An Anglican Covenant

Some of us are working on initial responses to the Draft Covenant for the Anglican Communion.  This “covenant” is one of the ways forward proposed by the Primates of the Anglican Communion to hold our fragile worldwide family together. I am basically supportive of such a process — not because I want the Episcopal Church, or the Anglican Communion, to become a “confessional church” bound together by narrow statements of belief (other than the Creeds!) — but because I have seen how effective ecumenical “covenants,” concordats, and agreements can be in establishing full communion relationships.

I would cite, for example, the Bonn Agreement with the Old Catholics, the Concordat between the Episcopal Church and the Philippine Independent Church, or “Called To Common Mission” with the Evangelical Church in America. They are relatively brief; define common doctrine in broad, basic strokes; and open up the possibility for common mission in the name of Christ.

I do have some concerns. The name “covenant” seems a bit lofty for this effort. A covenant is something God initiates, not Primates. However, that train is already rolling down the track so the term “covenant” may just have to stand.

I think the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral should be named in its entirety in any such Covenant and — with its emphasis on  Scripture, the Creeds, the dominical Sacraments, and the historic episcopate — should be sufficient as doctrinal statements. If those things are adequate to establish full communion relationships with other Christian bodies, they should be sufficient for us to hold in communion.

Secondly, one of the geniuses of Anglicanism is that we are “episcopally led, but synodically governed.” That means, in this instance, that if any of the four so-called “instruments of unity”  (The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting), it should be the ACC. That is because only the ACC, of all these bodies, is made up of lay persons, bishops, priests, and perhaps even a deacon or two.

The mind of Christ is to be discerned in the Body of Christ and the Body of Christ is made up of all the ministers of the Church not only bishops!
Finally, while a process of “mutual affirmation and admonition”  (terms found in certain ecumenical agreements) probably need to be part of this Covenant, steps for exclusion or marginalization need not be. We certainly need a clear process for vetting major decisions which will effect the whole Communion by the whole Communion and we need processes for feedback and dialogue. We do not, in my opinion, need “excommunication” as a tool for closing off debate.

Again, the genius of Anglicanism has been our ability to remain together in Word and Prayer and Sacrament…and in common mission…while allowing wide space for theological diversity, cultural adaptation, and freedom for the local church (read, “diocese”…and then “province”).

I believe that Anglican experiment is worth working for. We already have one branch of Western Catholicism with a top-down, infallible head. We know that it “works” (after a fashion!). Orthodoxy and Anglicanism have always offered another way.

Let’s not give up on it because it is messy!

5 Responses to “An Anglican Covenant”

  1. Ann Says:

    Messy is the way of the 21st century. All successful movements are “network centric” e.g.

  2. ecubishop Says:

    I think that’s right, Ann. I’ve been following the emergent church movement in recent years — that post-evangelical, post-liberal, post-modern expression of Christianity. “Network” seems to be the name of the game there.

    As does the ability to tolerate, and even value, difference while remaining united in “the basics.” It seems to me that the Episcopal Church has actually discovered some of what this movement is after, over our last 25 or 30 years of renewal.

    Now, if we just don’t lose our nerve…

  3. Bosco Peters Says:

    As Anglicans our genius and jewel is so taken-for-granted, so close-to-our-eyes, that we fail to notice it, fail to articulate it. IMO your last two paragraphs hold the key – Anglicanism is nourished in the matrix of practice – of common prayer. A common prayer that gets no mention in the draft covenant, let alone our five-fold mission statement. It is (was?) our ability to worship together without 100% agreement on everything that should have held the tent wide through this controversy. I write a critique of the draft covenant from this perspective at Liturgy: critique of draft Anglican covenant There is much we appear to share in common, including seeking to learn from emergent, missional churches, & the post-…s
    I have placed a link to your blog at
    I am hoping you will link to my site,, on your Blogroll as “Liturgy & Spirituality” – let me know so I acknowledge this.

    Blessed Easter Season
    Bosco Peters
    Liturgy: Christian worship & spirituality – serving individuals and communities seeking to have worship and spirituality that is vital, transforming, and faithful.

  4. Reverend boy Says:

    I admit the following may be seen as romanticizing our church, but here goes …

    One of the things that drew me to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion some years ago was the ability to put our faith into real-world action in spite of disagreement. In fact, I believe that because we are not a monochrome body that we are a church that is a bit more honest about ourselves.

    What is really sad, though, is that there seems to be less and less respectful disagreement. What is tragic is that one side is more or less calling the other not just another denomination, but another religion altogether (i.e., a non-Christian faith).

  5. drdanfee Says:

    Many thanks, Bishop E. for this contribution. Now if only we could clone your educated and historically informed perspectives. Especially among folks at the top, but not only among those at the top. I hope you will speak clearly and freely and encouragingly to Canterbury, if/when he meets the HoB face to face – about just these matters.

    I really liked the comments about common prayer, but what the essay fails to grasp somewhat is why in this time of increasing globalization and diversity, we have newly embarked on an open-ended search/journey to a new commonality that is more potential than actual. Nowadays our journey into common prayer is sabotaged – by the divisive claims that some one view just has to be total and true – and by the fact that we do not exactly know just how to rub shoulders and converse and work and live in peace, with people who seem dramatically unlike ourselves at first glance.

    Still, the point about common prayer being a practical shared vehicle for journeying into the great unknowns of all that we are becoming as we change for the better, this beacon stands. Thanks loads for that.

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