Paul Bagshaw has written End game. His concluding paragraphs read:
I think George Conger is right: it is the end of the Communion we once thought we knew.
The Primates’ meeting is to be a consultative forum with no powers of instruction or direction. Powerful and influential, certainly, but these stem from the role of participants within their own Provinces, not across provinces. As the Primus said in the press conference, this is a Communion of independent provinces.
Conger is also right about the concentration of powers in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury. 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.
A Communion for the twenty-first century
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. There will still be a demand for the equivalent of Lambeth Resolutions – of moral and persuasive authority, but only given force when incorporated in the
- 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 is merely to vote for (some of the) members of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.
- The SCAC 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 oar 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.