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This page last updated 29 November 2014
Anglicans Online last updated 22 October 2017

Church History

In today's world, The Anglican Church is taken to mean those tens of millions of people who worship in churches that are part of the Anglican Communion. Some churches whose name contains the word "Anglican" are part of the Anglican Communion and some are not. The Anglican Domain, is devoted solely to those member churches, provinces, and dioceses that are part of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion Office in London is its administrative headquarters.

The Anglican Communion inherits many centuries of catholic and apostolic tradition, especially that part which began in the British Isles. Although Christian missionaries had reached England by the time of the Council of Jerusalem in 50 AD, the foundation of the Anglican Church is often described as having begun with the arrival in 597 AD of St. Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury.

When the Romans withdrew from Britain in 407 AD, they left a legacy of Christianity among the Celtic people. Those Celtic Christian churches were largely still in existence when Augustine arrived two centuries later, though they had become isolated from Rome. In particular, they survived in Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, and they helped to ensure that, from its beginnings, the Anglican Communion was not exclusively English in origin.

When the English people settled the British Empire they took their religion with them and thus the Church of England spread overseas. Eventually these overseas parishs became autonomous provinces of the Communion. These churches, while autonomous in their governance, are bound together by tradition, Scripture, and the inheritance they have received from the Church of England. They together make up the Anglican Communion, a body headed spiritually by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

If an Anglican church is a member of the Anglican Communion, it is said to be 'in communion', or "in communion with the See of Canterbury". There are also churches which are 'in full communion' with the See of Canterbury but are not culturally or denominationally Anglican. Otherwise it is said to be 'not in communion.' Generally, Anglican churches that are not in communion with the See of Canterbury have withdrawn because of doctrinal differences. In recent years those differences have included the ordination of women priests and the attitude of the church towards sexuality.

Church Gonvernance

There is no central governance of the Anglican Church. Each of the member churches or provinces of the Anglican Communion is governed independently. The rules under which a church is governed are called canon law.

The structure of canon law is not altogether unlike that of modern civil law. A parish has rules or bylaws, which must conform to the rules or canons of the diocese of which it is a member; that diocese in turn must stay within the canons of its province or national church. The provinces and national churches, by choice, have inherited the canons of the Christian church dating back to its earliest days. This accumulation of canons over the centuries and throughout the world is collectively referred to as Anglican Canon Law.

Some of the member churches of the Anglican Communion have placed their constitutions and canons online; so have many dioceses and even a parish or two. You can find these by using a search engine and the key words 'Anglican' 'Canon' Law' and whatever other modifier you like.

Every 10 years there is a Lambeth Conference at which all of the bishops of the Anglican Communion gather to debate issues of doctrine. Doctrine can indirectly affect church governance, but resolutions passed at the Lambeth Conference are not binding on any member churches unless they choose to modify their own canons to be bound by them. However, a church that rejects too much of the doctrine of the Anglican Communion may find itself unwelcome to be or remain part of that Communion.

A grey thin line
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