Canterbury writes a letter. It is Advent after all.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has written an Advent letter in which he maintains (rightly) and at some length that "communion matters."  Of course it does. He points to several important occasions in the life of the Anglican Communion where the various "instruments" of the Communion have been encouraging to Anglicans "on the ground" who have been bearing the load in the heat of the day.

That "Communion matters" does not, however, lead to the next bit of his exposition, namely that because Communion matters we need the Anglican Covenant.  There have been several excellent commentaries on that proposition, and I urge you read them.

Of particular interest to those of us concerned about the current "troubles" in the Anglican Communion are the Archbishop's reflections beginning at section 6 of his letter. In section 7 and 8 he outlines his argument for the Anglican Covenant. Here is section 7 and portions of 8  reformatted as an argument:

(Argument against the Covenant) 

In spite of many assurances, some Anglicans evidently still think that the Covenant changes the structure of our Communion or that it gives some sort of absolute power of ‘excommunication’ to some undemocratic or unrepresentative body.  

(Argument for the Covenant)  

With all respect to those who have raised these concerns, I must repeat that I do not see the Covenant in this light at all. 

(1)  It sets out an understanding of our common life and common faith and in the light of that proposes making a mutual promise to consult and attend to each other, freely undertaken. 

(2) It recognizes that not doing this damages our relations profoundly.  

(3) It outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled. 

(4) It alters no Province’s constitution, as it has no canonical force independent of the life of the Provinces. 

(5) It does not create some unaccountable and remote new authority but seeks to identify a representative group that might exercise a crucial advisory function.  

(challenge to the argument against to provide a better response to the issues) 

(6) I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. 

(the argument against the Covenant fails to provide such alternatives) 

(7) In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future.

(in section 8 he offers two additional arguments)

These questions are made all the more sharp by the fact that the repeated requests for moratoria on problematic actions issued by various representative Anglican bodies are increasingly ignored.  ...The question remains: 

(8)  if the moratoria are ignored and the Covenant suspected, what are the means by which we maintain some theological coherence as a Communion and some personal respect and understanding as a fellowship of people seeking to serve Christ? 

(9) And we should bear in mind that our coherence as a Communion is also a significant concern in relation to other Christian bodies – especially at a moment when the renewed dialogues with Roman Catholics and Orthodox have begun with great enthusiasm and a very constructive spirit.

The Archbishop then moved on to support his argument by additional observations which reflect rather more strident feelings. First he suggests that the unwillingness to address these questions by adopting the Anglican Covenant might be related to the "old habits in our lives, the "works of darkness."( Just a note: I strongly dislike having objection to the Anglican Covenant connected to "works of darkness." and old habits in our lives.)

(section 9) "... we Christians all have to acknowledge that in many ways we still live as if Christ had not come.  We recognize the marks of the old habits in our lives, the ‘works of darkness’ that the Collect* speaks of."

Then the Archbishop opines about "authentically biblical" churches and suggests  that those who in one way or another have strayed from the Covenant path  fail the test and are "imperfectly biblical churches."

  (section 10.)    (the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James or ‘Authorized’ Version) ... has focused for me yet again the question of what a Church looks like that is authentically biblical.  

(a)  It is clear enough that Christian communities that are vague or lukewarm about the unique miracle of the Word made flesh once and for all in Jesus of Nazareth, and about the revolutionary demands this makes on individual lives and relationships, are imperfectly biblical churches.  

(b) But we should remember too that Christian communities which consistently believe the worst of others who bear the name of Christ and attack or undermine them are also very imperfectly biblical. 

The Archbishop suggests that the "real foundation of a biblical church life" is in communion (in covenant?):

(c) Our shared willingness to give thanks to God together for the inexpressible gift of the Word made flesh once and for all is the real foundation of a biblical church life, turning our attention away from ourselves towards our gracious Lord.     

He polishes off his argument by a return to an earlier theme, the risk of saying "I have no need of you." Churches that don't remember that we need one another are "imperfect churches," and we all live in such churches.

