One of the many annoying rhetorical fourishes of late has been the claim that opposition to the proposed Anglican Covenant constitutes a desire to "change" the Anglican Communion into a "loose-knit federation" of autonomous churches. Of course, this assumes an entirely revisionist view of Anglican history - actually, less revisionist than Orwellian.
International Anglicanism has always been a relationship among autonomous churches. While there were occasional communications among the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church in the United States in the early days, the actual relationship was largely one of (mostly benign) neglect. The English church did assist the Scottish 'Piskies to re-establish episcopacy, and the two British churches both ordained bishops for the Americans.
At the time, both the English and the Scots offered some guidance to the newly forming American church, but neither ever claimed authority. In each case, the Americans discerned for themselves what advice to take and what to leave aside. They did reinstate the Nicene Creed into the eucharistic rite, as suggested by the Church of England. They did not accept the English advice to accord more power to the House of Bishops than to the House of Deputies.
Mutual recognition of ministry was a bit of a dodgy issue. The legislation which enabled the English to ordain bishops for the Americans expressly stated that those so ordained and those ordained by them would not be permitted to function in England. The ordination of the fourth American bishop by the CofE was partly driven by the fact that the English thought the Scottish episcopal pedigree of America's first bishop a bit dodgy.
When he retired in 2004, Michael Peers (who confirmed and ordained me) was the senior primate of the Anglican Communion. Here is what he had to say in 2000, four years before this Covenant silliness ever raised its head.
[W]orldwide Anglicanism is a communion, not a church. The Anglican Church of Canada is a church. The Church in the Province of the West Indies is a church. The Episcopal Church of Sudan is a church. The Anglican Communion is a 'koinonia' of churches.
We have become that for many reasons, among which are the struggles of the sixteenth century and an intuition about the value of inculturation, rooted in the Incarnation, which has led us to locate final authority within local churches.
We are not a papal church and we are not a confessional church. We are autonomous churches held together in a fellowship of common faith dating from the creeds and councils, recognizing the presidency of a primus inter pares (the Archbishop of Canterbury), often struggling with inter-church and intra-church tension, but accepting that as the price of the liberty and autonomy that we cherish.
As I said to the members of the Council of General Synod last month, the price of this includes a certain measure of messiness.'
[Power in the Church: Prelates, Confessions, Anglicans The Arnold Lecture, December 6, 2000, Halifax, Nova Scotia]