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Countdown To The Chains Of The Anglican Covenant

If the (well-intentioned) Archbishop of Canterbury were to have his way, the Anglican Covenant would, over the next few years, encircle the globe in chains.

However, there are unmistakable signs of rebellion, and it is beginning to look as if the select – extremely  select  –  group of signatories to the Covenant would fit on the head of a pin, leaving the great majority of Anglican Communion Provinces outside the inner circle of ‘true believers’.

In these circumstances, you might think the obvious course is to tear up the Covenant, while admitting that any document of 5,123 words and eleven A4 pages is unworkable as a worldwide definition of Anglicanism, quite apart from several unpalatable clauses in the small print. But what may be obvious to you and me appears not to be obvious to the powers that be.


Drinking in the last chance saloon

A nightmare* scenario is unfolding in England, home of the Anglican Communion. Although Provinces are not being asked to decide on the issue until 2015, Lambeth Palace is trying to ensure that General Synod votes on it as soon as possible (probably in 2012). Arms are being twisted to see to it that the Church of England signs on the dotted line, in the forlorn hope that the rest of the Communion will then follow suit.

This means that ordinary members of the Church of England (like me and perhaps you?), who are opposed to the provisions of the Covenant, need to make our voices heard as swiftly and as loudly as possible. You can try doing this through deanery synods, diocesan synods and so on. Or you could look for your diocesan representatives at General Synod for 2010-2015. But there is also another possibility.


Rousing the people of England as a whole

Unlike in other Provinces, the Church of England is the established Church: the Queen is Supreme Governor, some bishops sit in the House of Lords, and marriage by the Church of England is itself valid so far as the state is concerned, with no further licence required. The Church is part of the warp and weft of the fabric of our nation.

The population of England is about 52 million. Of these about 1.7 million attend church services once a month. So about 50 million people are therefore ‘passive’ church members, members of other denominations or faiths, agnostics or atheists.

Our task is to persuade as many as possible of these people that, although the day to day running of the Church of England may be a matter of indifference to them, because of the Church’s unique position its constitution forms part of the constitution of our nation.


What is the ‘British way of life’?

The political commentator, Sir Robin Day, wrote in his memoirs:

“in this country…our reasoning is tempered with humanity, moderated by fairness, based on truth, imbued with the Christian ethic, applied with commonsense, and upheld by law…there can be no place for absolutes, no place for theories which must be rigidly adhered to, no place for dogmas which must be defended to the death…there should be no principle which is too important to be reconsidered for the sake of others, no interest which cannot make some sacrifice for the common good. Equanimity is preferred to hysteria. Experience is a wiser guide than doctrine. Absolutes are alien to us…Such a constitution… can only work with the accompaniment of the conventions, traditions, customs, compromises, voluntary restraints and the national sense of fair play, all of which go to make up the Reasonable Society.”

Whereas Elizabeth I sought ‘not to make windows into men’s souls’, setting a precedent for the last 400 years of Anglicanism, the Church of which Elizabeth II is now supreme governor is seeking to do just that. The Queen is being asked, while monarch of a nation which now bans discrimination against homosexuals, to become supreme governor of a state Church which for the first time codifies such discrimination: she would then embody this dichotomy at the heart of our body politic.

Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of ‘the English way’

We are not asking for money but we do very much need your help to:

  • Write to as many people as possible to inform them of this threat, particularly
    • Journalists (newspapers, political weeklies)
    • Broadcasters (television and radio)
    • Academics (especially historians)
    • Members of both houses of parliament
    • Other members of ‘the chattering classes’.

    Will you

    • Tell everyone you meet – starting with your friends and relations
    • Give us ideas for campaigning, probably until July 2012
    • Offer IT/Social Media help: setting up and maintaining Facebook page? Twitter?

If you can help, please either respond in the comments section below or contact me at laurasykes{at}layanglicana{dot}org. Many thanks in advance!


Background on the Anglican Covenant

*There is no space here to explain why we describe the adoption of the Anglican Covenant as a nightmare scenario. You may like to explore further at these websites:

For those of you who prefer the visual approach, I strongly recommend the series of videos made by MrCatolick and available on YouTube. For example:

The Anglican Covenant 4 November 2010 2.54 minutes

Anglican Covenant tactics for General Synod 20 November 2010 1.54 minutes

Some thoughts on the Anglican Covenant 4 February 2011 7.08 minutes

He also provides a summary of his view of Anglican Covenant developments over the last year, seen from the point of view of someone who understands General Synod in and out.


