The Third Draft of an Anglican Covenant, to be known as the Ridley Cambridge Draft after the place of meeting, is now out. Several readings later I must say it is mostly a fine extension of the nearest thing we Anglicans have as a doctrine all our own, namely the declaration of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ (MRI). The Covenant Design Group has listened well and, as I said, mostly has done a fine job.
But then there is 4.1.5: It states,
"(4.1.5) It shall be open to other Churches to adopt the Covenant. Adoption of this Covenant does not bring any right of recognition by, or membership of, the Instruments of Communion. Such recognition and membership are dependent on the satisfaction of those conditions set out by each of the Instruments. However, adoption of the Covenant by a Church may be accompanied by a formal request to the Instruments for recognition and membership to be acted upon according to each Instrument's procedures."
I presume this section is about how new Churches (National or Regional Churches, aka "Provinces") might become parties to this Covenant. For example, a regional church in the Greater Antilles might form, seek to disengage from the Churches to which they are now related and form a separate church. This section suggests that membership in the Instruments of the Anglican Communion (Lambeth, ACC, Primates) would be dependent on those organizations own conditions. But a church could adapt the Covenant and apply by formal request for recognition by those instruments.
Great. Good. However, there is nothing in this section or elsewhere that precludes a church (say the Anglican Church in North America) from signing on to the Covenant and seeking recognition from those instruments. Then it would be up to the ACC to admit them to ACC, and the Archbishop of Canterbury as host (with perhaps close attention to the ACC list of churches) to invite them to Lambeth, and the Archbishop of Canterbury as host, or the Primates in one way or another, to invite them to the Primates meetings.
Right now there would be little chance of this happening, because although it is not spelled out in the Covenant there is at least some sense that the old standard of clear jurisdictions ought to hold. Further, it may be that the Covenant is really about churches as member national or regional churches in the Anglican Communion, aka Provinces.
Episcopal Cafe has noted however that one of the members of the Covenant Design Team, Ephriam Radner, has stated that the word "church" was kept vague so that it might cover a diocese or a church such as the Anglican Church in North America. This makes the problem of 4.1.5 all the more important.
The question becomes serious if, say, The Episcopal Church were to be at some point held at a distance on the basis of a decision by the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and ACC recommending to the "Instruments of Communion" that they do so. Then that same Joint Standing Committee might recommend that the petition from a new Church in the area be received positively.
The new draft is clear: the actions of the Joint Standing Committee, the Instruments of Communion, the Primates or even the ACC itself have no force within any Church member of the Anglican Communion. However, their recommendations would have considerable force in the Communion itself. So they could not call the Episcopal Church to account and force it to do something. But it could decide that TEC was no longer part of this or that Anglican Communion "instrument."
The notion that the Joint Standing Committee or any other agent of the Communion could entertain a petition from ACNA to join one or the other groups with in the Anglican Communion, when ACNA exists precisely because it believes that TEC is not "orthodox" is troublesome.
The draft is now in its final form, it appears. Rather than change it by additional revision, it would seem to me that the ACC and the Joint Standing Committee might provide statements of clarification - that "church" means "national or regional church" or "Province," and that the Communion will not recognize two churches who are not in full communion and covenant with one another in the same geographical jurisdiction.
There will be more such clarifications needed. I don't think this stops the Covenant. It means that we need to be clear as to what things mean and why.