Responding to the Draft Anglican Covenant

At its recent meeting, the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church received and approved its writing team’s response to the Draft Anglican Covenant the development of which is suggested by the Windsor process. The full text is at 

I am actually quite pleased with most of it! Not least, I suppose, because it incorporates most of what I submitted to the committee as my personal response and concerns!   See my input below:                

 Responding to the Draft Anglican Covenant   Question:  

 (1) Do you think an Anglican Covenant is necessary and/or will help to strengthen the

interdependent life of the Anglican Communion? Why or why not?

 Depending on the form and substance of such a Covenant, I believe it could be helpful. Just as we have entered into simple covenants ecumenically (the Bonn Agreement, Called to Common Mission, etc.) we should be able to craft one for the Anglican Communion.  

“An Introduction to a Draft Text for an Anglican Covenant”

This part of the report presents an initial theological introduction to the Draft Covenant

which is to follow immediately afterwards. Its focus is on the nature of communion that

we Anglicans share.

(2) How closely does this view of communion accord with your understanding of the

development and vocation of the Anglican Communion?

 The third paragraph of “An Introduction to a Draft Text for an Anglican Covenant” makes adequate reference to Scripture and Tradition but, once again, omits any inclusion of the third leg of the famous Anglican triad – Reason. The Windsor Report was similarly deficient.  

“An Anglican Covenant Draft”

1. Preamble

Section one is the Preamble and sets out the rationale for an Anglican Covenant.

(3) Is this a sufficient rationale for entering into a Covenant? Why or why not?

 I think so and particularly the phrase maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  

2. The Life we Share

Section two seeks to articulate aspects of the faith and order shared by all of the churches

of the Anglican Communion. Note that Items 2-3, affirm the first three points of the

Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, specifically: the Holy Scriptures, the creeds, and the

sacraments of baptism and Eucharist.

(4) Do these six affirmations adequately describe The Episcopal Church’s understanding

of “common catholicity, apostolicity, and confession of faith”? Why or why not?

 Why not simply use the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral in its entirety for this section?  

(5) The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (of the

Church of England) are not currently authoritative documents for The Episcopal Church.

Do you think they should be? Why or why not?

 No. Both the 39 Articles and the 1662 BCP reflect perspectives and battles of the 16th century Reformation and, as such, are not timeless documents. The Articles are in the right place in our Prayer Book: Historical Documents. The drafters may think this is covered by the phrase “…led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to…” but I think this is not clear.  

The Covenant could simply say, “…Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Book of Common Prayer, and the various Ordinals.”

3. Our Commitment to Confession of Faith

Section three posits five specific commitments of each Church in the Anglican

Communion based upon the faith and order described in part 2.

(6) Is each of these commitments clear and understandable with respect to what is being

asked of the member churches and are they consistent with statements and actions made

by the Episcopal Church in the General Convention? Why or why not?

 No, Number 1 is very problematic with developments in our understanding of divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, perhaps even the ordination of women.Number 2 is OK.Number 3 is OK in that includes bishops and synods and “building on our best scholarship”Numbers 4 and 5 are OK. 

4. The Life we Share with Others

Section four outlines some common elements of the Anglican Communion as we seek to

work together in service to God’s mission in the world. Note the vision articulated here

is consistent with that offered by the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Mission

and Evangelism in their report to ACC XIII “A Communion in Mission” and underscores

the “Five Marks of Mission”5 articulated by the Anglican Consultative Council at their

meetings of 1984 and 1990.

 (7) Is the mission vision offered here helpful in advancing a common life of the Anglican

Communion and does this need to be a part of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?

Yes, I actually think this is very important section on mission. It is the best part of the entire Draft Covenant in my estimation. 

5. Our Unity and Common Life

Section five describes some of the structural aspects of an emerging polity (the

organizing of our common life) of the Anglican Communion. Note the first affirmation

picks up the fourth point of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral – the historic episcopate.