Previous posts on this blog are here, here, here, here and here.



The photograph is ‘the earth chained and isolated’ by Andresr via Shutterstock.




26 comments on this post:

Stephen said...

Laura – agree 100% and very willing to lend my (small) weight to the campaign. You have performed a service by bringing this into sharper focus, and by providing “tools” for the job.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for the support, Stephen. Shall look forward to picking your brains!

10 November 2011 07:30
09 November 2011 10:27
UKViewer said...

Time to rattle a few cages. I’ll be talking to those going to diocesan synod, as it’s due to be debated early next year.

Perhaps we need a lapel badge NO COVENANT.

Lay Anglicana said...

The lapel badge idea is a good one – I know that the No Anglican Covenant Coalition do a T-shirt, but the badge is more versatile. Let’s talk about it.
I like the idea of rattling synodical cages!

Alan Crawley said...

There already is one – Lionel made them in the same image as the web site banner, and lots more too! Scroll down for badges

Lay Anglicana said...

Thanks Alan – I should have checked first!

10 November 2011 08:13
10 November 2011 08:07
10 November 2011 07:32
09 November 2011 12:55

Thanks you, Laura. You do us all a great service in pointing to the un-Anglican nature of the Anglican ¨punitive¨ Covenant…I join many in Central America who thank you and your associates who continue to work hard helping us from becoming ¨second rate¨ Anglicans in Latin America…most of us believe in Comprehensive Unity throughout the Anglican Communion.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much, Leonardo.
I expect you have seen Tobias Haller’s brilliant metaphor, but I am going to quote it here for others who have not:

One problem with the Anglican Covenant Process is not so much that it is a case of closing the barn doors after the horses have bolted. Rather, it is like proposing to engage in a process to consider building a barn after the horses have bolted.
We have never had a barn. We don’t need a barn. We have the field and hills before us, ripe for the galloping mission of God.

He has such a knack of summing things up in one pithy sentence!

We really need the moral support of our amigos americanos to try and stop this thing in its tracks here in England. The thought that the Church of England might be the only signatory in the end is just appalling!

10 November 2011 07:39
09 November 2011 16:46

As a non-conformist, I would of course say, go for it, Laura! Hope people use the tools

Lay Anglicana said...

Great to have your support, Dave! The problem with the expression ‘non-conformist’ is that it implies Anglicans are otherwise conformists. Many of them may be, but what are the ones with ‘Revolution!’ stamped all through them like Brighton Rock supposed to do?

And I think I’m not going to let you off the hook that lightly. Non-conformist you may be. Australian you may be. But if you live here, it’s your problem too!

10 November 2011 07:42
10 November 2011 07:09
Richard Haggis said...

All good stuff! When I used to teach ethics to trainee vicars (just one weekend in their course, which might perhaps explain why so many understand it so little) I started by explaining that ethics is “second order” theology. The same is true of ecclesiology, which has the added disadvantage of being extremely boring. So, to fall out over either of them is a bit like deciding not to buy a house because you don’t like the present occupants’ furniture. Anglicanism is not a church but a way of doing theology. And the “Anglican Communion” ceases to exist whenever anyone refuses to take communion with someone else. The BCP communion service is very clear on this. Peter Akinola is not in communion with me, but I will go to the altar with him. I am the Anglican, he the schismatic. There is no getting away from this definition.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Richard. It is useful for us to have it spelt out too – your example of Bishop Peter Akinola makes it clear what it means.

It also makes very clear why the Covenant is a nonsensical enterprise – as you say, why decide not to buy a house because you don’t like the present occupants’ furniture?!

Richard Haggis said...

By the way, that was not a throwaway snipe, I really did write to Archbishop Akinola, and that is what his flunky wrote back to me. When I told Rowan Williams this he said “I know it’s more personal for you, but if it’s any consolation, I don’t think he’s in communion with me, either”!

