Anglican Covenant

The power of the Standing Committee

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The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (SCAC) is a new creation. The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) is a charity in English law and the Standing Committee are its trustees. As trustees they have plenary responsibility for the whole charity, not least its money. Over the last few years the charity has agreed to become a company as well.

In the first draft of the Covenant, power of interpretation was vested in the Primates' Meeting. This attracted considerable criticism and in the final version the SCAC is responsible for administering the Covenant processes, for determining whether an action is 'incompatible with the Covenant' and for making recommendations to member Churches or (not 'and') the Instruments of Communion as to the 'relational consequences' that might follow (§4.2).

The old constitution gave its Standing Committee full powers except any specifically reserved to the full ACC. It briefly became a Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and the Primates' Meeting but what powers were granted to the Joint Committee by the Primates' Meeting is not currently public knowledge. It seems improbable that the new constitution will have lessened its power.

The effect of the Covenant, therefore, is first and foremost to add new powers to the SCAC and powers which have not been granted to it by the ACC or the Primates' Meeting it will have in its own right. These are:

  • a duty 'to monitor the functioning of the Covenant in the life of the Anglican Communion on behalf of the Instruments' (§4.2.2).
  • a duty to receive a referral of a matter which bilateral talks, mediation or other steps have not led to a 'shared mind' and, on receiving the referral,
  • a duty to take steps to 'facilitate agreement' between the parties involved (§4.2.4). Should that fail
  • the SCAC shall, 'where appropriate' seek the advice of the ACC and Primates' Meeting (§4.2.4).
  • The SCAC may request a Church defer an action and, if it declines, it may 'recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument' (§4.2.5), and
  • it may 'make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be "incompatible with the Covenant"' on the basis of advice from the ACC and Primates' Meeting (§4.2.6), and on that basis also the SCAC shall make recommendations as to the 'relational consequences' that will follow:
  • These recommendations may be addressed to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of the Communion and address the extent to which the decision of any covenanting Church impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Communion, and the practical consequences of such impairment or limitation. Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations. (§4.2.7)

Together these are formidable powers of governance not least because a considerable range of lesser powers will flow from the fact that the SCAC holds these greater powers in reserve. Clearly there is a potential for tension between the Primates' Meeting, ACC and the SCAC in these structures but membership is strongly overlapping and the conventions of confidentiality strong so any differences are likely to be minimised and kept private. (Further reading on the Standing Committee).

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