The second affirmation, involving paragraphs 2-6 of this section, concerns the “mutual

loyalty and service” to which the several churches of the Communion are called and thus

lays out an understanding of the role of four “Instruments of Communion” (the

Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council,

and the Primates Meeting).

(8) Does this section adequately describe your understanding of the history and

respective roles of the “Four Instruments of Communion”? Why or why not?

 No, it does not give attention to the recent development of these “Instruments.”They may be very good, or even essential, but they are still evolving and that needs to be acknowledged.  The description of the Archbishop of Canterbury is OK.The Lambeth Conference is a conference – not an instrument to “guard the faith and unity of the Communion.”The Primates’ Meeting is a meeting. Mutual support and counsel,  yes. Monitoring global developments, fine. But what does it mean to “work in full collaboration in doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters that have Communion-wide implications?” Too much power here in the hands of a few bishops/primates.The Anglican Consultative Council definition is too weak. If any instrument is to be strengthened it should be the ACC.    

6. Unity of the Communion

The churches of the Anglican Communion are mutually responsible and interdependent

but autonomous. To date there has not been an “executive” or “judicial” body for

resolving disagreements or disputes.

 The Draft Covenant proposes a new process by which the Instruments of Communion

can be both supported and utilized when areas of disagreement and/or difficulties

between churches in the Anglican Communion arise.

 Section six also refers to “a common mind about matters of essential concern. . .”

(9) Do you think there needs to be an executive or judicial body for resolving

disagreements or disputes in the Anglican Communion? If so, do you think it should be

the Primates Meeting as recommended by the Draft Covenant? Explain.

 No. There probably needs to be a point of reference outside the Provinces, but it should be the ACC, made up of lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons – not the Primates. 

(10) What does the phrase “a common mind about matters of essential concern. . .”

mean to you?

 Well, clearly, we all seek the mind of Christ. Corporate discernment takes time and we may need to learn the value of consensus before taking decisions that threaten to be communion-dividing.    

7. Our Declaration

The final section is a proposed signatory declaration by which each church of the

Anglican Communion would commit to this proposed Covenant.

(11) Can you affirm the “fundamental shape” of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?

 Yes, with some major tweaking of language as indicated above. 

(12) What do you think are the consequences of signing such a Covenant as proposed in

the Draft?

 I think we will give up a certain amount of autonomy for the sake of interdependence. However, if we want to be taken seriously as a global communion, something like this will have to happen sooner or later. The devil is in the details and we have to be very careful and consult fully with our closest partners – Canada, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland, Brazil, etc. However, I think the time has come for something like this.  

 Concluding Questions:

(13) Having read the Draft Covenant as a whole do you agree with the CDG’s assertion

that “nothing which is commended in the draft text of the Covenant can be said to be

‘new’”? Why or why not?

 I do not agree with that statement. There is much that is “new” here for Anglicanism. It may be evolution of the Communion and necessary, but it is new.  

(14) In general, what is your response to the Draft Covenant taken as a whole? What is

helpful in the draft? What is not-helpful? What is missing? Additional comments?

The Preamble is helpful.

  1. The Life We Share – should replace sections (2) and (3) with the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral in its entirety.  Section (5) should either be omitted or refer to “historic formularies such as the 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the various Ordinals of the Provinces.”
  2. Our Commitment to Confession of the Faith is helpful.
  3. The Life We Share with Others is very helpful.
  4. Our Unity and Common Life is largely not helpful. Work needs to be done on this. The Primates are given too much authority; the ACC not enough.
  5. Unity of the Communion is not helpful. I would prefer to see “matters in serious dispute” be taken up by all 4 Instruments of Communion, as a kind of checks and balances system. Again, the ACC should have the central role here – since it is a somewhat representative body and could become more so in the future.
  6. Our Declaration is helpful.

  Additional comments: We should fully engage in this process, consult broadly, and make our contribution to the shaping of this Covenant. Then, if at all possible, we should sign it.     


