The Final Text of the Anglican Communion Covenant:
Four Key Questions
by Dr. Graham Kings, Bishop of Sherborne
Interdependence and mutual accountability have always been the key features of the earlier drafts of the Anglican Communion Covenant (Nassau, St Andrew’s, and Ridley). It is encouraging that these are still at the heart of the final text.
The working party charged with producing this text, especially focussing on section four, is to be commended. The final text is profoundly Anglican, consonant with the trajectory of the Windsor Process and, it seems to me, is likely to lead to the majority of Provinces of the Anglican Communion adopting the Covenant. In the light of recent developments, it may well be that not all Provinces will enter the Covenant. Tragically, that may be appropriate at this time.
Responses from around the Anglican Communion to the various earlier drafts have been published in full, including one from the Church of England, concerning section four of the Ridley draft. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion have introduced the final text.
The working party has explained their guiding principles as ‘minimal revision’ but with some ‘clearer definition’ and ‘change of tone in language’. I believe they have achieved their aim admirably.
Four key questions are now answered:
1. Can dioceses commit themselves to the Covenant? The Covenant is designed primarily for ‘Provinces of the Anglican Communion’ – these are the ‘Churches of the Anglican Communion’ referred to in the text. However, dioceses are included in the phrase ‘any ecclesial body’ and some dioceses, eg ‘Communion Partner’ dioceses in The Episcopal Church, which may wish to commit themselves to the Covenant if their Provinces do not, will be allowed to do so. The working party quote again the principles of ‘The Lambeth Commentary’ (September 2008):
“If, however, the canons and constitutions of a Province permit, there is no reason why a diocesan synod should not commit itself to the covenant, thus strengthening its commitment to the interdependent life of the Communion.”
2. Can Churches which are not yet current members of the Anglican Consultative Council affirm the Covenant (eg The Anglican Church of North America)? Yes, but this does not make them members of the ACC and future membership will be with due process (section 4.1.5).
3. What of Churches which choose not to enter into the Covenant? The text deliberately does not deal with that matter, but the working party states that the Instruments of Communion should determine an appropriate response. This may appear weak, but it seems to me to be appropriate: not being invited to conferences and commissions may be in mind.
4. Which group will be monitoring the implementation of the Covenant? In this final text, is the ‘Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion’, which recently evolved from the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates’ Meeting and the ACC (Ridley Draft).
So, after a long period of gestation the Covenant is born. Let us be encouraged and continue our support in prayer.
Dr Graham Kings is the Bishop of Sherborne and theological secretary of Fulcrum