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The Anglican Communion is a world-wide organization of Anglican Churches. There is no single "Anglican Church"; it is better to speak of the Anglican Communion, which consists of national churches in communion with the Church of England. Most share the dogma and doctrine of the Church of England.
As a result, all rites conducted in one member church are to be recognized by the others. Some of these churches are known as Anglican, others call themselves Episcopal. The ultimate head of any Anglican church is believed to be Jesus, with his representative taken to be the Primate, head of the church at the national level; but Anglican primates acknowledge the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury as primus inter pares, or "first among equals". The Archbishop of Canterbury is a symbolic leader among Anglicans, with no authority outside England and cannot be accurately compared to other religious leaders such as the Pope.
Some non-Anglican churches have entered into full communion with the Anglican Communion and are treated as members despite having non-Anglican origins and traditions. There are also a number of Anglican bodies which separated from a member church of the Anglican Communion and are no longer in communion with the Church of England. They are usually known as "continuing churches."
Recent disagreements over biblical authority, as demonstrated by the issue of homosexual conduct, have strained the unity of the communion as well as its relationships with other Christian denominations; see Anglican views of homosexuality.
"The Episcopal [or Anglican] Church has a long tradition, and over that time has inherited, created, or retained many words that might not be familiar...These special terms, though confusing at first, are part of [the church's] rich heritage."
Efforts have been underway at least since 1966 to effect a reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church, focusing on theological issues  and ways "to further the convergence on authority in the Church. Without agreement in this area we shall not reach the full visible unity to which we are both committed." 
The necessity for such a phrase as "Anglican Communion," first used in the 19th century, marked at once the immense development of the Anglican Church in modern times and the change which has taken place in the traditional conceptions of its character and sphere. For more than two centuries after the Reformation the history of Anglicanism is practically confined to its developments within the limits of the British Isles. Even in Ireland, where it was for over three centuries the established religion, and in Scotland, where it early gave way to the dominant Presbyterianism, its religious significance was long overshadowed by its political significance. To the native Irishman and the Scotsman, as indeed to most Englishmen, the Anglican Church was one of the main buttresses of the supremacy of the English crown and nation. When English churchmen passed beyond the seas, they carried with them their creed, but not their ecclesiastical organization. The churchmen of the colonies often had to make the best of the fact that their spiritual needs rested with the bishop of London who occasionally sent commissaries to visit them.
The change which has made it possible for Anglican churchmen to claim that their communion ranks with those of Rome and the Orthodox East as one of the three great historical divisions of the Catholic Church, was due, in the first instance, to the American revolution. The severance of the colonies from their allegiance to the crown brought the English bishops for the first time face to face with the idea of an Anglican Church which should have nothing to do either with the royal supremacy or with British nationality. When, on the conclusion of peace, the church-people of Connecticut sent Dr. Samuel Seabury to England, with a request to the Archbishop of Canterbury to consecrate him, Archbishop Moore refused. In the opinion of prelates and lawyers alike, an act of parliament was necessary before a bishop could be consecrated for a see abroad; to consecrate one for a foreign country seemed impossible, since, though the bestowal of the potestas ordinis would be valid, the crown, which, according to the law, was the source of the episcopal jurisdiction, could hardly issue the necessary mandate for the consecration of a bishop to a see outside the realm.
The Scottish bishops, however, being hampered by no such legal restrictions, were more amenable; and on November 14 1784 Seabury was consecrated by them to the see of Connecticut. In 1786, on the initiative of the archbishop, the legal difficulties in England were removed by the act for the consecration of bishops abroad; and, on being satisfied as to the orthodoxy of the church in America and the nature of certain liturgical changes in contemplation, the two English archbishops proceeded, on February 14 1787, to consecrate William White and Samuel Provoost to the sees of Pennsylvania and New York (see Episcopal Church in the United States of America).
This act had a significance beyond the fact that it established in the United States a flourishing church, which, while completely loyal to its own country, is bound by special ties to the religious life of England. It marked the emergence of the Church of England from what may be called the territorial principles of the Reformation.
Since the Church of England, whatever her attitude towards the traditional Catholic doctrines, never disputed the validity of Catholic orders whether Roman or Orthodox, nor the jurisdiction of Catholic bishops in foreign countries, the expansion of the Anglican Church has been in no sense conceived as a Protestant aggressive movement against Rome. Occasional exceptions, such as the consecration by Archbishop Plunket of Dublin of a bishop for the reformed church in Spain, raised so strong a protest as to prove the rule. In the main, then, the expansion of the Anglican Church has followed that of the British empire, or, as in America, of its daughter states; its claim, so far as rights of jurisdiction are concerned, is to be the Church of England and the English race, while recognizing its special duties towards the non-Christian populations subject to the empire or brought within the reach of its influence. As against the Church of Rome, with its system of rigid centralization, the Anglican Church represents the principle of regional autonomy, which it holds to be both more primitive and more catholic.