10 November 2011 23:31
10 November 2011 09:48
10 November 2011 08:29
@drgeorgemorley said...

Presumably it would also be helpful if church-goers who are against the Covenant said so to those who will have a vote in GS. In which case, you could helpfully post guidelines to finding out who, in your patch, gets to vote, and the best way to make contact on the issue. The actual voting fraternity are, after all, key here, and worth some focussed canvassing.

Lay Anglicana said...

As you say, the way to exert pressure on those voting in deanery and diocesan synods to take the views of church-goers into account would be to contact them directly. I do suggest this as one possible way, and it would work in cases where people know who their diocesan and deanery synod representatives are.
But, and here is the Church of England version of Catch 22, it is not easy to find out who the members of these synods are. In Winchester, for example, there are no names on the diocesan website for membership of deanery or diocesan synods and, when my husband ceased to be a church warden, he had to return his diocesan directory.
You would have to start with your parish/benefice representatives on the deanery synod, but my sense is that the Church does not actually wish to foster the degree of democracy that the structure of the governance of the Church of England might suggest prevails.

But I expect you are talking chiefly about people contacting members of General Synod? The list of these is on Thinking Anglicans and I have added a link on the blog post. Thank-you for the idea.

10 November 2011 17:19
10 November 2011 14:02
jimB said...

Those interested in the impact of the Covenant on the communion as a whole may be interested in some recent correspondence between me and a proponent of the thing, which took place on the Coaltion’s blog. I think we had a lively and friendly conversation. At the end of the day, we clarified our views, neither of us converted.

I recommend the post and its comments because they present an intellectual who articulately supports the Covenant arguing that it will kill the Anglican Communion. I rather hope that is not what either England or North America want.


Lay Anglicana said...

Whew! That was quite a read. My head is spinning (not your fault) as I have been pondering all day about our commemoration today and on Sunday of the wars of the 20th century which the USA and UK fought against totalitarianism. We remember the many many lives that have been lost in defence against this evil.

Is it histrionic to suggest that the Covenant is another attempt to impose a totalitarian regime, this time on the worldwide Anglican Communion? That is what it feels like to me tonight. I am going to sleep on it and will blog in the morning, at the risk of being accused of sensationalism, unless this spectre has receded and it looks different in the calm light of day.

Thank-you very much, jimB, for referring our readers to this very interesting exchange of views.

jimB said...

No, I fear it is not histrionic: it is fair. The ultra-orthodox are utterly intolerant of the rest of us.

I think Bishop Mathews and Fr. Carroll are being honest (we cannot allege that sort of conduct on the part of Communion Office staff!) They do see the Covenant as a new-church forming moment.

The question before your synods is whether or not the Church of England wishes to be a subservient part of an international church controlled by the utterly convoluted canons in section four of the Covenant?


12 November 2011 15:45
11 November 2011 21:55
John Scott said...

Laura have you thought of trying to get the 100,000 signatures or however many it takes to make a Public petition to Parliament and get the topic discussed in parliament. I believe it can be arranged through facebook and social media campaigns to get people to sign up elec tronically, you will have to ask your techie friends! Parliamentarians may well say it is a Church matter, but it isnt if it makes the Established Church ‘a subserviant part of an international church controlled by the utterly convoluted canosn of scrion four of the Covenant’…as jimB comment. Replace Covenant with Roman Catholic Church and see them jump LOL

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much for this idea, John. I am very drawn to the idea of a parliamentary petition – and also of an old-fashioned petition to the monarch. I am hoping to try this in the early spring, by which time we will have made a few more people aware of what is afoot. At the moment, so few people (including very few clergy, as I have found from twitter) know about it that I do not think we would get the numbers. Another idea I have is to adopt the idea used by the TUC to some effect over the NHS bill is for people to ‘adopt’ a member of the House of Lords and write to them on the subject (the idea being that peers are less subject to this sort of thing than MPs). Keep the ideas coming in please!

12 November 2011 20:39
12 November 2011 17:16
11 November 2011 20:48
John Scott said...
12 November 2011 17:19
Jacob Theunisz said...