7 Responses to “Responding to the Draft Anglican Covenant”

  1. obadiahslope Says:

    The ACC is “somewhat” representative. True. The instuments of communion have a built in gerrymander to the white western churches. The ACC is one of the offenders with Uganda and Nigeria significantly under represented. It is as though California could only have three members of congress despite its size. At Lambeth TEC is considerably over represented – largely as a function of it wealth which gives it the ability to have a higher ratio of bishops.
    Why do progressive critiques of the darft covenant which generally commend the ACC as being representative have a blindspot about this.

  2. ecubishop Says:

    I completely agree that the ACC is only “somewhat representative.” I would be happy to see reforms in that council to make it more representative, including a better balance of lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

    It is not the political demographics (i.e. “as though California could have only three members of Congress”) about which I am primarily concerened, but the ecclesiological reality about a Body not being whole without all its members present.

  3. rwk Says:

    Thank you for posting this +Epting. It is a mark of extraordinary openness that you would post something like this with its very frank comments. Of course, I was drawn to this comment:

    “Well, clearly, we all seek the mind of Christ. Corporate discernment takes time and we may need to learn the value of consensus before taking decisions that threaten to be communion-dividing.” It is one of the rare times I’ve seen a recognition that TEC may have gotten too far ahead of the rest of the Communion and many of its own members without some kind of follow-up condescending clause.

    How does the Covenant fit in with the recent Archbishop of Canterbury’s “musing” that the diocese and not the national church is the locus of the communion? Could it be a question of individual dioceses signing on?

    Would union with Canterbury be a sufficient level of unity?

    As a hypothetical, if for the sake of maintaining the global communion Canterbury invited an AMiA or CANA bishop to Lambeth whose jurisdiction overlapped TEC’s would you consider yourself to be in union with that person/church? I could put the same question to CANA and AMiA bishops regarding +Robinson.

    Could CANA and AMiA, not to mention REC and others be like “Eastern Rite” Catholic Churches, with a separate structure but in full communion with Rome? (My grandmother was Easter Rite…love the special nature of their liturgy.)

    I can understand a reluctance to answer the questions given your position or a temptation to argue “it will never happen”. But over the last 30 years lots of things have happened that “were never going to happen”.

    I guess what I am driving at is,”Would the global Anglican Communion be better off with such an accomodation or not?”.

    Sorry my questions are all over the map. But once again, a great post.

  4. ecubishop Says:

    Oh no, these are great questions/comments, rwk. (Not just the complimenary ones about my post!!!)

    You are right that we are in uncharted territory and who knows what form the Anglican Communion will take? I do believe, with Rowan, that the diocese is the basic theological unit of the church. So, theoretically, some kind of “communion of dioceses in communion with Canterbury” makes sense.

    It would be messy, of course. But…any messier than we are right now?
    Not so sure.

    Would love to hear from others on this.

  5. obadiahslope Says:

    Consider the council of Jerusalem. The wholeness of the body came not from balancing the “orders” but from having people from the churches across the known world present. You might dismiss this point as mere politics, but making sure that the body in Uganda is represented numerically as well as say Ireland is the outworking of saying we need each other. It is an instance in which we can make clear that 1,000 Ugandans are as valuable to us as 1,000 Irish.
    This is especially important as the Anglican Communion has a colonialist past. It is something we need to own up to and put right to a greater degree than we have in the past.

  6. ecubishop Says:

    Good point, Obadiah. Hard to know how to balance “representative democracy” so that the tyranny of the majority (whether North American or Ugandan) does not prevail.

    Perhaps somehow, in the interaction of the “Four Instruments of Communion” and by God’s grace, this can be accomplished.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. rwk Says:

    Well, is that not what a covenant would do? A covenant would clearly lay out which things are “essential” and which are not to be a member of the community. Other things become non-essentials and although we can argue about them they are not sufficient grounds for removal. I know it would be harder to work out in reality, but in principle it sounds like a good idea.

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