I've written here often about the Archbishop of Canterbury's game-plan for saving the Anglican Communion, known as the Covenant. It is his response to the fallout over the 2004 consecration of Gene Robinson, which saw the 70m-strong Anglican Church worldwide begin what has seemed at times an inexorable path to disintegration. The idea of the Covenant was to tighten the bonds -- legal and doctrinal -- between the member Churches of the communion, using a very Catholic ecclesiology of defining the boundaries of belonging.
The price of the implementation of the Covenant, as I've pointed out before, will be a smaller but more robust Anglican Church in communion with the See of Canterbury, the necessary price of which will be losing some of the protestant-evangelical and the liberal-Protestant members of the Communion in North America and Africa to spin off on their own. But it will make eventual Anglican-Catholic unity possible again, because Rome will know who it is talking to after many years of chaos.
Yesterday, the General Synod of the Church of England opened amidst the usual pomp and splendour (see this wry sketch by Stephen Bates) with one item on the agenda overriding all the others: the Synod's endorsement of the Covenant.
The significance of this is pretty straightforward. There is no Plan B if the Covenant is rejected. And if the Church of England, as the mother Church of the Anglican Communion, rejects it, there's no hope of implementing it worldwide.
The Archbishop of Canterbury didn't mince his words.
"If we ignore this, we ignore what is already a real danger, the piece-by-piece dissolution of the Communion and the emergence of new structures in which relation to the Church of England and the See of Canterbury are likely not to figure significantly. All very well, you may say; but among the potential casualties are all those areas of interaction and exchange that are part of the lifeblood of our church and of many often quite vulnerable churches elsewhere. These relations are remarkably robust, given the institutional tensions at the moment, and, as I've often said, many will survive further disruption. But they will be complicated and weakened by major fracture and realignment."
The Covenant process, he went on,
"....recognises that even after consultation there may still be disagreement, that such disagreement may result in rupture of some aspects of communion, and that this needs to be managed in a careful and orderly way. Now the risk and reality of such rupture is already there, make no mistake. The question is whether we are able to make an intelligent decision about how we deal with it. To say yes to the Covenant is not to tie our hands. But it is to recognise that we have the option of tying our hands if we judge, after consultation, that the divisive effects of some step are too costly."
The Synod votes today.