The Church in the colonies
On August 12th 1787 Dr. Charles Inglis was consecrated bishop of Nova Scotia, with jurisdiction over all the British possessions in North America. In 1793 the see of the Québec was founded; Jamaica and Barbados followed in 1824, and Toronto and Newfoundland in 1839. Meanwhile the needs of India were met, on the urgent representations in parliament of William Wilberforce and others, by the consecration of Dr. T. F. Middleton as bishop of Calcutta, with three archdeacons to assist him. In 1829, on the nomination of the duke of Wellington, William Broughton was sent out to work as archdeacon of Australia.
Soon afterwards, in 1835 and 1837, the sees of Madras and Bombay were founded; whilst in 1836 Broughton himself was consecrated as first bishop of Australia. Thus down to 1840 there were but ten colonial bishops; and of these several were so hampered by civil regulations that they were little more than government chaplains in episcopal orders. In April of that year, however, Bishop Blomfield of London published his famous letter to the archbishop of Canterbury, declaring that "an episcopal church without a bishop is a contradiction in terms," and strenuously advocating a great effort for the extension of the episcopate.
The plan was taken up with enthusiasm, and on Whitsun Tuesday of 1841 the bishops of the United Kingdom met and issued a declaration which inaugurated the Colonial Bishoprics Council. Subsequent declarations in 1872 and 1891 have served both to record progress and to stimulate to new effort. The diocese of New Zealand was founded in 1841, being endowed by the Church Missionary Society through the council, and George Augustus Selwyn was chosen as the first bishop. Moreover, in many cases bishops have been sent to inaugurate new missions, as in the cases of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, Lebombo, Corea and New Guinea; and the missionary jurisdictions so founded develop in time into dioceses. Thus, instead of the ten colonial jurisdictions of 1841, there are now about a hundred foreign and colonial jurisdictions, in addition to those of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
It was only very gradually that these dioceses acquired legislative independence and a determinate organization. At first, sees were created and bishops were nominated by the crown by means of letters patent; and in some cases an income was assigned out of public funds. Moreover, for many years all bishops alike were consecrated in England, took the customary "oath of due obedience" to the archbishop of Canterbury, and were regarded as his extra-territorial suffragans. But by degrees changes have been made on all these points.
(1) Local conditions soon made a provincial organization necessary, and it was gradually introduced. The bishop of Calcutta received letters patent as metropolitan of India when the sees of Madras and Bombay were founded; and fresh patents were issued to Bishop Broughton in 1847 and Bishop Gray in 1853, as metropolitans of Australia and South Africa respectively. Similar action was taken in 1858, when Bishop Selwyn became metropolitan of New Zealand; and again in 1860, when, on the petition of the Canadian bishops to the crown and the colonial legislature for permission to elect a metropolitan, letters patent were issued appointing Bishop Fulford of Montreal to that office. Since then metropolitans have been chosen and provinces formed by regular synodical action, a process greatly encouraged by the resolutions of the Lambeth conferences on the subject. The constitution of these provinces is not uniform. In some cases, as South Africa, New South Wales, and Queensland, the metropolitan see is fixed. Elsewhere, as in New Zealand, where no single city can claim pre-eminence, the metropolitan is either elected or else is the senior bishop by consecration. Two further developments must be mentioned:
- The creation of diocesan and provincial synods, the first diocesan synod to meet being that of New Zealand in 1844, while the formation of a provincial synod was foreshadowed by a conference of Australasian bishops at Sydney in 1850;
- Towards the close of the 19th century the title of archbishop began to be assumed by the metropolitans of several provinces. It was first assumed by the metropolitans of Canada and Rupert's Land, at the desire of the Canadian general synod in 1893; and subsequently, in accordance with a resolution of the Lambeth conference of 1897, it was given by their synods to the bishop of Sydney as metropolitan of New South Wales and to the bishop of Cape Town as metropolitan of South Africa. Civil obstacles have hitherto delayed its adoption by the metropolitan of India.
Freedom from state control
(2) By degrees, also, the colonial churches have been freed from their rather burdensome relations with the state. The church of the West Indies was disestablished and disendowed in 1868. In 1857 it was decided, in Regina v. Eton College, that the crown could not claim the presentation to a living when it had appointed the former incumbent to a colonial bishopric, as it does in the case of an English bishopric. In 1861, after some protest from the crown lawyers, two missionary bishops were consecrated without letters patent for regions outside British territory: C. F. Mackenzie for the Zambezi region and J. C. Patteson for Melanesia, by the metropolitans of Cape Town and New Zealand respectively. In 1863 the privy council declared, in Long v. The Bishop of Cape Town, that "the Church of England, in places where there is no church established by law, is in the same situation with any other religious body." In 1865 it adjudged Bishop Gray's letters patent, as metropolitan of Cape Town, to be powerless to enable him "to exercise any coercive jurisdiction, or hold any court or tribunal for that purpose," since the Cape colony already possessed legislative institutions when they were issued; and his deposition of Bishop Colenso was declared to be "null and void in law" (re The Bishop of Natal). With the exception of Colenso the South African bishops forthwith surrendered their patents, and formally accepted Bishop Gray as their metropolitan, an example followed in 1865 in the province of New Zealand. In 1862, when the diocese of Ontario was formed, the bishop was elected in Canada, and consecrated under a royal mandate, letters patent being by this time entirely discredited. And when, in 1867, a coadjutor was chosen for the bishop of Toronto, an application for a royal mandate produced the reply from the colonial secretary that "it was not the part of the crown to interfere in the creation of a new bishop or bishopric, and not consistent with the dignity of the crown that he should advise Her Majesty to issue a mandate which would not be worth the paper on which it was written, and which, having been sent out to Canada, might be disregarded in the most complete manner."
