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The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion

June 7, 2010
Office of Public Affairs
The following is another in a series of talking points prepared as a resource for The Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Church

  • The Episcopal Church is an autonomous church which is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, serving God and working together to spread through word and action the good news of God in Christ.
  • The Episcopal Church has over 7400 congregations in 109 dioceses plus three regional areas in 16 countries with 2.2 million members.
  • The Episcopal Church has members in the United States, as well as in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Micronesia, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, Venezuela, the Virgin Islands, and the Convocation of Churches in Europe.
  • The Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church is the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to lead The Episcopal Church as well as any of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion.
  • Since the end of the American Revolution (when American Episcopalians became independent from the Church of England), The Episcopal Church has been organized on three levels: with a General Convention on the national level, individual dioceses, and parishes.
  • General Convention, made up of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, has ultimate legislative authority. It authored (and continues to amend) the Church”s Constitution, establishes the Book of Common Prayer, sets out rules for the ratification of bishops, and through its canonical actions sets forth governance of the Church.

The Anglican Communion

  • There are 38 Provinces in the worldwide Anglican Communion with over 70 million members.
  • The Episcopal Church is a member province, as are others including the Anglican Church of Canada; Anglican Church of Australia; Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil; Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America; The Church of England; The Church of Ireland; The Nippon Sei Ko Kai (The Anglican Communion in Japan); The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & The Middle East; The Anglican Church of Kenya; La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico; The Church of Nigeria; The Episcopal Church in the Philippines; The Scottish Episcopal Church; Anglican Church of Southern Africa; Iglesia Anglicana del Cono Sur de America; The Episcopal Church of the Sudan; The Church in the Province of the West Indies.
  • The member churches of the Anglican Communion are joined together by choice in love, and have no direct authority over one another.
  • The Most Rev. Rowan Williams is the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of the Church of England. While acknowledged as first among equals and spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop does not have direct authority over any Anglican Church outside of the Church of England.
  • In the Worldwide Anglican Communion, there are four “Instruments of Unity”:
The Archbishop of Canterbury in his international role as primus inter pares, the senior bishop in the Anglican Communion.
The Lambeth Conference which meets every 10 years, for the bishops of the Anglican Communion. At the 2008 Lambeth Conference, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and the bishops of The Episcopal Church, except for Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, were invited to attend.
The Primates Meetings which are regular meetings for the senior archbishops and bishops of the 38 Provinces. As Primate of The Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori is therefore a member of this group.
The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) which meets every three years or so, and includes bishops, clergy and laity, as members appointed or elected by the 38 provinces of the Communion. The next ACC meeting is scheduled for 2012 in New Zealand.
  • On the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori represents the Primates of the Americas and Bishop Ian Douglas represents the Anglican Consultative Council.

The proposed Anglican Covenant

  • There has been much discussion and some controversy about a proposed Anglican Covenant.
  • The idea for an Anglican Covenant was first rooted in the 2004 Windsor Report (paragraphs 113-120). Since that time, there have been studies, papers, and reports on this topic. The current document under consideration was presented to the Anglican Consultative Council in May 2009 and is referred to as the Ridley Cambridge text, with a section revision released December 2009.
  • In The Episcopal Church, General Convention is the body which would approve or reject the Anglican Covenant. The earliest that General Convention could consider it is at its next meeting in 2012.

Quotes from the history books

  • Presiding Bishop William White, the first Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church (1789), said that the Church of which he was a prime architect was to contain “the constituent principles of the Church of England, and yet independent of foreign jurisdiction or influence.”
  • Archbishop of Canterbury Charles Thomas Longley, who convened the first Lambeth Conference, said in 1867: “It has never been contemplated that we should assume the functions of a general synod of all the Churches in full communion with the Church of England, and take upon ourselves to enact canons that should be binding upon those here represented. We merely propose to discuss matters of practical interest, and pronounce what we deem expedient in resolutions which may serve as safe guides to future action.”
  • Archbishop of Canterbury Campbell Tait noted in 1875 about the Lambeth Conference: “There is no intention whatever on the part of anybody to gather together the Bishops of the Anglican Church for the sake of defining any matter of doctrine. Our doctrines are contained in our formularies, and our formularies are interpreted by the proper judicial authorities, and there is no intention whatever at any such gathering that questions of doctrine should be submitted for interpretation in any future Lambeth Conference any more than they were at the previous Lambeth Conference.”
  • Resolution 49c from the 1930 Lambeth Conference notes: “Churches in the Anglican Communion are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference.”

Resource links

The Episcopal Church:

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

Presiding Bishop”s Pastoral Letter to The Episcopal Church June 2, 2010:

Episcopal News Service

– Standing Committee releases Anglican covenant's revised section 4, 12/18/09

– Anglican covenant sent to provinces for consideration, adoption, 12/18/09

The Anglican Communion:

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams:

An Anglican Covenant:

The Episcopal Church: