Anglican Communion

It is not possible to give an exact date at which the Anglican Communion came into being. The Anglican churches of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales certainly formed the original provinces, to which was added in 1789 the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA. Thereafter, chiefly through the pioneering work of the Church of England's missionary societies and their later counterparts in North America and Australasia, the structure developed until in 1971 there were some 365 dioceses. These are mainly to be found in countries which were, and in many cases still are, parts of the British Commonwealth, though China, Japan, and Brazil are notable exceptions.

It is also difficult to define precisely what constitutes a sufficient qualification for membership in the Anglican Communion. The 1930 Lambeth Conference adopted a descriptive resolution which set out its understanding of the situation thus: “The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, which have the following characteristics in common: (a) They uphold and propagate the catholic and apostolic faith and order as they are generally set forth in the Book of Common Prayer as authorised in their several Churches; (b) They are particular or national Churches, and, as such, promote within each of their territories a national expression of Christian faith, life and worship; (c) They are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common council of the bishops in conference.”

This became the classical statement, but is misleading not least with regard to the reference to the Book of Common Prayer, since this is no longer the touchstone to which modern Anglican liturgies are brought when revisions are taking place. Nevertheless, the above definition was sufficiently flexible to allow for the very considerable range of opinion, theology, and liturgical practice which has marked the Anglican churches during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In large measure the “color” of the originating missionary organizations determined the practice of the dioceses which emerged. Some provinces (for example, South Africa) were almost monochrome in their Anglo- Catholicism; others (such as Kenya) were marked by their evangelicalism. In West Africa, where the four former British Crown Colonies of Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia were associated with different missionary societies, a province ultimately came into being with traditionally Catholic churches in Ghana and the Gambia, and traditionally evangelical churches in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Between 1945 and 1970 it became evident that the various traditions were slowly modifying, at least at episcopal level, due to the increasing contacts which were developing on a worldwide scale.

The focal point of the Anglican Communion since 1867 has been the succession of Lambeth Conferences* which in a consultative capacity guided and interpreted Anglican thinking. Lacking any formal constitution, their resolutions carry no mandatory power within the various provinces, but their influence cannot be denied; at times it has virtually determined Anglican policy (for example, the Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1888, in which Scripture, the two Creeds, the dominical Sacraments, and the Historic Episcopate were laid down as the basis of reunion for churches within the Anglican family). Some indication of growth is to be seen in the increase in the number of bishops attending Lambeth Conferences-from 70 in 1867 to 310 in 1958. By tradition the conference is chaired by the archbishop of Canterbury, but this office is one of honor and carries no legal rights vis à vis provinces outside Canterbury.

During the twentieth century three Pan-Anglican Congresses were held (London, 1908; Minneapolis, 1954; Toronto, 1963), at which both clerical and lay representatives were present, but the 1968 Lambeth Conference recommended that these should be discontinued. As a result of the 1958 Lambeth Conference, the post of Anglican Executive Officer was created. His task was to be that of informing and coordinating the various provinces in order to avoid duplication and waste. Three bishops (Stephen Bayne, Jr., Ralph Dean, and John Howe) successively held the office between 1959 and 1971, in which latter year the title was changed to that of Secretary General to the Anglican Consultative Council, a body set up at the request of the 1968 Lambeth Conference to supersede the Lambeth Consultative Body and Advisory Council on Missionary Strategy, which were composed entirely of primates and other archbishops and metropolitans.

The council held its first meeting at Limuru, Kenya, in 1971 and meets on alternate years. It has a membership of fifty-five, drawn from all the Anglican provinces. Each province sends two representatives-one bishop and one clergyman or layman; the larger churches (Australia, Canada, England, and the United States of America) have a representation of three-one bishop, one clergyman, one layman. The council has an advisory function.

The developments which have taken place in ecumenical relationships since 1947, and which have led in some places to united churches and in others to reunion schemes yet unfulfilled, have posed obvious questions about the future of the Anglican Communion in general and its relationship with united churches in particular. This has led to a continuous reconsideration by the Anglican churches of their standing in relation to such united and uniting bodies.

In 1966 an Anglican Centre was set up in Rome to facilitate better understanding between the Anglican churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and others; this action was endorsed by the 1968 Lambeth Conference which also called for the Anglican presence in Geneva to be strengthened.

The Anglican Communion grew out of the work of mission. Since the Toronto Congress of 1963 it has made a special effort to integrate the worldwide mission of the Anglican churches through the implementation of a document entitled “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ.” Certain aspects of this scheme have received widespread criticism, and its operation has not been universally successful.

H.A. Wilson (ed.), The Anglican Communion (1929); J.W.C. Wand (ed.), The Anglican Communion (1948); G.F.S. Gray, The Anglican Communion (1958); J.S. Higgins, One Faith One Fellowship (1958); H.G.G. Herklots, Frontiers of the Church (1961); W.E. Leidt (ed.), Anglican Mosaic (1963); S.F. Bayne, Jr., Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ (1963); S. Neill, Anglicanism (1965); A.T. Hanson, Beyond Anglicanism (1965); T. Wilson (ed.), All One Body (1969); Lambeth Conference Reports 1867-1968; The Time is Now—Limuru 1971.