The Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica is underway. At the end of the first day not much clarity has come regarding the fate of the Anglican Covenant draft currently under consideration.
Canon Kenneth Kearon has been quoted by several sources as noting something about the Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant having a "text mature enough to send on to the provinces."
The Anglican Journal, from Canada, records Canon Kearon as saying, “I think the Covenant Design Group thinks that it has done what it can with the text and feels that it is now mature enough to be handed out to the provinces,” added Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion. While it is up to the ACC to make a decision, “the hope is that the ACC will feel that it’s mature enough to go to the provinces,” said Mr. Kearon. “No instrument of the Communion is going to make a decision about the covenant, it’s up to the member churches in the Communion.”
He later makes this comment: “We’re not looking for a substantive majority – the covenant will only ever apply to those churches of the communion which decide (to sign on to it)."
The American Anglican Council reporters, Chris Sugden and Robert Lundy report, "The 14th meeting of the ACC will consider the Ridley Draft of the Anglican Communion Covenant, and make comments on it, but is not expected to make any alterations to the text. "The text is mature enough to send on to the provinces who will make the decisions," said Secretary General Kenneth Kearon at the opening press conference.
Canon Kearon confirmed that the covenant will only be operative for those churches which decide to sign on to it. However, he admitted that ACC-14 will need to decide whether it will be individual dioceses or provinces that will sign up to the Covenant."
So right out of the starting gate it appears,
(i) The Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant, while it may be commented upon, is not to be altered, but rather the decision will be made to either send it along to the churches as is, or not.
(ii) It is only operative for the churches who decide to sign on and does not imply that churches that do not sign on are not part of the Anglican Communion.
(iii) There is no substantive majority that would make it apply to the whole of the Communion.
(iv) What 'church' means will have to be decided by the ACC itself, although the list of the ACC itself is offered as a possible definition, with the four to six "peculiars" that are "extra provincial" considered as some sort of special case.
The emerging picture is thus the same old church within a church idea.
(a) There will be an Anglican Communion with levels or spheres or circles of engagement - those not part of the covenant community and those part of it. It would be up to the Instruments of Communion to decided which church or leader is on the list of each instrument.
(b) There is no tipping point easily discerned that spells the difference between being in or out of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Covenant is is about itself as an organizing principle. Which means it could become a new definition of a world wide Anglican community of churches, an Anglican Covenant Communion, if you will.
(c) The clincher is that this is not a constitution that requires ratification by existing churches but a covenant that is a new endeavor.
(d) The question of who can sign is thus a window into the wider issue, namely, the emergence of a new world wide body, the Anglican Covenant Communion, eventually replacing the old, the Anglican Communion.
ACC-14 thus has several primary tasks related to the Anglican Covenant:
If it accepts the proposal that the text can only be either sent on to the churches or tabled, then ACC-14 must state clearly just which entities it is to be sent to.
If the proposed text goes forward it must be accompanied by a document that spells out what the ACC understands by various sections and that document must have equal standing with the Draft itself, acting as it were as a bill of rights. The Draft as it stands has without doubt Constitutional and Canonical implications for all the churches involved. The implications are hidden behind the surface assertion of autonomy, but autonomy is of no importance here because a new and different "core" Anglican group, the Anglican Covenant Communion, is under consideration. ACC-14 cannot send this draft on to the churches hoping for approval without such an appended document.
The real problem - and it is devastating - is that by making this a matter for individual church "sign-up" rather than a substantive agreement among the churches of the Anglican Communion, the several circles of pan-Anglican engagement are confirmed. And that being so eventually those of us not part of the Anglican Covenant Communion will be in a separate ecclesial community from those who are.
The primary difference between the two communities is the matter of provisionality. Provisionality has two sides: On the one, Anglicanism has traditionally held that it's understandings of matters theological and moral are put forward with the provision that these understandings are provisional, awaiting the full revelation of the whole truth to the whole faith for all time. On the other, Anglicanism has held that the interpretation of received witness already accepted by the whole of the Christian faith (the content of the New Testament, the Creeds, the Sacraments) is also provisional, awaiting perfection as those interpretations more adequately reflect the intent of The Word of God that lies behid that witness.
The end result? The community of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion, a community in which there is some sense of provisionality as regards decisions made by any one of them, will continue. But there will be another Anglican worldwide body, the Anglican Covenant Communion, in which the limits to provisionality are much greater.
And of course there will be the third Anglican group which will have nothing to do with so loose a covenant and opt for a world wide church with specific Constitution and Canons. They, of course, will not be the core of the wider Anglican fellowship, but an offshoot, no longer Anglican at all. This is because Anglicanism without provisionality is either Geneva or Rome writ small.
The question of the maturity of the Anglican Covenant is this: Is the text of the Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant such that it can, with appropriate codicils, be received and assented to by a sufficient number of provinces of the Anglican Communion to push the matter to a constitutional level? If not, then the Anglican Covenant is a sham: it becomes immediately divisive. If not it becomes a means of separating sheep from goats.
ACC-14 cannot in good conscience claim the Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant a "mature" document. Perhaps with a carefully drawn up codicil it can become a combination of the Lambeth Quadrilateral, two additional parts concerning liturgy and mission and the five marks of mission, making a total of eleven points of agreement. These eleven might make it as signs of what it means to be Anglican. All that end matter - the Instruments of Communion, the Joint Standing Committee, the role of the JSC and such are straw laid down so that we might not see that these things lead to the very two-tiered Anglican system dreamed up by the ecclesiastical bureaucrats and oligarchs that gave us this mess to start off with.
ACC-14 representatives: Stay awake!