Response to the Video Announcement of the Release of the Anglican Covenant
By the Archbishop of Canterbury
I have had a quick read through the newly released Anglican Covenant that has been sent to the provinces for adoption prior to Anglican Consultative Council 15. I will be commenting in greater detail later. Here are my initial reactions to the introductory video message by the Archbishop of Canterbury which was released on December 18, 2009.
I continue to think that an Anglican Covenant with a clear process for handling disputes as described in the Windsor process is the best hope for maintaining the faith, order and mission of the world wide Anglican Communion. In the course of the original Windsor meetings, Bishop N.T. Wright described the proposed covenant as a scheme for fire-proofing the building. The covenant per se is not for fire fighting. It is not a solution for the pastoral and ecclesial crisis both within and between provinces that has been produced by the unilateral action of the Anglican churches of North America. What has always been needed has been both a short term and a long term strategy. The proposed covenant was the long term strategy. Various other schemes to address the problem in the short term, Alternative Primatial Oversight, Council of Advice, mandated mediation by experts have been proposed and have come to nothing due to an inexplicable lack of follow through by the instruments of unity. As we contemplate the hopeful development of a form of the covenant ready for adoption by the Provinces, it must be noted that this long term solution can be overtaken by developments in the short term which may make it practically irrelevant. The proposed covenant on its own is not adequate to inspire hope in and commitment to the future of the Anglican Communion and its existing instruments of unity. More vigorous personal pastoral leadership in the midst of the current crisis is needed and in particular leadership which encourages and provides some cover for those who are an embattled minority resisting the innovations in the North American churches.
The problem of timing becomes obvious in the Archbishop’s video introduction of the covenant. It could be three years before this version of the covenant is adopted by a majority of provinces. Then the process for dispute settlement in section four would come into play. Any action under these provisions would likely take several more years. The possibility of acceptance as members of the Anglican Communion by dioceses whose provinces opt out of the covenant would open after that. It could be five to seven years before the Anglican Communion as such can provide traditionalist dioceses in North America a way of differentiating themselves from the actions of their provinces and establishing their communion identity. Perhaps if a significant number of provinces adopt the covenant prior to ACC 15 the time could be foreshortened but the prospect seems unlikely to me.
Without some credible short term strategy, reliance on the covenant process alone as an adequate response to the current crisis, creates an environment in which the covenant itself, as good as it may be, may become increasingly irrelevant as the center of communion life shifts to more vital and activist centers and the church rebuilds itself around those centers. At the least the covenant could be strengthened by requiring that action on disputes be taken within a required time period. I also believe that the adoption process should be decoupled from the meeting of the ACC and proceed independently and as quickly as possible. Now is the time for vigorous, personal pastoral leadership on behalf of the covenant by those Anglican bishops who desire to see the Anglican Communion survive and thrive as a world-wide communion of churches with unity in faith, order and mission.
Leander Harding 2009