Communion releases second draft covenant

Published March 1, 2008

Addressing concerns raised by several provinces, including Canada, about granting more authority to primates and other Instruments of Unity in the Anglican Communion, an international group has released a second draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant that maintains the body’s current structures.

The St. Andrew’s Draft, so-called because the Covenant Design Group met Jan. 28 to Feb. 2 at St. Andrew’s House in London, also offers “a much more carefully-drawn emphasis on provincial autonomy,” said Eileen Scully, co-ordinator for ministry and worship of the Anglican Church of Canada’s faith, worship and ministry department. Ms. Scully represented the Canadian church in the meeting.

But while underscoring the independence of provinces, a key section of the draft asks provinces to commit to a process by which they can settle disputes over matters that “threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission.”

It states that provinces must be “willing to receive from the Instruments of Communion a request to adopt a particular course of action in respect of the matter under dispute.”

(The Anglican Communion is served by four “instruments of communion”: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference of bishops, primates’ meetings and the Anglican Consultative Council.)

The draft notes that, “While the Instruments of Communion have no legislative, executive or judicial authority in our provinces … we recognize them as those bodies by which our common life in Christ is articulated and sustained, and which therefore carry a moral authority which commands our respect.” But it adds, “Any such request would not be binding on a church unless recognized as such by that church.”

The covenant stops short of saying what the consequences might be for a church that refuses to adopt any request, stating only that it constitutes “a relinquishment by that church of the force and meaning of the Covenant’s purpose.”

Ms. Scully acknowledged that this is “really difficult stuff because here is where we’re trying to uphold provincial autonomy and saying that we’re autonomous in Communion … What we set out to do is to offer processes with proper checks and balances that respect the realities of provinces and the Anglican Consultative Council and the limited powers of the primates as a collective, not corporate, body.”

During its meeting, the group reviewed submissions from 13 out of 38 provinces and six extra-provincial churches, plus “a large number of responses” from groups and individuals across the Communion.

The draft will be offered for reflection to the Lambeth Conference, the decennial meeting of bishops scheduled for July 16 to Aug. 3 in Canterbury, England, and to the broader communion, after which the design group will meet to prepare another draft. That version will then be sent to the Anglican Consultative Council and the primates’ meeting in March 2009 as well as the provinces. It could take more meetings and more drafts before a final document can be presented to provinces for approval, said Ms. Scully.

The establishment of a covenant was one of the key recommendations of the 2004 Windsor Report, a document published by the Lambeth Commission on Communion which was created by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to contain a schism in the Anglican Communion over the issue of sexuality.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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