What has come to be known as theLambeth Quadrilateral defines the essential beliefs of Anglicanism. First suggested by an American, William Reed Huntington, in 1870, the Quadrilateral states four elements essential to the Anglican conception of Christian identity—the Bible, the Nicene Creed, baptism and Holy Communion, and the episcopate (William Reed Huntington, 1870). The Lambeth Conference of 1930 further clarified the nature of Anglicanism when it described the Anglican Communion asa 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 uphold and propagate the…faith and order as they are generally set forth in the Book of Common Prayer…; promote within each of their territories a national expression of Christian faith, life and worship; and 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.
The Anglican Communion thus holds to the faith as expounded by the Scriptures and by the early Church Fathers. It respects the authority of the state but does not submit to it, and it equally respects the freedom of the individual. The Anglican Communion does not seek to evade the challenges of the world or to live a life separate from it. Basing its doctrines on the Bible, the Anglican Communion allows a remarkable latitude of interpretation by both clergy and laity.
The Church of England holds close to the spirit of the Thirty-nine Articles, a doctrinal statement drawn up by the clergy of Canterbury in the mid-16th century and approved by Elizabeth I in 1571. Nevertheless, subscription to the articles is not required of the laity, and adherence by the clergy is expected only in a general way. Other churches or councils of the Anglican Communion take different views of the articles, but none regards them as having, for example, the status of the historic statements of belief set forth in the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, nor do they accord them the status given to other 16th-century doctrinal statements, such as the Augsburg Confession of the Lutheran churches or the Westminster Confession of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches.
Anglicans accept a threefold order of ministry, consisting of bishops, priests or presbyters, and deacons. Although they hold to the view of succession from the Apostles, they are not committed to any particular theory regarding the conveyance of that ministry. Anglicans attempt to balance the clerical point of view with forms of authority that include the laity. Even bishops are rarely able to function without the advice and consent of other clergy and laity.
Worship is the centre of Anglican life. Anglicans view their tradition as a broad form of public prayer, and they attempt to encompass diverse Christian styles in a traditional context. Although The Book of Common Prayer is the most apparent mark of Anglican identity, it has undergone many revisions and wears national guises. The prayer book of 1662 represents the official version in the Church of England, but a 1928 version is commonly used. In 2000 the church introduced Common Worship, a modernized collection of services and prayers, as an official alternative to the 1662 prayer book.
Outside England a few Anglicans still rely upon the English prayer book of 1662, but most have their own versions, increasingly in languages other than English. All forms hold to the essential, historic elements of the prayer book but incorporate local idioms. In recent years there has been a recovery of ancient liturgical styles and vestments as well as an increased emphasis on the Eucharist as the central act of Christian worship. Experimental rites have appeared in different parts of the Anglican world. Change in Anglican worship has meant increased variety, new roles for the laity, and a tendency toward freedom of expression while retaining the essence of the church’s traditional forms (Vexen Crabtree, 2000).
Often said to be the middle way between Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, the Anglican Communion is comprehensive in matters of doctrine and practice. While asserting the importance of the apostolic succession of bishops and The Book of Common Prayer, it nevertheless allows a considerable degree of flexibility in most doctrinal and liturgical matters. Thus, within the Communion there are several schools of thought and practice, including High Church, Anglo-Catholic, Low Church or Evangelical, and others. The various churches of the Anglican Communion, though autonomous, are bound together by a common heritage and common doctrinal and liturgical concerns, and there has always been a considerable amount of interchange of ecclesiastical personnel.
The Anglican Communion consists of autonomous national churches that are bound together by intangible links best described as ties of loyalty between the see of Canterbury and each other. Although the archbishop of Canterbury is respected throughout the Communion and his words carry great moral authority, he exercises no jurisdiction over any part of the Communion other than the diocese of Canterbury and the Church of England as a whole through the authority vested in synods and convocations. Like a family, the Anglican Communion changes its form and shape, growing larger when new provinces (areas of jurisdiction) are formed and smaller when schemes of union with non-Anglican churches are consummated.
The basic unit of the Anglican Communion is the diocese, a geographic area over which a bishop presides. Dioceses generally form part of a larger unit known as a province, but even these are far from uniform in configuration. A province may, for example, be part of an autonomous church: the Anglican Church of Australia has five provinces and that of Canada four; the Churches of England and Ireland have two each; and the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA), has nine (Grace Davie, 1997). Some provinces, however, include whole countries, such as Japan, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Other provinces cover a number of countries, such as the provinces of Southern Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, the West Indies, and the Southern Cone of America. On occasion, one diocese covers a whole country or even several countries, such as the diocese of Polynesia.
