reporting on the voting:

When we first launched the No Anglican Covenant Coalition just shy of 16 months ago, the odds of actually stopping the proposed Anglican Covenant seemed none too good. And it became clear within a matter of hours that the ecclesiastical one percent responsible for the document were not going to take even our quixotic challenge lightly.

Covenant critics were compared to the British National Party, the UK’s current fascist party. Then (once the Communion apparatchiks realized how stupid that made them look) we were repeatedly accused of having not read the document we were criticizing. The Archbishop of Canterbury himself used the bully pulpit of his formal address to General Synod to condemn us for “campaigning” on an issue – as though no one had ever done that before in the entire history of Anglicanism. We may have been mere mosquitoes buzzing around the heads of our betters, but we were clearly to be smashed with whatever sledgehammers were available.

February, though, has begun to show a shift of momentum. The Coalition announced the appointment of two new patrons, Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch kt and Professor Marilyn McCord Adams. And of the seven English dioceses that voted this month (so far), six have voted against the Covenant (Derby, Gloucester, Salisbury, Leicester, Portsmouth, Rochester) with only Canterbury voting in favour.

Of fifteen English dioceses that have voted to date, ten have voted against the Covenant. This gives the Coalition a significant tactical advantage. To have the Covenant return to General Synod for a final vote, it has to be approved by 23 of the Church of England’s 44 dioceses. However, defeat in 22 dioceses in enough to derail it. Thus the Covenanters need to win 18 of the 29 dioceses remaining, while the Covenant’s opponents only need another 12.

In November 2010, this seemed like tilting at windmills. It seemed inevitable that the Church of England would endorse the Covenant and that, eventually, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada would be isolated and relegated to an ill-defined second-tier limbo. A small band of bloggers hardly seemed the vehicle to change the narrative.

News release from the No Anglican Covenant Coalition below:

Momentum shifting in Anglican Covenant Debate

LONDON – With one-third of English dioceses now having voted on the proposed Anglican Covenant, leaders of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition are detecting a significant shift in momentum. With last weekend’s clean sweep in Leicester, Portsmouth, Salisbury and Rochester, ten dioceses have rejected the Covenant while only five have approved it.

“When we launched the No Anglican Covenant Coalition just 16 months ago, it seemed like we were facing impossible odds,” said the Coalition’s Moderator, the Revd Dr Lesley Crawley. “But now the tide appears to be turning. The more church members learn about the Covenant, the less they like it.”

“I’m glad to see how perceptive the diocesan synods have been once well-rounded arguments are put to them,” said Coalition Patron and Oxford University Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch. “There were two Covenants in the Church of England’s seventeenth-century history, and in combination, they destroyed episcopacy until wiser counsels prevailed. It appears the dioceses are not interested in helping present-day bishops making it a hat trick.”

“It is heartening to see the dioceses rising up to their responsibilities instead of delegating their discernment to the House of Bishops and the archbishops,” according to former Oxford Professor and General Synod member Marilyn McCord Adams, who now teaches at the University of North Carolina. “Churches come to better decisions when parties feel free to disagree.” Professor McCord Adams is also a Patron of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition.

To date, the proposed Anglican Covenant has been approved by five dioceses of the Church of England (Lichfield; Durham; Europe; Bristol; Canterbury) and rejected by ten (Wakefield; St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich; Truro; Birmingham; Derby; Gloucester; Portsmouth; Rochester; Salisbury; Leicester). Approval by 23 diocesan synods is required for the Covenant to return to General Synod. Rejection by 22 dioceses would effectively derail approval of the Covenant by the Church of England.


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Rod Gillis

Malcolm, its up to the English church and people to decide what to do about this covenant thing. Allowing both them and anti-covenant voices to do so,models behavior, i.e. models respect the autonomy of provinces in the Communion.

I don’t know how much real impact Canadians, for example, have actually had on debates in England. But I suspect that many members of “mother corp.” feel the same way about rejoinders from overseas as Canadians felt about emissaries from the ABC being feted by our (Canadian) House of Bishops.

Meanwhile, and this goes to GS process, there are very few voices on the left in the Canadian Church willing be vocal about the centralization of authority at “National”. Why wait for a future GS? Why not start now.

I have to smile at the phrase “balanced study materials”. One would be very wise to start shining a light on the process within which “balanced study materials” will be considered. Why not start working now, with a strenuous campaign for an up and down vote when the time comes. Other wise Canada may be bushwhacked by another “conversation minder” process as at the most recent GS “conversation” on human sexuality.

Malcolm French+

With respect, Rod, any campaign has to work on timings and priorities. Right now, the focus in on the process through the Church of England because that is where the Covenant is under active consideration. Very little will be happening in Canada until General Synod 2013.

That said, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition were very happy to see the Canadian church produce balanced background and study materials which fairly represent both supporters and critics o the Covenant process. This is a far cry from what’s happening in the Church of England.

Of course, if we can prevent the Covenant from winning approval in 23 English dioceses, we may well have put an end to the matter well in advance of Canadian General Synod 2013. If we are not successful, then we will have learned useful lessons to help us when the campaign becomes more active in Canada.

Rod Gillis

Thanks for your insight Marshall, I appreciate it. I’m not up to speed on what may or may not be palatable in TEC re the so called covenant ( which I categorically oppose).

I guess what I find somewhat frustrating is that my fellow Canadians are fighting this on the basis of rejoinders aimed at the Church of England– which is out of their jurisdiction. At the very same time, there seems to be a timidity about tacking the Canadian House of Bishops, who are clearly, by comparison with your situation in The States, in the drivers seat when it comes to completely controlling the agenda of our national church.

What one is left to surmise, is that it is easy to throw stones at someone across the pond, rather than the engage in activism for less episcopal feudalism at home.


With all due respect, Rod, many in the Episcopal Church would find the Preamble and Sections 1, 2, and 3 of the Draft Covenant liveable, if not perfect. My expectation is that, with Section 4 excised, the remainder of the Covenant Draft would pass General Convention. So the thought that the same would be true of the Canadian bishops isn’t a shock.

Now, I for one believe that there are still issues, especially with Section 3. However, describing what we share in heritage is something many could embrace. It is the establishment of new juridical processes in Section 4 that is unacceptable to so many.

Marshall Scott


Whatever the future holds, what has already happened in the dioceses in the Church of England is amazing.

June Butler

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