(section 11._    ...Throughout the time of my service as Archbishop I have tried to keep before my own eyes and those of the Communion the warnings given by St Paul about the risks of saying ‘I have no need of you’ to any other who seeks to serve Jesus Christ as a member of His Body.  I make no apology for repeating this point.  Advent is a good time to recall that we all live in imperfect churches, that we all must draw together in hope for the fuller presence of Our Lord, and that we all therefore must be willing to receive from each other whatever gifts God has to give through them. 

 The Archbishop is a fine thinker and his argument is tight enough to where the best place to explore alternatives is to be found in his way of viewing "the problem" churches and their problems with The Anglican Covenant.  (There are perhaps interesting points of debate along the way regarding his argument, but that is for another day.)

He says of the "opposition" in his argument:

"Some Anglicans evidently still think that the Covenant changes the structure of our Communion or that it gives some sort of absolute power of ‘excommunication’ to some undemocratic or unrepresentative body."

Well, that's true enough. "Some" Anglicans think all sorts of things about the Covenant.  However he doesn't seem to get it that some Anglicans (and perhaps some Anglican Churches (Provinces)) see the structure which is surely there in sections 3 and 4, as the descriptive product of structural changes already made precisely so that the Anglican Covenant would have the means to limit involvement of disobedient and self willed Provinces in the life of the Communion.  

The Covenant is not an agreement about what we will do, it is an agreement to abide by what has already been put in place.  It is a Covenant between Master and Servant, between owner and tenant.  It is not a covenant between equals, but a covenant between Provinces (parts of the Anglican Communion ) and the Anglican Communion.

It was a great mistake to call the churches of the Anglican Communion "Provinces." It set out from the beginning the notion that we are subsets of some larger thing. But the Churches of the Anglican Communion do not belong (at least now) to "The Anglican Communion", they ARE the Anglican Communion. 

The objection to the Anglican Covenant is that it is not (yet) the constitution of a world wide Church, but it will have the effect of a start towards one.

Maybe the Anglican Communion needs indeed to be an Advent sort of body - but we don't need heavy armor, the armor of light is, well, light. The Anglican   Covenant is heavy. 



  1. I agree that calling the churches of the Communion "Provinces" has not been at all helpful. While I am not at all sure that the Covenant would begin us on a road to becoming a worldwide church, I think that it would do nothing to change the culture of complaint in the Communion. I suspect the tone of the Archbishop's letter reflects his own sense that the Covenant will not be adopted by any significant number of the churches of the Communion. He has, sadly, put too much faith in a very flawed document.

  2. I find the ABC continually intellectually dishonest. He claims that the Covenant proposes no changes to the structure of the Communion, however as is pointed out by Father Haller on his blog, it was the ABC personally who introduced the concept of a 2 track or 2 tired Communion if individual provinces failed to fall in line. That to me represents a change in the structure of the Communion were it to be the relational consequences threatened should we fail to achieve uniformity.

  3. The Archbishop of Canterbury has lost all perspective (and, I would suggest, integrity) in his monomaniacal pursuit of the Anglican Covenant. Rowan Williams has become an Anglican Captain Ahab.

  4. It would NOT be a good idea for TEC to sign onto this covenant. The covenant would get in the way of its innovative genius and its sense of itself as having special 'charisms' (on SSBs, on baptismal covenants, etc).

    The question that leaves open is how far TEC will demand that all go along with it on these matters and this self-perception -- especially at the diocesan level. At present, several dioceses view TEC as threatening or really at odds with its own constitution (where do the canons or constitution permit +MA to hold marriage services or even blessings?)

    What +SC has done has carved out space for itself to maintain the faith and order of the present constitution. So too Dallas, CFL, W-TX, W-LA and others. These dioceses like and prefer covenantal accountability. They can be written off as deluded by others, but that is their own preference for Episcopal life in this country, and they hold it to be the TEC they are a part of.

    Obviously TEC will not let them sign a healthy covenant, if such were to emerge, perhaps if 20 provinces were ever to adopt, including the CofE. But the nearer question may now be: how to remain a diocese in TEC and hold to the values and constraints the covenant sought to uphold? That someone like Lionel D judges the covenant an evil instrument is not in question here. He is free to lobby for his view and indeed see it enshrined.