The mother church of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England, has maintained close connections with the state. It has representative bishops in the House of Lords and can properly be called the established church, even though, contrary to much popular opinion, it is in no sense supported financially by the state. The Church of England itself is without question the church of the English people, even though many of the country’s citizens do not so regard it (Monica Furlong, 2000).
The Anglican Communion has never had much worldwide structure—indeed, it has been characterized by its lack of structure. Even meetings of Anglican church leaders have been restricted, except in very recent times, to the Lambeth Conferences and to pan-Anglican congresses, which involve clergy and laity as well as bishops. Only three such meetings were held in the 20th century: in London in 1908, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., in 1954, and in Toronto, Canada, in 1963. The Lambeth Conference of 1968 recommended the formation of the Anglican Consultative Council, an advisory body of about 60 members, including bishops, clergy, and laypersons; its president is the archbishop of Canterbury. The council shares information, coordinates policy, and develops unified mission strategies. Although it lacks binding authority, the council increases the Anglican tendency toward consultation in matters of faith and life. It meets at two- or three-year intervals between Lambeth Conferences. It replaced the Lambeth Consultative Body, whose members were the primates or presiding bishops of the various national churches, and the Advisory Council on Missionary Strategy, which came into being after World War II. The Lambeth Conference of 1978 recommended that the primates of all Anglican provinces meet regularly, and they have since done so in various countries of the Anglican Communion.
The importance of conversation among Anglicans is reflected in the extent of change in some branches of the Anglican Communion. In the second half of the 20th century, most churches of the Anglican world revised their versions of The Book of Common Prayer. In the United States, revision of the Episcopalian prayer book was extensive. The new prayer book of 1979 reflected years of liturgical study, trial drafts, and discussion. It offered unprecedented liturgical options, including the use of modern English liturgies and opportunities for informal worship. The controversy generated by the book abated only slowly.
Equally controversial were the admission of women to the church’s priesthood and the prospect of women bishops. Women had been ordained priests in Hong Kong in 1944 and in 1971. By the mid-1970s, women in various parts of the Anglican world called for the priesthood to be opened to them. The impact was greatest in the United States and Canada, where women eventually constituted a significant percentage of seminary students. American Episcopalians approved women as priests in 1976 after heated debate. While several other Anglican churches took a similar course, the Church of England preferred to study the issue. Opponents of the ordination of women feared the loss of the church’s Catholic heritage, while advocates saw a chance for Anglican leadership in expanding the ministries open to women in the church. After two decades of debate, the Church of England ordained its first women priests in 1994.
The Lambeth Conference of 1988 confronted the possibility that a woman would become a bishop in the United States. That possibility became a reality in 1989, when Barbara C. Harris was ordained a bishop. (She was elected as a suffragan bishop of Massachusetts but did not head a diocese.) In subsequent years, other women were consecrated as bishops. In 1990 New Zealander Penelope Jamieson became the first diocesan bishop, and in 2006 the ECUSA elected Katharine JeffertsSchori as the first woman presiding bishop of any member church of the Anglican Communion. The Church of England voted to consecrate women as bishops in 2008. The election of women as bishops or presiding bishops was welcomed by some members of the Anglican Communion and strongly opposed by others (Ronald Hutton, 1999).
The consecration in 2003 of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as the bishop of New Hampshire, U.S., posed another challenge to Anglican solidarity. Robinson’s consecration met with strong opposition throughout the church—especially in Africa, where bishops called for the ECUSA to repent and came close to forging a schism over the matter. Like the elevation of women to the bishopric, the consecration of homosexuals to the office of bishop also created an obstacle to improved relations with the Roman Catholic Church. In 2004 the leaders of the Anglican Communion member churches agreed to a moratorium on the ordination as bishops of individuals in same-sex relationships. After the ordination of Mary Glasspool, who was in a same-sex relationship, as a suffragan bishop in the diocese of Los Angeles in 2010, the Anglican Communion imposed sanctions on the ECUSA, barring its members from participating in ecumenical dialogue and in discussions about Anglican doctrine (V. Gene Robinson, 2003).