Thinking Anglicans

GS: a note on the Draft Anglican Covenant

Five General Synod members have sent the following note on the Draft Anglican Covenant to their fellow synod members.

TA will be glad to publish any other communications to synod members on the Covenant that we receive.

The Draft Anglican Covenant

1. The case for a Covenant has not been made out – the so-called crisis in the Anglican Communion has been greatly exaggerated by the media and by some within the Communion who have a vested interest in generating the crisis phenomenon. We need to reclaim the agenda for ourselves. The Communion has always been a federation of allied Churches which has lived with differences of views on a wide range of matters. Trust has been strained across the Communion in the sense that some accuse others of breaking faith on certain issues in relation to human sexuality. But vigorous disagreements are nothing new or startling for us. The four instruments of the Communion are perfectly capable of dealing with difference. It is also possible to argue that trust is not under strain; trust has been strengthened because we are now more open about our different expressions of faith within the body of Christ.

2. The Covenant is an attempt to impose agreement where this did not exist before – a founding principle of Anglican ecclesiology is immortalised in the words of HM Queen Elizabeth I who did not wish “to make windows into men’s souls”. When questioned about the Eucharist, she said “Christ was the word that spake it. He took the bread and brake it; And what his words did make it that I believe and take it.” There has never been a single version of “authentic Anglicanism” and a Covenant cannot begin to grapple with the existing diversity within our Church and the Communion. A true family cannot exist without disagreements and neither can the Anglican Communion. It is because we are in Communion with one another that we need to struggle with one another.

3. The Covenant is a route to disunity – in drawing a sharp distinction between covenanters and non-covenanters, this process would create and constitute division rather than fostering continued Communion-wide dialogue. Province A may have already declared itself out of Communion with province B, even though province B may still regard itself in Communion with province A. People already refuse to share the Eucharist together. But the current structures allow for people and provinces easily to re establish links re assert communion with one another. The Covenant will institutionalise this process and make it harder.

4. If the Communion needs a Covenant, we all need to agree about it; if we can all agree about it, we do not need a Covenant – the Covenant is process focused rather than outcome focused. It ignores the “elephant in the room”: we need to learn to live with difference in witness to the world of Christ’s body broken for us. The Covenant is displacement activity.

5. The mechanisms in section 6 of the Covenant are woefully inadequate to establish what would be, in effect, a new order within the Anglican Communion and the Church of England – the four instruments of the Communion are satisfactory for a federation of allied churches but are not suitable institutions for a new order. No indication is given as to where the balance of power would lie under the Covenant as between the four instruments or how they would operate together in order to enforce the covenant. If a new order were to be established, it would require fundamental institutional reform. It is not possible to superimpose a new order on the existing structure.

6. The gift of Anglican ecclesiology is that it is both a Church catholic and reformed and this is undermined by the Covenant – the Church of England emerged from the Reformation with an essential balance between bishops and the people. This is currently expressed in the jurisdiction of a bishop in Synod. The Covenant fundamentally shifts the balance of power towards bishops in an unprecedented way. Three of the instruments of the Communion are exclusively made up of bishops which subordinates the role of clergy and laity. The Covenant fails to acknowledge that Anglican tradition has never accepted something akin to papal or curial authority, whilst also not being congregationalist. It is critical that the Anglican tradition is maintained, clergy and lay participation synodically expressed with authority, and undue weight is not handed over to episcopally dominated structures.

7. Covenants with other Churches do not have the same legal significance as the draft Anglican Covenant – an expression of common will or mutual respect is very different to, in effect, subordinating the Church of England to the institutions of the Anglican Communion.

8. The Covenant raises such fundamental issues that a period of careful reflection and reception is required – the Anglican tradition of living with difference is one of our core charisms. It is not acceptable for General Synod to be bounced into endorsing the current approach to the Covenant without full reflection and debate. Although the Primates may wish to debate the Covenant at the next Lambeth Conference and we may wish to pray for these deliberations, they should not be seen as having synodical endorsement when we have no idea what representations may be made on our behalf or what the shape of the final draft Covenant will be.

The Very Revd Colin Slee (Deans 55); the Revd Brian Lewis (Chelmsford 90); the Revd Paul Collier (Southwark 217); John Ward (London 359); the Revd Canon Prof Marilyn McCord Adams (Universities 446)

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
17 years ago

When I read: The following note on the Draft Anglican Covenant was sent to General Synod members by its authors. I thought I was reading a note by the authors of the Draft Anglican Covenant, and then became very confused as it was the most effective and well reasoned suicide note I’d read about it, as if the Draft Covenant authors had turned against their own creation. Then I got it. I’d sign up to this well written piece and I hope the Synod members putting their names to this argument gather considerable opposition on its basis along with other… Read more »

17 years ago

I see that Drexel Gomez, who is to address General Synod on 8 July in his capacity as chair of the Anglican Covenant Design Group, has come out strongly in favour of border crossing raids into the USA, see This is something of a scandal, since border crossing is in direct breach of numerous Lambeth Conference Resolutions, is condemned by the Windsor Report, is contrary to the publicly stated wishes of the Archbishop of Canterbury and has not been approved by the Anglican Consultative Council or the Primates Meeting acting as a body. In other words, he has come… Read more »

Tobias Haller
17 years ago

Superb statement; especially the stunning clarity of #4.

17 years ago

Any chances this signed letter could stand as a petition letter for the rest of us to also sign and forward to the Anglican powers that be?

I am only too willing to agree and sign and send.

Hugh of Lincoln
Hugh of Lincoln
17 years ago

Occam’s Razor applied to the Covenant idea? Love it.

Proponents will no doubt just insert or delete the word ‘not’ where applicable in the text to make their own case.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x