And at the present day the colonial churches are entirely free in this matter. This, however, is not the case with the church in India. Here the bishops of sees founded down to 1879 receive a stipend from the revenue (with the exception of the bishop of Ceylon, who no longer does so). They are not only nominated by the crown and consecrated under letters patent, but the appointment is expressly subjected "to such power of revocation and recall as is by law vested" in the crown; and where additional oversight was necessary for the church in Tinnevelly, it could only be secured by the consecration of two assistant bishops, who worked under a commission for the archbishop of Canterbury which was to expire on the death of the bishop of Madras. Since then, however, new sees have been founded which are under no such restrictions.
(3) By degrees, also, the relations of colonial churches to the archbishop of Canterbury have changed. Until 1855 no colonial bishop was consecrated outside the British Isles, the first instance being Dr. MacDougall of Labuan, consecrated in India under a commission from the archbishop of Canterbury; and until 1874 it was held to be unlawful for a bishop to be consecrated in England without taking the suffragan's oath of due obedience. This necessity was removed by the Colonial Clergy Act of 1874, which permits the archbishop at his discretion to dispense with the oath.
But the most complete autonomy does not involve isolation. The churches are in full communion with one another, and act together in many ways; missionary jurisdictions and dioceses are mapped out by common arrangement, and even transferred if it seems advisable; e.g. the diocese Honolulu (Hawaii), previously under the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Canterbury, was transferred in 1900 to the Episcopal Church in the United States on account of political changes. Though the see of Canterbury claims no primacy over the Anglican communion analogous to that exercised over the Roman Church by the popes, it is regarded with a strong affection and deference, which shows itself by frequent consultation and interchange of greetings. There is also a strong common life emphasized by common action.
The conference of Anglican bishops from all parts of the world, instituted by Archbishop Longley in 1867, and known as the Lambeth Conferences, though even for the Anglican communion they have not the authority of an ecumenical synod, and their decisions are rather of the nature of counsels than commands, have done much to promote the harmony and co-operation of the various branches of the Church. An even more imposing manifestation of this common life was given by the great pan-Anglican congress held in London between the 12th and 24th of June 1908, which preceded the Lambeth conference opened on the 5th of July. The idea of this originated with Bishop Montgomery, secretary to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and was endorsed by a resolution of the United Boards of Mission in 1903. As the result of negotiations and preparations extending over five years, 250 bishops, together with delegates, clerical and lay, from every diocese in the Anglican communion, met in London, the opening service of intercession being held in Westminster Abbey. In its general character, the meeting was but a Church congress on an enlarged scale, and the subjects discussed, e.g.. the attitude of churchmen towards the question of the marriage laws or that of socialism, followed much the same lines. The congress, of course, had no power to decide or to legislate for the Church, its main value being in drawing its scattered members closer together, in bringing the newer and more isolated branches into consciousness of their contact with the parent stem, and in opening the eyes of the Church of England to the point of view and the peculiar problems of the daughter-churches.
Churches of the Anglican Communion
- Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
- Anglican Church of Australia
- Anglican Church of Canada
- Anglican Church of Kenya
- Anglican Church of Korea
- Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea
- Church in Wales
- Church of England
- Church of Ireland
- Church of Nigeria
- Church of North India
- Church of South India
- Church of Uganda
- Church of the Province of Burundi
- Church of the Province of Central Africa
- Church of the Province of Melanesia
- Church of the Province of Myanmar
- Church of the Province of Rwanda
- Church of the Province of South East Asia
- Church of the Province of Southern Africa
- Church of the Province of Tanzania
- Church of the Province of the Indian Ocean
- Church of the Province of the West Indies
- Church of the Province of West Africa
- Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East
- Episcopal Church in the United States of America
- Episcopal Church of Cuba
- Episcopal Church of the Sudan
- Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui
- Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central America
- Iglesia Anglicana de México
- Iglesia Anglicana del Cono Sur de las Americas
- Igreja Episcopal do Brasil
- Lusitanian Church of Portugal
- Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Japan)
- Philippine Episcopal Church
- Scottish Episcopal Church
- Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church
Churches in full communion
- Philippine Independent Church
- Church of Bangladesh
- Church of Pakistan
- Church of North India
- Church of South India
- Mar Thoma Syrian Church of India
- Old Catholic Church
Continuing Anglican Churches (partial list)
- Anglican Catholic Church
- Anglican Catholic Church of Canada
- Anglican Church in America
- Anglican Province of Christ the King
- Church of England (Continuing)
- Church of England in South Africa
- Episcopal Missionary Church
- United Episcopal Church of North America
- Official website
- Decentralised nature of worldwide Anglicanism
- Comprehensive Anglican vocabulary
- the conservative Classical Anglican Net News website
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