Committing to the Anglican Covenant:An analysis by the Anglican Communion Institute

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Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

1. Now that the final text of the Anglican Covenant has been sent to the member churches of the Communion, it is useful to outline the procedures by which member churches and other churches enter into the Covenant. In reviewing these procedures, it is important to be mindful of the distinction between committing to the Covenant, which churches may do at any time through affirmation or adoption, and formal recognition of that fact by the other Covenant churches or the Communion Instruments.

2. Section 4 of the Covenant specifies two procedures by which churches may enter the Covenant. Paragraph 4.1.4 deals with churches that already are recognized as members of the Anglican Consultative Council, one of the four Instruments of Communion. Paragraph 4.1.5 deals with “other churches.”

Member Churches

3. Paragraph 4.1.4 provides that “Every Church of the Anglican Communion, as recognised in accordance with the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council, is invited to enter into this Covenant according to its own constitutional procedures.” In our paper “Communion Partner Dioceses and the Anglican Covenant,” published on September 8, 2009, we have previously addressed the application of paragraph 4.1.4 in the unique constitutional framework of TEC:

These provisions of Section 4 deferring to the constitutional procedures of the member churches on matters of internal governance reflect a principle that already has been articulated in the first three sections of the Covenant (3.1.2 and 3.2.2) and has long been recognized as fundamental to Anglicanism. This principle is not in dispute.

That the reference in 4.1.4 to member churches of the ACC includes the constituent and extra-provincial bodies of those churches is apparent from the fact that not all churches recognized as full members of the Anglican Communion are direct members in their own names of the ACC. The extra-provincial churches are generally (with the exception of Ceylon) not listed as members of the ACC, but are represented through their primatial provinces. In the absence of an expressed intention to excommunicate or otherwise exclude these churches through the covenant process, one must interpret 4.1.4 to include member churches and all their constituent and extra-provincial churches.

Thus, in the case of TEC the relevant constitutional procedures for adopting the Covenant include direct adoption by its autonomous dioceses, which are the highest governing bodies within their territory and enjoy a particular constitutional prerogative concerning constituent membership in the Anglican Communion. Indeed, given the autonomy of TEC dioceses, central bodies such as General Convention could not commit individual dioceses to the Covenant over their objection. Thus, when the Covenant is sent to the member churches, dioceses are appropriate bodies to respond at that time under the unique constitutional procedures of TEC.

This long-standing polity of TEC is now being challenged by the Presiding Bishop in civil litigation that she has commenced against departing dioceses and parishes…. This civil litigation is in the early stages and final resolution of inevitable appeals will not come for several years.

In any event, this remains a dispute that must be resolved within TEC and one in which Communion Instruments must remain neutral as required by the fundamental principle of constitutional integrity of member churches that is recognized explicitly in paragraphs 4.1.3 and 4.1.4 of the Covenant.

4. It must be recognized that the eventual outcome of existing litigation is uncertain. It may be resolved in the Presiding Bishop’s favor and dioceses would lose their traditional autonomy. But it may also be resolved in the dioceses’ favor. In any event, decisions by dioceses to commit to the Covenant need not await the final outcome of all the litigation.

5. These procedures unquestionably will give rise to possible confusion among the churches and Instruments of the Anglican Communion. The Covenant has been sent to member churches as listed on the ACC membership schedule, including “The Episcopal Church.”  How does the Communion interpret responses coming back that vary by diocese? This clearly will require further thought and decisions by the Communion Instruments. It is important to emphasize, however, that reconciling any differences between those churches that sign the Covenant and those that are currently members of the Anglican Consultative Council will be something the Communion will have to deal with in the coming years in any event since it is unlikely that all current member churches will enter the Covenant. There will be opportunities for each of the Instruments to address this issue in the coming years.

6. For his part, the Archbishop of Canterbury has already addressed this question, in part, in his introductory remarks to the Covenant:

Beyond that, what’s going to happen? It’s hard to say as yet, but the Covenant text itself does make it clear that at some point it’ll be open to other bodies, other Ecclesial bodies as they’re called, other Churches and communities to adopt this Covenant, and be considered for incorporation into the Anglican Communion.  Meanwhile, it’s open to anybody that wishes to affirm the principles of the Covenant – to say that this is what they wish to live with.

7. Similarly, the Commentary prepared by the Covenant Working Group on the final text noted that:

Recognised in most cases as “Provinces”, these national or regional Churches are the historical bodies through which the life of the Anglican Communion has been expressed, and they are the primary parties for whom the covenant has been designed. 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.

Other Churches

8. Paragraph 4.1.5 deals with churches not currently listed on the ACC membership schedule and provides as follows:

(4.1.5)  The Instruments of Communion may invite other Churches to adopt the Covenant using the same procedures as set out by the Anglican Consultative Council for the amendment of its schedule of membership. Adoption of this Covenant does not confer any right of recognition by, or membership of, the Instruments of Communion, which shall be decided by those Instruments themselves.

9. This raises two questions: (1) what are the “procedures as set out by the Anglican Consultative Council for the amendment of its schedule of membership”; and (2) who can issue the invitations to the other churches under this paragraph?

10. As to the first question, it is important to note that these procedures have apparently changed recently, although they have not been announced publicly. The ACC constitution as previously in force and as still posted at its website reads as follows:

3. Membership

a. The Council shall be constituted with a membership according to the schedule hereto. With the assent of two-thirds of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, the council may alter or add to the schedule. “Primates,” for the purposes of this article, shall mean the principle Archbishop, bishop, or Primates of each of the bodies listed in paragraphs b,c and d of the schedule of membership. (Emphasis added.)

However, Canon Kearon’s cover letter sent out with the Covenant to the member churches on December 18, 2009, includes the following:

Section 4.1.5 of the Covenant refers to the ‘procedures as set out by the Anglican Consultative Council for the amendment of its schedule of membership’. These procedures are to be found in the Articles of Association of the Anglican Consultative Council 2.2, which state ‘with the assent of two-thirds of the Primates of the Anglican Communion (which shall be deemed to have been received if not withheld in writing within four months from the date of notification) the Standing Committee may alter or add to the Schedule’. (Emphasis added.)

Thus, there apparently is a new ACC constitution (now referred to as Articles of Association) that changes the membership procedures for the ACC.  This new constitution (which has not been made public) also applies in some way to the adoption of the Covenant by other churches. 
11. On the second question, “who can invite,” the Covenant is explicit in saying that this may be done by the “Instruments.” On its face, this means that any of the Instruments, e.g., the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Primates’ Meeting, could issue such an invitation, which would then invoke the procedures indicated: approval by the Standing Committee and consents from the Primates.

12. None of this is meant to suggest that such an invitation is necessarily imminent, but the procedures are far more flexible and responsive to developing circumstances than many have been led to believe.

13. With these principles in mind, we urge all churches and dioceses interested in committing to the life of mutual accountability and interdependence required by the Covenant to adopt and affirm the Covenant as soon as practicable and communicate their decisions to the Communion and its churches. We note that paragraph 4.1.6 provides that “This Covenant becomes active for a Church when that Church adopts the Covenant through the procedures of its own Constitution and Canons.”  Thus, the Covenant will become active as soon as member churches begin to adopt it, and the Global South churches have indicated their intention to begin doing so as early as April 2010. By committing to the Covenant, a church or diocese will immediately begin to share in the Communion life represented by the Covenant even as the formalities of the Communion Instruments necessarily will take longer to implement.

December 22 2009 10:33 am | Articles