I understand that last the Covenant has been adopted by the Archdeaconry of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg within the Diocese of Europe. Unfortunately due to health reasons I am no longer a representative, otherwise I would probably have voted against it. It strikes me how little people know about this and how easily they assume that anything that is proposed by higher authorities will automatically be for the good of everyone, even if our opinion is asked about it. By the way, I understand what you mean by the English Way, but I doubt if it will be properly understood on the Continent, where everything that looks British, tends to be considered as British. It is also the only thing the public is interested in. We get huge attention for Anglican choirs, but not for the political matters of such a tiny church (apart from suggestions that we are to be swallowed up by the Old Catholic church). That is perhaps the reason that we were chosen to decide very quickly about the Covenant. It would be fairly easy here, but still set a precedent. And there is not a lot we can do about it now (apart from the article I wrote in our church magazine – to no avail)…

Lay Anglicana said...

Dear Jacob, thank-you very much for commenting. It is depressing to think that the Diocese of Europe will almost certainly vote in favour of the Covenant (and of course also against women bishops).
While you were writing your comment, I was putting the finishing touches to my next post, ‘Live Free or Die’. When I think how the people of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg also suffered in the last century for their attempts to resist totalitarianism, it makes me even sadder.

On the matter of the ‘English’ way, you touch on a real difficulty. We too are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as being British, and having passports issued by the United Kingdom. Although we have separate political assemblies for the Northern Irish, Scots and Welsh, there is no corresponding English assembly, nor have we felt the need for one. But the Church of England is very much only the Church in England, hence the difficulties in writing about it.

Jacob Theunisz said...

Just to clarify this for your readers: The Diocese in Europe is formally part of the Church of England, but often mistaken for another province. So the CofE is paradoxically neither a British nor an English institution. Our Anglican or CofE identity is quite an issue here, and that perhaps explains the need for a Covenant that tells us what we can and what we cannot do. Makes us feel less isolated I guess. But I feel this is a dangerous game that could make it more difficult to address the various local cultures.

14 November 2011 22:06
14 November 2011 10:42
14 November 2011 08:48
Muthah+ said...

I am always facinated by how many Brits conceptualize the Anglican Communion. They think CofE=Anglican Communion. And it is not so.

We are not a church–we are people who come from the same theological roots and have added the unique qualities of our locales to build upon those roots. It is precisely because of that that you have The Episcopal Church of Scotland and the Church of Wales and are not all CofE.

The funny thing is that I don’t think +++Rowan gets that even though he’s Welsh.

I think that raising the issue around “what is British” is a non-starter because the UK is almost as pluralistic as the US, Canada, New Zealand or anywhere else in the Ang. Com.

Anglicanism is not an ethnicity–Anglicanism in the sense of the Communion is a manner of claiming ties that cross ethnicity and boundaries. It is really the only way we can claim togetherness in the name of Christ without falling into the error of denominationalism. Richard is right. It is who gathers with me at Christ’s table that is an Anglican. Those, who for whatever reason refuse Christ’s invitation to take and eat–are not Anglican.

Lay Anglicana said...

Fair comment, I think, Muthah+ on my slipping from talking about the Church of England to talking about the Anglican Communion and back again.

But I have worshipped in Anglican churches in five continents and always found a very similar liturgy everywhere, though some customs, like the Pakistani priest who took his shoes off to take the service, and prostrated himself fully on the ground at the point where others might have genuflected, reflected the prevailing Islamic culture of the country.

The UK is indeed pluralistic and, like the US, has a long history of offering political asylum to refugees from all over the world. We like to feel (though we may be deluding ourselves) that the British way of life is one of tolerance and live-and-let-live. The Church of England, unlike any other Anglican Communion church, so far as I know, is part and parcel of the state, so that our Queen is simultaneously monarch and supreme governor of the Church. If you live in England, the way the Church runs itself should matter as much to the politically aware as does the way the government is run. I don’t like the Covenant because it would fundamentally alter the nature of the Church of England, of which I am a member. But even if I were an atheist, I would object to it on the grounds that the Covenant would turn the Church of England into an ‘un-British’ institution, a starling in the nest. It is on these grounds that I am hoping (ever the optimist) to reach 50 million people, including Moslems, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and so on!

You are quite right to point out that Wales and Scotland have their own Anglican Churches, as indeed does Ireland. All the parts of the United Kingdom have their own regional assemblies, but England does not – indeed it has no political existence as a separate entity (we have never felt the need for one!)

15 November 2011 17:22
15 November 2011 16:01

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