    What about those dioceses that will not go this direction and indeed cannot? What fate is in store for them?

    I suspect that is the next hard question to be faced.


  5. "Healthy Covenant"? Still living in our imaginary world? Smart money is currently on the Church of England's rejecting the "Covenant", though you can bet your life that cajoling, arm twisting and emotional blackmail, of which this is an opening shot, are in the immediate future, so who knows? If they reject, then what? The C of E will cease to be Anglican, maybe?

  6. So, here's a question for you all: If the communion matters - and it does, of course, if not the Covenant, then WHAT?

    How do we answer Rowan's point:

    I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity.

  7. I find interesting the idea that dioceses in TEC that are committed to covenantal relationships are free to violate the covenantal relationship that already exists within TEC, i.e., disobeying canons they don't like.

  8. I like Elizabeth Kaeton's//++Rowan's question.

  9. Madre Elizabeth, I think that Rowan's question is a setup for failure. There is nothing that will answer that question aside from living as deeply as we each possibly can into our own baptismal covenant. The history of Christianity is a 2000 year history of the conflict of Christianity with itself. There has never been a time of peace and harmony within the Church. Every marker in the Church's history, from the very first years of the Apostolic Church, is conflict. You cannot point to any communion or denomination on the planet today that is not involved in either an external conflict with another church or the internal conflicts of warring factions within the church and many, both at the same time. Are we so arrogant as to fool ourselves into believing that we are any different?

  10. Fr Weir

    Are you speaking of the Diocese of Massachussetts?

    Which dioceses did you have in mind that are ignoring the Constitution/or Canons (when they are not in conflict)?

    Thank you.


  11. From what I’ve been reading in other denominations and looking at the political climate around the world it seems to me that we are heading toward still more polarization and separation.

    The American Catholic Council is setting itself up as opposition to Rome’s heavy-handedness and some are calling it an impending schism between the traditionalists, Vatican II adherents, and liberal RC’s.

    The United Methodists are heading towards a split, as are the Presbyterians, USA. There are many others, of course.

    Apparently we’ve come to a point in human history where conservatives cannot live with liberals, which I use as a convenience label for a very complex phenomenon. The treatment of GLBT Christians has been a convenient rallying point but the fault lines run far deeper and evince a far greater ideological split. Reform Ireland actually spells out what many other conservative Christians dance around -- we seem to be worshipping 2 different Gods with 2 different gospels.

    What God thinks about this and where the Holy Spirit leads on this remains to be seen but I think that Christianity is undergoing a massive sea change that is inevitable, unstoppable, and necessarily painful.

    WV: hydra

    The church has been a many-headed hydra since its inception, as Brother David pointed out. Cut off one denominational head and 2 more spring up to replace it. Not a good selling point for a religion that boasts of bringing peace, love, and eternal joy, is it?

    But I trust in God to do what God does. God’s will is done ultimately and always despite our factions.

  12. Msgr, I am sorry that I was not clear, but I thought that since you mentioned dioceses committed to covenantal relationships you might have understood that I was wondering why that commitent in SC, for example, did not appear to include a commitment to upholding the canons of TEC regarding real property. As to your mention of the Diocese of Massachusetts, I think Bp Shaw's permitting clergy to officiate at the marriages of people of the same sex is in compliance with a resolution of the General Convention.

  13. You don't seem overly committed. SC 'did not appear' to do something...

    Since when is the BCP not the standard for our liturgical life and also a constitutional document? It has NO allowance for marriage imitation rites. Its rubrics are crystal clear. +MA manifestly acted against the C/C of TEC.

    Is 'Open Communion' likewise not manifestly uncanonical? Read the BCP. Study the canons.

    I understood your question. I thought it was a masterful example of the present chaos. SC has broken no canons and it has an accession to the constitution.


  14. Brother David - It may be a set up, as Newt Gingrich is setting up the Left to go wackadoodles over his "let's put high school kids to work as janitors after school. Teach 'em all about the dignity of work".

    That being said, I think a reasoned, responsible answer to his question would go a long way to helping defeat the Anglican Covenant - which is already limping toward extinction - which is why the ABC is fighting so hard for it.

