Who wants the Anglican Covenant?

As Chris Sugden makes clear (pp 13-14) evangelicals are not enthusiastic. And many Catholics will agree with Matthew Duckett (pp 24-25). Nor is it in favour with the new generation of post-1992 liberals, who have effortless assumed positions of power and influence. All three women priests on the Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure Revision Committee. (The Very Revd Vivienne Faull, Dean of Leicester, The Ven Christine Hardman, Archdeacon of Lewisham and Greenwich, and The Revd Canon Anne Stevens) voted against. The Archbishop, of course, spoke passionately in favour. But then – in a way which was not the case with his proposed amendments to the Women Bishops legislation – his credibility was on the line.

The Archbishop, moreover, is clearly in denial. He is unable to reconcile himself with the past and with its serious consequences. In a speech to the PCPCU in Rome last year (see the excerpts on page 27) he proposed the Anglican (Lack-of-) Communion as a pattern which others might follow:

‘There can be no doubt, though, that the situation of damaged communion will become more acute with the inability of bishops within the same college to recognise one another’s ministry in the full sense. Yet, in what is still formally acknowledged to be a time of discernment and reception, is it nonsense to think that holding on to a limited but real common life and mutual acknowledgement of integrity might be worth working for within the Anglican family? And if it can be managed within the Anglican family, is this a possible model for the wider ecumenical scene?’

The answer to what was tragically proposed as a rhetorical question is of course: YES! ‘The inability of bishops within the same college to recognise one another’s ministry’ (which Williams, in a fit of wilful amnesia, ascribed to the future) has been a feature of the life of the Communion for many years. Indeed it preceded the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Church of England and proved no deterrent to that innovation. Anglicans have not, in this and other matters, pioneered a new sort of ecumenism (‘a limited but real common life and mutual acknowledgement of integrity’). They have, on the contrary, self-consciously ruptured and destroyed the real visible unity which (amongst themselves, at least) they once enjoyed.

It is one thing to counsel acceptance of all this as the best that can be managed under the circumstances. But to propose it as an ecumenical template to others is little short of absurd.

For reasons quite different from theirs, we must agree with Mesdames Faull, Hardman and Stevens. The Covenant is not fit for purpose.

What are we to make of a Church which is not as good as its word?

Liberal Christians are forever telling us that we should be modelling good practice in a world of prejudice and intolerance.

What then does the world make of a Church which gives solemn undertakings to its own members, and then betrays that trust?

The Manchester group spoke of disruption and discontent if the Synod, in its legislation, were to remove the safeguards and assurance which had made the ordination of women possible. That was surely sound advice. But the Synod took no heed. In this edition we rehearse again the promises made, and seek to persuade the Church, its Bishops and its Synod to honour them. The credibility of the Church of England, ecumenically and in the secular world depends upon its trustworthiness and reliability. The cost of failing that test is simply unthinkable.

For decades now ordinary clergy up and down the country have known the sadness (bereavement almost) of the closure of churches in which they have worshiped and ministered. No bishop has hitherto shared their heartbreak. But such empathy now becomes a distinct possibility as the Rt Revd Nick Baines, presently Bishop of Croydon, takes up the reins of the diocese of Bradford – long scheduled as the diocese most likely for the chop.

Baines has been an energetic bishop whose cheerful demotic style (as evinced in publications reviewed in this paper) may well account for his preferment. New Directions has watched his career with interest, and will continue to do so. ND