December 24, 2009

Communion Transparency

The Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) posted an essay two days ago about the adoption process for the Anglican covenant. “Committing to the Anglican Covenant” pointed out something that had escaped my attention but that is only tangentially related to the adoption process proper, namely, the mechanism by which a church becomes a part of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC).

The ACC has a constitution that contains a schedule of ACC members and that specifies how many people (and of what orders) each church may send to ACC meetings. (The Episcopal Church gets one bishop, one priest, and one layperson.) Paragraph 3a of the constitution sets out how a church is added to the ACC:
The Council shall be constituted with a membership according to the schedule hereto. With the assent of two-thirds of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, the council may alter or add to the schedule. “Primates,” for the purposes of this article, shall mean the principle [sic] Archbishop, bishop, or Primates of each of the bodies listed in paragraphs b,c and d of the schedule of membership.
The ACI noted blandly that “these procedures have apparently changed recently, although they have not been announced publicly.” The evidence for such a change is the following paragraph from Canon Kenneth Kearon’s letter transmitting the final covenant draft to the Anglican provinces:
Section 4.1.5 of the Covenant refers to the ‘procedures as set out by the Anglican Consultative Council for the amendment of its schedule of membership’. These procedures are to be found in the Articles of Association of the Anglican Consultative Council 2.2, which state ‘..with the assent of two-thirds of the Primates of the Anglican Communion (which shall be deemed to have been received if not withheld in writing within four months from the date of notification) the Standing Committee may alter or add to the Schedule’.
I have never heard of the ACC’s Articles of Association, and, apparently, the ACI hasn’t either. If there has been a change in how the ACC operates, why have we not been told about it, particularly in light of the fact that the last meeting of the ACC was way back in May? (There appears to be no ACC Articles of Association on the Web.)

A little investigation has not shed much light on the situation. I contacted two members of the Episcopal News Service staff, who were as clueless about Canon Kearon’s letter as I was. I have made other inquiries, but, its being Christmas Eve, I’m not expecting immediate (if any) responses. I have, however, uncovered a few interesting facts:
  1. The creation of the ACC was recommended by the 1968 Lambeth Conference in its Resolution 69. The resolution mentions a constitution, but not Articles of Association.
  2. Among the published resolutions of ACC-14 (the most recent ACC meeting), there is no mention of ACC Articles of Association.
  3. Among the ACC-14 resolutions is, however, the following:

  4. Resolved, 12.05.09 [May 12, 2009]

    The Anglican Consultative Council

    1. notes that the former “Joint Standing Committee” is named as the “Standing Committee” under the new constitution;
    2. amends the resolutions of this Anglican Consultative Council meeting so that the title “Joint Standing Committee” is replaced with the title “Standing Committee” wherever appropriate.
  5. Nowhere else among the ACC-14 resolutions is “constitution” or “new constitution” mentioned.


Yesterday, Adrian Worsfold, writing at Daily Episcopalian, likened the new Standing Committee to the Soviet Politburo, in that it has (or is assuming) broad powers and meets in secret. Not only is the operation of the Standing Committee not transparent, however, but even the workings of the ACC, the most representative and accessible “Instrument,” may also be, in important respects, opaque. What is the “new constitution” referred to in the ACC-14 resolution? Is it the “Articles of Association?” And what is the significance of the mysterious “2.2” in Canon Kearon’s letter? It suggests that the Articles of Association of the ACC are not new at all! The big question, of course, is whether the very rules under which the ACC operates are secret.

Many were disconcerted when the Standing Committee first referred to itself as the “Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion,” suggesting an importance we did not think it had. The resolution renaming the “Joint Standing Committee” does not append “of the Anglican Communion” to the committee name. In fact, the committee had generally been known, rather helpfully, as the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting. In light of the resolution apparently passed by the ACC—I am beginning to doubt the literal truth of anything coming out of the Anglican Communion Office—perhaps the committee is now the “Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting.”

I cannot help noting something interesting about the creation of the ACC. Its advent was certainly an important milestone in the life of the Anglican Communion, though it would be hard credibly to argue that its long-term effect on the nature of the Communion is likely to be greater than that of the Anglican covenant, should the covenant be adopted. 1968 The Lambeth Conference resolution endorsing the ACC idea begins as follows:
The Conference accepts and endorses the appended proposals concerning the Anglican Consultative Council and its Constitution and submits them to the member Churches of the Anglican Communion for approval. Approval shall be by a two-thirds majority of the member Churches and shall be signified to the Secretary of the Lambeth Consultative Body not later than 31 October 1969.
Contrast this with the method by which the Anglican covenant (now referred to on the Anglican Communion Web site as “The Anglican Communion Covenant”) is to be adopted:
(4.1.6) This Covenant becomes active for a Church when that Church adopts the Covenant through the procedures of its own Constitution and Canons.
Rather an easier path to adoption, I should think. (The new way of adding members to the ACC also greases the path to approval, in that case by counting the absence of a vote against as a vote for, a notion contrary to Episcopal Church practice, except possibly in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.) It is also a path that is neither democratic nor sensible. What will it mean, for example, when only a single province adopts the covenant. (Someone has to be first.) Can that province bring complaints against other provinces and expect them to be adjudicated as specified in the covenant? The possibilities bear thinking about.

If I were not convinced before, I am surely convinced now that the covenant process (and perhaps the operation of the entire Anglican Communion bureaucracy) is opaque, manipulative, and disingenuous. It is past time to ask if we want to be party to the Anglican covenant. It is time to ask if we want to be part of the Anglican Communion itself.

No Anglican Covenant


  1. I just made similar comments on Fr. Haller's blog.

  2. There certainly appears to be something fishy going on, but it is almost impossible to tell what. I have said all along, from the time of the Windsor report until now that there is far to much of the "making it up as we go along" quality to the whole affair; as I said in "Communionism and Adhocracy," in 2007: "The ... Covenant stresses accountability ... but makes no clear statement as to the basis or the substance of that accountability.... The whole affair at present cannot be treated as an abstract exercise about developing a form of inter-provincial governance for Anglicans, either as if we didn't already have one (minimal as it is), or that this was just an exercise arising out of having nothing else to do. On the contrary, this is a massive exercise in adhocracy, and until the veil on tha is lifted and the real issue confronted, all the rest will be of no use. The Windsor Report took a dishonest view of the ordination of women (which can be seen as a far, far greater innovation and 'threat' to communion than the events in New Hampshire or New Westminster, since it necessarily and actually creates an obstacle to mutual recognition of ministers, which as 'Called to Common Mission' shows, is a cornerstone of communion)."

    These recent stages of "affirming" devices and desires is if real is troubling (such as "the mind / teaching of the Communion") and it begins to appear to be as bad as the Big Lie technique favored in the very worst secular political regimes.

    I weep for the loss of the Anglican Commun=


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