Mark Stevens is not convinced by the trivializing option

In his speech to the Synod in York the Bishop of Durham compared the proposed Anglican Covenant to a set of rules voluntarily adopted by those sharing a house: no decaying food in the fridge; no dog-ends in the ash trays; and the bath to be cleaned after every use. How banal!

But Tom Wright is not wrong about the draft Covenant: as presently wordedit does not amount to much. A medley of vocal gems from various existing formularies, it ominously fails to tackle a straightforward commitment to the mutual recognition and interchangeability of orders.

It does so for the simple reason that the mutual recognition of orders was jettisoned twenty years ago. Which makes some of the statements of the draft sound rather more Anglican than they should. In Section 3 (Our Commitment to Confession of the Faith) ‘each Church commits itself to uphold and act in continuity and consistency with the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition.’ In Section 5 (Our Unity and Common Life) ‘We affirm the historic episcopate…and the central role of bishops as custodians of faith, leaders in mission and as a visible sign of unity’

In these statements, fatally, what is not said is more important that what is said. The episcopate is no longer a ‘visible sign of unity’ among Anglicans, and saying it is will not make it so. Whatever else one might say about Anglican Orders no one could now reasonably affirm that the Communion has acted ‘in continuity and consistency with the catholic and apostolic tradition regarding them.

It is important, precisely because the Covenanters themselves seem not to have grasped it, to outline what is at stake here. At least as significant as the ordination of women itself is the means by which it was accomplished. The Windsor Report (Section A, paras 12-21) is a classic of institutional self-deception. It confuses process and result. It portrays the path to women’s ordination (quite contrary to the historical record!) as one of forbearance and consultation. What it

fails to acknowledge is the conclusion of the process: fracture of communion.

It would not have mattered if all three ‘instruments of communion (the Primates’ Meeting did not exist at the time) had unanimously agreed (which they did not) that some provinces could go forward with the innovation. The result would have been the same. So long as other provinces were not prepared to go forward in the same way, the interchange-abilty of orders had been destroyed.

In the Anglican Communion, as it really is, bishops are a sign of disunity not of unity. The Presiding Bishop of TEC, though a member of their standing committee, is a constant reminder to the Primates of this very fact. Some hold that she is not a bishop, others cannot receive Holy Communion with or from her because of the opinions which she holds. Of the forthcoming Tambeth Conference global south Primates have said: ‘To be present but unable to participate in sacramental fellowship would all the more painfully demonstrate our brokenness.’

It is tragic that the Bishop of Durham does not or will not see the damage that has been done. No matter how strident the notices on his imaginary bathroom door exhorting users to leave it as they found it, they will be of no avail. It is the plumbing which is at fault.