My friend and colleague, Bryden Black, with a view to a motion re the Covenant going to his local synod in the Diocese of Christchurch (NZ), has written an excellent essay on the importance of the proposed Covenant for reaffirming the bonds of affection of our Anglican Communion. The whole is here as a PDF file. Below I offer two excerpts which, in my view, are central to the future of the Communion. The italicised headings are mine.
Our unity is in the gospel. Anglican understanding of the gospel is established through our 'recognition' together of the content of the gospel. Our joint recognition of the gospel will be enabled by the Covenant:
"The safest way of guarding our Gospel heritage is paradoxically, yet typically, not to hold it too tightly to ourselves, but to allow once more an even richer inter-penetration and cross-fertilization of what we bring to the table of fellowship and what others have discovered of the inexhaustible riches of Christ.
Yet, there is a problem, it has to be admitted: How might we recognize what others bring as indeed pertaining to the Gospel? Not all that claims to be of Christ is indeed fruit of Jesus’s love and truth. The history of the Church is littered with claims both good and true, and claims that turn out to be counterfeit and false. And the key word is “recognize”. Once more, I refer to the Archbishop of Canterbury - this time to his Advent Pastoral Letter of 2007.
'The Communion is a voluntary association of provinces and dioceses; and so its unity depends not on a canon law that can be enforced but on the ability of each part of the family to recognise that other local churches have received the same faith from the apostles and are faithfully holding to it in loyalty to the One Lord incarnate who speaks in Scripture and bestows his grace in the sacraments. To put it in slightly different terms, local churches acknowledge the same ‘constitutive elements’ in one another. This means in turn that each local church receives from others and recognises in others the same good news and the same structure of ministry, and seeks to engage in mutual service for the sake of our common mission.'
Eighteen times in all Rowan Williams uses words of recognition and recognisability, etc. They run through this Pastoral Letter like a mantra. And well they might. For once again because the Gospel, and the Church to which it gives rise, is all sheer divine gift and not from ourselves, “a human construct”, so essentially are we placed on the receiving end; and our due response is one of grateful acknowledgement, of recognising the situation for what it is: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor 9), which prompts our “Yes and Amen!” (2 Cor 1), an expression so beloved of The Gift of Authority from ARCIC of a decade ago.
The Covenant is essentially a tool for such recognition. It authorizes us to say of each other, church to church: Yes, you too have the specific marks of Jesus Christ upon you and your life and upon your ministry and mission. We are enabled to acknowledge we share certain basic “constitutive elements” in common as Anglicans."
There are no alternatives to being a Communion which are as good as being a Communion - choose the Covenant as the means of ensuring we remain a Communion:
"Yet, should we descend into a motley conglomeration of federated churches, linked by mere association, then our fellowship and exchanges would be governed to a large degree by self interest and ideological conformity among the few. A new form of ecclesial Balkanization would have appeared indeed! For if no Covenant, to which the majority sign up, then no Anglican Communion henceforth either.
So; as I say: the choice is before us. Just what is our “vision of the kind of Church to which we would wish to belong” as the diocese of Christchurch? Are we part of a whole? And does that whole truly consist of both Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia and the other 37 provinces who presently make up the Communion? Or shall we allow ourselves to be detached from this present whole, only to associate with some like-minded grouping? For let us also not be naive at this point too. If this were to happen, we can be sure that “we ourselves” would cease to be any coherent local whole very quickly.
Some of us would ally ourselves with this group, and others would ally themselves with that group. And we would have an entire series of Alternative Episcopal and Provincial schemes of Oversight.
We’d become a veritable congregationalist set of churches that ceased to resemble anything catholic at all, that ceased also to portray anything evangelical at all. For principles of association other than the Gospel itself would rapidly overtake us all. For the Evangel of Jesus Christ is essentially catholic.
We as the historic Anglican Communion are properly not some typical construct of western pluralism’s plasticity, moulded according to individual choice and autonomous forms of so-called freedom’s fancy.
We are bound to the One Body through the Cross of Jesus Christ; and if so bound, we are bound also to each member of that One Body. Incarnating this Cross in our organizational life means, according to the Spirit of Philippians 2 at least, a life of humility and a mutual submission to the One Lord of that Body, whose mission is ever the glory of his Father and our Father, his God and our God (Jn 20)."
Thank you Bryden!