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A message from the Archbishop of Canterbury on the Anglican Communion Covenant

Thursday 17th December 2009

As the final version of the Anglican Communion Covenant is sent to the member Churches of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury has given the following message explaining the purpose of the Covenant and the processes surrounding its adoption.

A transcript of the Archbishop's video message is below:

After several years of work, the proposed covenant for the Anglican Communion has now reached its final form and is being distributed to the provinces for discussion, and I hope it will be adopted by as many provinces as possible.   

It's quite important in this process to remember what the Covenant is and what it isn't, what it's meant to achieve, and what it's not going to achieve.  It's not going to solve all our problems, it's not going to be a constitution, and it's certainly not going to be a penal code for punishing people who don't comply. But what it does represent is this: in recent years in the Anglican family, we've discovered that our relations with each other as local churches have often been strained, that we haven't learned to trust one another as perhaps we should, that we really need to build relationships, and we need to have a sense that we are responsible to one another and responsible for each other.  In other words, what we need is something that will help us know where we stand together, and help us also intensify our fellowship and our trust.

The covenant text sets out the basis on which the Anglican family works and prays and lives and hopes.  The bulk of the text identifies what we hold in common, the ground on which we stand as Anglicans.  It's about the gift we've been given as a Church and the gift we've been given specifically as the Anglican Communion.  All those things we give thanks for, we affirm together, and we resolve together to safeguard and to honour.

The last bit of the Covenant text is the one thats perhaps been the most controversial, because that's where we spell out what happens if relationships fail or break down.  It doesn't set out, as I've already said, a procedure for punishments and sanctions.  It does try and sort out how we will discern the nature of our disagreement, how important is it? How divisive does it have to be? Is it a Communion breaking issue that's in question - or is it something we can learn to live with? And so in these sections of the covenant what we're trying to do is simply to give a practical, sensible and Christian way of dealing with our conflicts, recognising that they're always going to be there.

So what happens next?  This Covenant is being sent to all the member Churches of the Anglican Communion.  Each church will, within its own processes, decide how to handle it, and by the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in three years time we hope that many provinces will already have said yes to this and adopted it into their own understanding and identity. Clearly the process won't all be over by then, but we're hoping to see some enthusiasm, some general adoption of the principles.  We hope to see a new kind of relationship emerging.  We hope to see people agreeing to these ways of resolving our conflicts. 

Beyond that, what's going to happen? It's hard to say as yet, but the Covenant text itself does make it clear that at some point it'll be open to other bodies, other Ecclesial bodies as they're called, other Churches and communities to adopt this Covenant, and be considered for incorporation into the Anglican Communion.  Meanwhile, it's open to anybody that wishes to affirm the principles of the Covenant - to say that this is what they wish to live with. 

So in the next few years we expect to see quite a bit of activity around this.  We hope, as I've said, that many provinces will feel able to adopt this.  We hope that many other bodies will affirm the vision that's set out here, and that in the long run this will actually help us to become more of a communion - more responsible for each other, presenting to the world a face of mutual understanding, patience, charity and gratitude for one another.  In other words, we hope and pray that the Covenant for the Anglican Communion will be a truly effective tool for witness and mission in our world.

The full text of the Anglican Communion Covenant can be found at:

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