Thinking Anglicans

The Anglican Covenant, IASCUFO, and the 1878 Lambeth Conference

Tobias Haller draws our attention to Recommendation 1 from the 1878 Lambeth Conference. (The full set of them can be found in this PDF file.)

Union Among the Churches of the Anglican Communion – Encyclical Letter 1.5

There are certain principles of church order which, your Committee consider, ought to be distinctly recognised and set forth, as of great importance for the maintenance of union among the Churches of our Communion.

  • First, that the duly certified action of every national or particular Church, and of each ecclesiastical province (or diocese not included in a province), in the exercise of its own discipline, should be respected by all the other Churches, and by their individual members.
  • Secondly, that when a diocese, or territorial sphere of administration, has been constituted by the authority of any Church or province of this Communion within its own limits, no bishop or other clergyman of any other Church should exercise his functions within that diocese without the consent of the bishop thereof.
  • Thirdly, that no bishop should authorise to officiate in his diocese a clergyman coming from another Church or province, unless such clergyman present letters testimonial, countersigned by the bishop of the diocese from which he comes; such letters to be, as nearly as possible, in the form adopted by such Church or province in the case of the transfer of a clergyman from one diocese to another.
  • This does not refer to questions respecting missionary bishops and foreign chaplaincies, which have been entrusted to other Committees.

Tobias notes in Those Were the Days (Lambeth 1878) that:

It appears to me that most of the troubles in the present Anglican Communion stem from the failure of some provinces to observe and abide by point 1. Some of those same provinces have gone on to violate point 2, and the recent trouble in AMiA seems to reflect a bit of the mess one gets into by not observing point 3.

But point 1, in one sentence, is the key to any real Anglican unity. No further “covenant” is needed. And the one currently on offer provides a mechanism to frustrate point 1, by shifting from respecting the actions of the provinces to placating those offended by them. The proposed Covenant is government by discontent and disrespect.

This view is clearly not shared by IASCUFO members, who have issued this Communiqué following a recent meeting in Korea. They say this:

…Aware of our mandate to promote the deepening of communion between the churches of the Anglican Communion, we emphasised the importance of being a fully representative group, and we greatly regret that some of our members were not present. We re-affirmed the significance of the Anglican Communion Covenant for strengthening our common life. …

Jim Naughton has written a severe criticism of this at Episcopal Café in The InterAnglican Standing Committee and the illusion of consultation:

…One feels both gratified and alarmed, then, to learn that at is meetings last week, IASCUFO (the InterAnglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order) recognized the importance of “being a fully representative group” and “re-affirm[ed] the significance of the Anglican Communion Covenant for strengthening our common life.” Gratified, because, well, it is nice to have your opponents make your points for you. Alarmed because the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion Office continue to behave as though the more centralized church they hope to create already exists.

Whatever its claims, IASCUFO is in no way representative. Its members are not elected to represent their provinces, but are cherry-picked by the communion office to ensure the outcome that the Archbishop of Canterbury desires, while creating the illusion of consultation. (In this way it is similar to the Covenant Design team and the Windsor Continuation Group.) Of the 19 individuals named in the release, no more than three hail from churches that have adopted the covenant. (Precise numbers are hard to come by, as many churches don’t actually care enough about the covenant to have made a public statement indicating their attitude toward it.) Yet the group asserts its representative nature, and then affirms what the churches its members allegedly represent have not: that the covenant is essential in strengthening our common life.

IASCUFO employs collegial rhetoric, but it behaves like a pressure group. What sets it apart from other pressure groups is that it uses financial resources contributed by member churches to lobby on behalf of a covenant that many of those churches will not sign—a covenant that would assure that essential decisions in the communion would continue to be made by purportedly representative bodies that are in no way accountable to the communion’s member churches.

As for some members being absent, here is a full list of its membership, dated July 2009, and here are some annotations provided in October 2010 by John Chilton. Readers may care to work out for themselves who was missing from the Korean jaunt.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Tobias Stanislas Haller
12 years ago

Thank you, Simon. For me the question to IASCUFO would have to be, “What evidence do you have that the Proposed Anglican Covenant will “strengthen our common life”? I can see certain elements of cohesion in parts 1-3, but part four, by its own self-description, provides a sketch of a mechanism for weakening, disabling, or severing elements of “common life.” This appears to be a kind of _Animal Farm_ approach (even taken at its best to mean “strengthening the common life” of some of the provinces while weakening the bonds with others.) We come to this pass via the Windsor… Read more »

Malcolm French+
12 years ago

The members of IASCUFO are as representative of their respective churches as members of the Canadian Senate are representative of their respective provinces.

(I rather suspect that few outside Canada will quite understand how devastating a put down that is. For UK readers, the Canadian Senate makes your pre-reform House of Lords look like a veritable pillar of democratic legitimacy.)

12 years ago

Tobias has a point, but of course these notions were far from uncontroversial even at the time, and the first two Lambeth conferences were concerned to a large extent with trying (and failing) to agree on just how much centralised authoritiy the Anglican Communion should have, and where it should be vested. At that time, it tended to be the ritualists – including the first bishop of my home province, George Augustus Selwyn – arguing for greater powers to be accorded to Canterbury, while the evangelical and missionary bishops (and successive Archbishops of Canterbury) resisted any such concessions to ‘Anglo-Papalism’.… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
12 years ago

If, indeed the ‘Unity, Faith and Order’ Commission is nominated by Head Office, rather than elected by member Provinces of the Anglican Communion – as has been suggested; then how one earth can it claim to represent the interests of the whole Communion? What status can we attribute to such a body, whose sole task at this point in time seems to be to promote a Covenant that purports to encourage consensus, but actually provides a disciplinary tool for division? Another question is this: Will the appointed members of the Commission who absented themselves from the Seoul Meeting actually agree… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
Martin Reynolds
12 years ago

Might the “Missions” from Rwanda etc claim exemption from this norm by virtue of the footnote which says:
“* This does not refer to questions respecting missionary bishops and foreign chaplaincies, which have been entrusted to other Committees.”?

Martin Reynolds
Martin Reynolds
12 years ago

As to IASCUFO it has been quite clear from its inception and very recent formation that this was the tool chosen to identify what is, or is not adiaphora.

Reading its mandate gives me the willies …….
“to promote common understanding, consistency, and convergence both in Anglican Communion affairs, and in ecumenical engagement” ….. I think I know precisely what that means for me.

Membership of this and other Anglican Communion committees has become a farce. But again, I look at some of those there and …… I get the willies again!

Tobias Haller
12 years ago

Martin, see recommendation 11 of the same conference, which includes: “It is more undesirable that either Church should for the future send a bishop or missionaries to a town or district already occupied by a bishop of another branch of the Anglican Communion.” There is much more there that clearly indicates the Rwandan adventure, like the Nigerian, are contrary to Anglican ways of working.

Savi Hensman
Savi Hensman
12 years ago


As Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane pointed out in 2007, there are good reasons for holding on to this tradition

Tobias Haller
12 years ago

Thanks, Savi, for pointing to that fine essay. I’m glad to be in such company, and really like the phrase, “flexible, and at times usefully ambiguous, understandings of the Communion” — seems to me that like Onesiums, what was once perhaps less “useful” in some minds might be just what we need now — more flexibility and space, not less!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x