The no longer hidden agenda of the Anglican Covenant

By Adrian Worsfold

I was always told by my academic tutors, and when employed in the role I tell students that there is no virtue whatsoever in length of an essay beyond giving the argument.

This advice seems to have been missed by the academics who promote the Anglican Covenant. We have seen it in the Anglican Communion Institute, and now we see it with the latest offering by Michael Poon of Singapore.

The idea seems to be, however, that if they write in huge length there is a sort of gravity effect towards their new or parallel universe of alternative Anglicanism.

This reminds me of the Large Hadron Collidor, that as it goes beyond its achievement of 3.48 trillion electron volts it could possibly give indication of another parallel universe very close to our own, where dark energy comes through with its influence felt here through its gravitational pull.

If we start at these Michael Poon paragraphs:

66. The Anglican Covenant is an invitation to the particular Churches to be the Anglican Communion as one ecclesial body.

67. In so doing, the Anglican Communion sets a concrete model of a Christian World Communion that is formed in and out of particular Churches worldwide.

We see again, however, the attempt not at continuity but at an innovation, that is to make the Anglican Communion an Anglican Church.

54. Here we come to see why the Anglican Covenant is important. It provides a canonical structure that unites the Churches of the Communion to be “Church”.

His argument says that this joining up should be done from the perspective of time not space, using a comment of the Orthodox.

63. The four Sections of the Anglican Covenant spell out the canonical structure of the Anglican Communion…. The unity between particular Churches does not merely come about with inter-Anglican agreements “in space” (to borrow the phrase that the Orthodox Church used in their response to the New Delhi Statement on Unity 1961.)

But this ignores the fact that back in time, in those Anglcian origins, the mother Anglican Church specifically rejected governance from outside. So have other Anglican Churches, doubly so in the American Church having origins in a Scottish Episcopal bishop. That was the Anglican origin. Now sometimes there is congregationalism, in which every congregation is independent; there is Roman Catholicism, which is centralised; and there is Orthodoxy, in which there is autocephalous organisation yet where division is regarded as schism through time; but there is also Anglican organisation, in which international bodies were simply bases of friendly consultation and exchange and not instruments of governance. The Churches of governance are in each land.

He wants to change instruments of friendly exchange into instruments of governance.

8. …the four existing instruments …must be authorised structures that arise from the inner being of ecclesial life, and so would enable the Church to make concrete ecclesial decisions that lead to concrete and efficacious ecclesial actions. The four existing instruments need to find their proper place within such canonical structure.

59. The Anglican Covenant provides the canonical structure that constitutes the particular Churches to be a confident Communion of Churches.

What is happening is that people are fighting over the meaning of the Anglican Covenant. For some, it is another invitation to be together on the old model. For others it is a means of disciplining. For Poon, it is more than that, a formation of a worldwide Church. The essays are getting longer and longer as they try to indicate ‘authority’ for their innovations.

The danger of signing up to the Covenant is that you think you might make up or join into one thing, and end up being in another. The Covenant is itself divisive, and any Church seeking to maintain an Anglicanism as it is would better find other means to deepen relationships without enforcing new international governance.

Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.

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