For my non-Anglican readers, we Anglicans have been agonizing over whether it would be a good idea to support a covenant that would give more structure and discipline to world-wide Anglicanism, essentially creating a world-wide church. The third draft of such a covenant has been issued and will be discussed by a world-wide gathering of bishops this summer at their once every ten years Lambeth Conference. What follows are my thoughts on the matter, complete with terms and acronyms that will be a mystery to you.
One of the arguments against any sort of Anglican covenant is that the Communion has never been anything but a fellowship with no central governing authority and passionately protected provincial autonomy. Having reviewed the resolutions of the last thirteen Lambeth Conferences I now believe that that understanding of the nature of the Communion is more myth than reality. There was a movement from the very beginning to discover and articulate what it is that binds us together as Anglicans. At first it was the centrality of a single BCP that bound together the English Speaking Races, but it quickly moved toward the vague understanding that bishops gathered in convocation could somehow exercise a collective authority over the whole Communion. The development of the idea that Primates should meet more often added strength to that direction. In time the idea mutated into something more democratic through the development of the ACC as a body representing bishops, other clergy and the laity, a request that primates be consulted on the “election” of the next ABC, and a request that Lambeth be held outside England from time to time. It’s not as if any of this was planned. With Lambeth held only once every ten years or so there was always a new crop of bishops who carried little of the baggage of their predecessors. Rather, I think, it is the natural maturation of an Anglican movement toward an Anglican Church. The process is a normal one.
Consider America’s movement from independent colonies to states bound by Articles of Confederation to a nation under a Constitution. In a less orderly way we have seen the slow movement of the role of Presiding Bishop gravitate in a direction that more firmly binds the diocese of the Episcopal Church together. Even at the local level we recognize that the church cannot be an effective steward of its ministry without constitutions and canons. Moreover, we are not, nor have we ever been, congregationalists. Rather than opposing any form of Anglican Covenant, I’m inclined to favor using all our collective skills to get the kind of covenant we desire because I think a covenant, by whatever name, is inevitable.