Out of that warm reception +Victoria has written about the Covenant as part of a series of articles on the Covenant for the US-based magazine The Living Church. You can read what she has to say here. But other Anglican/Episcopalian receivers of the Covenant are not at all warm in their reception of the Covenant. One who is very critical, and very critical of +Victoria's article is Lionel Deimel who occasionally comments here.
Another is a Kiwi lay leader in the Diocese of Dunedin, Tony Fitchett. You can read his recent synodical speech criticizing the Covenant here. As you read it you might join with me in being fascinated by the fact that Tony is a member of the Communion's Standing Committee, the very body charged with upholding and administering the Covenant (should any matter of controversy in the Communion, framed by Section 4's process, be brought to that Committee's attention).
What about +Victoria's argument in her article? Here is the argument in her own words:
"The real question to consider, as we weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed Anglican Covenant, is whether it would help or hinder inter-Anglican communication. ... as I consider the possibility of the Anglican Covenant, I ask if this document might just assist us in re-establishing rules of engagement as a Communion. ... What if the requirement of the Covenant actually enforced listening and being in relationship? I imagine you cringe at the word enforce, and so do I. But will it happen otherwise? Section 4 of the Covenant exists precisely to ensure the kind of listening, communication, and relationship that is presently missing in the Anglican Communion. ... the Anglican Covenant will act as a midwife for the delivery of a new Anglican Communion, a Communion that has its gestation in relationship and deep listening."
In my words, +Victoria is arguing that Communion communication is broken down, broken down communication is affecting our fellowship as a communion, the Covenant provides a way for communication to be renewed, that way is to force those who claim to be in Communion to actually listen to one another and thus to be in relationship with one another (that is, an actual working relationship). Some member churches will choose not to be placed in the position of having to listen to others (i.e. continue according to the present status quo). Those who choose to commit to real (i.e. actual listening to each other) fellowship will form a new Anglican Communion. The Covenant is the founding document of a (re)newed Anglican Communion. In offering this interpretation, I am speaking as a fellow supporter of the Covenant, keen to reflect on arguments for and against the Covenant. But I am not speaking as someone who has had opportunity to extensively discuss the Covenant with +Victoria. We have other things to talk about these days as we work on rebuilding the faith of our city and province!
If I am correctly interpreting +Victoria's argument, then the Covenant is a sheep-and-goats moment for global Anglicanism. To one side will be those member churches who choose to not commit in this new way, churches which will not stop listening to others, but which will always listen when it suits and not when it does not. We already see those churches in our midst, churches some view as very conservative and churches some view as very progressive. These churches make a play of belonging to the Communion and upholding its ideals, but those ideals always include the freedom to act independently when it suits. The signs are present that my own church is one of these churches and will choose to continue to be so.
To the other side will be those member churches who choose to commit in this new way. A few have already made that choice. It is quite unknown as I write whether a Covenanted Anglican Communion will consist of a subtantial majority of the present Communion or not, though it does seem possible that the Church of England will be part of the Covenanted Communion which would be an important matter of historical continuity for global Anglicanism.
If I am correct (perhaps one might also add, if I am correct in the particular matter of understanding these words, "the Anglican Covenant will act as a midwife for the delivery of a new Anglican Communion"), then it is possible that the initial Covenanted Communion might be quite small, but nevertheless it would be a viable small Communion in which members had made a significant new commitment to one another. Hitherto I have argued that the Covenant will not have effect on the present Communion if a significant majority of member churches do not sign up to it. Here in this post I am reckoning with the possibility raised by this Living Church article that the effect of the Covenant lies in who it draws together into deeper fellowship, not in how many sign it.
Unanswered in the article are questions of what happens over time to the members of the present Communion who do not sign the Covenant. Unaddressed is the possibility that some messy confusion would exist for the foreseeable future in respect of Anglican churches saying they belonged to the Anglican Communion whether or not they had signed the Covenant. But I think that could clarify over time. Once, for example, the Covenanted members started to meet together, or a future ABC invited only Covenanted bishops to a Lambeth conciliar meeting, the Communion as we know it today would become two Communions in a more formal manner than we are currently seeing as some go to some meetings from which others stay away.
The key thing to note is that the dividing point for the Communion from the Covenant perspective is not (say) in respect of progressives and conservatives, or North and South, or Western and non-Western, but in terms of the Covenant, which currently has supporters and detractors across theological and geographical lines. The future Covenanted Communion will consist of member churches willing to set aside independence on matters that Covenanted Communion wishes to move forward on as an interdependent body.
Of course the option exists for all non-Covenanting Anglican churches to meet together to listen to one another in a non-binding manner. It will be interesting to see how many turn up!
Speaking personally I would regret our church not being part of the Covenanted Communion, should that be our decision, but I would not be sorrowful for long. If we do not want to be in a binding relationship with other churches we should not pretend otherwise. Honesty is a good policy in all relationships, even those in which we wish to keep the other at arms length.