    If we don't deal with this question, then we will get sidelined, as Msg. has already tried to do, in questions which lie at the heart of the narcissism of the diocese of South Carolina.

    So, here's my shot: Instead of an Anglican Covenant, why not invest the time, effort, resources and yes, money, in "intergenerational, intercontinental gospel mission". I can't think of anything that would improve the "ties that bind us" than putting people to work in various places around the globe - the US included - that would put aside all our silly squabbles than doing the work of mission.

    I know. Silly me. Such a dreamer. Must be one of those Episcopal Women Clergy (Can't say 'priest' and 'women' in the same sentence. Might scare some of the horses).

    No, seriously. Instead of investing in rules and laws, how about investing in mission and ministry? And, relationships. And, community?

    It's not as easy as it seems but it's not as hard as it looks.

    And, I think, it's infinitely better than a "covenant" which is really a "contract". And, it's much, much better than getting any further with the narcissism of SC or the further splintering of the AMiA and now, some churches in the "former" Episcopal - now "Anglican" diocese of Ft Worth leaving nose-bleed high Iker for Rome.

    I'm tired of hearing about dead - and dying - wood. Let's talk solutions that lead us to new life in Christ Jesus.

  15. Sister Kaeton, Tobias Haller makes some suggestions at http://jintoku.blogspot.com/2011/11/noises-off.html. He offers four, none of which require structures that would attempt to force "resolution." Indeed, he leaves out a fifth: circulating the Covenant as is but without Section 4. I know that the first three sections aren't without difficulties, but they would be widely acceptable, even within the Episcopal Church.

  16. Thanks, Brother Marshall. I will check him out. I love most anything Brother Tobias writes.

  17. One wonders whether non-GAFCON Provinces would be prepared to sign on to a Covenant without Section 4? We do know that GAFCON Provinces, having expressed their disdain for filial relationship with any forward-looking Church of the Communion anyway, would likely not sign up. But would that be the end of Anglicanism? I think not!

    Perhaps we Anglicans could go back to the idea of The Church in situ.

  18. One wonders whether non-GAFCON Provinces would be prepared to sign on to a Covenant without Section 4? We do know that GAFCON Provinces, having expressed their disdain for filial relationship with any forward-looking Church of the Communion anyway, would likely not sign up. But would that be the end of Anglicanism? I think not!

    Perhaps we Anglicans could go back to the idea of The Church in situ.

  19. As I read the anti-Covenant responses, it seems that they seem to be saying that the Communion is not so broken that it needs to be fixed: an attitude of, "Things are fine; the Covenant would just mess things up."

    I see our Anglican Communion as broken, fractured, splintered. Is it reparable? I do not know. But the trajectory of where our Communion is headed is not good.

    While I appreciate msgr's question about what will those dioceses do that want to live in a covenantal relationship with the larger Communion is an important question, I am more concerned about the continued fracturing of the Anglican Communion.

    Recall that nearly one third of the dioceses did not attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference; two legitimately elected bishops were not invited (New Hampshire and Recife); and a significant number of primates failed to attend the most recent Primates' meeting. Things are not okay in our Anglican Communion. We are on a trajectory of even greater fracturing.

    Does this fracturing need to be healed? I think so.

    Some may say, "Well, the solution is for everyone to return to Lambeth and the Primates' meeting, and not continue cross-boundary violations." Others will say, "Well, the solution is for the Americans to refrain from blessing same-sex unions and not allow gay-partnered bishops." This is the same old standoff. The reality is that we are fractured as a Communion as a result of this standoff, and the Communion has no means to heal itself other with the result that people are left to go their own way who don't like the way things are.

    So, the further question is, what will the Anglican Communion look like in twenty years without a Covenant to hold us together. Is a fractured Communion what we have to look forward to? Absent some self-intervention, I fear so.

  20. I agree that relationships within the Communion need healing, but I am not at all convinced that the Covenant is the most likely way to bring that about. In fact, I think that it would just as likely make things worse. Relationships get better when people are willing to spend time together and Elizabeth's suggestion is a good one.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.