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This page last updated 16 March 2010
Anglicans Online last updated 31 August 2014

The Anglican Communion

AN ANGLICAN CHURCH IS categorised by its relationship to the See of Canterbury. There are four kinds of relationships that a church can have to that See, and hence to the rest of the Anglican Communion. The differences between them are not entirely crisp, but the concepts in the abstract are clear enough:

  • The Anglican Communion itself
    Those churches that are listed by the Secretariat of the Anglican Communion Office as being part of it. All of these churches are in full communion with the See of Canterbury, and recognize the Archbishop of Canterbury as being a focal point of the church. We list these churches geographically: see Australia, New Zealand, Canada, UK Ireland and Europe, USA, Hong Kong, Japan, and World. The ANGLICAN.ORG web site has links to all administrative components of the entire Anglican church, here.
         The Archbishop of Canterbury is generally considered the honorary head of the Anglican Communion or primus inter pares (first amongst equals). You can find the official website of Dr Rowan Willliams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, here.
  • The Compass Rose Society provides financial support for the the ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury throughout the Anglican Communion. The Society takes its name from the symbol of the Anglican Communion. It was established in 1997.
  • Churches that are 'in full communion' with the See of Canterbury
    Churches in full communion, as defined by the 1958 Lambeth Conference, but which are not culturally or denominationally Anglican. We list those churches on our In Full Communion page.
  • Churches that "have intercommunion" with the Anglican church
    The 1958 Lambeth Conference recommended "that where between two Churches not of the same denominational or confessional family, there is unrestricted communio in sacris, including mutual recognition and acceptance of ministries, the appropriate term to use is 'full communion,' and that where varying degrees of relation other than 'full communion' are established by agreement between two such churches, the appropriate term is 'intercommunion.' " We do not list these churches at Anglicans Online.
  • Churches that are, by policy, not in communion with the See of Canterbury
    Paradoxically, these are the denominations liturgically and culturally most similar to the member churches of the Anglican Communion. In general the not-in-communion Anglican churches have broken away from the Anglican church because of disagreement over some doctrinal issue, and the property of not being in communion with Canterbury is part of their identity. We list these churches on our Not in the Communion page.

In order to have an Anglican church in valid apostolic succession, one needs to have one bishop whose consecration is through an Anglican origin. While that bishop may have been consecrated in the Anglican church, he or she has no obligation to remain administratively part of it. Each of these churches that we list in categories two and four has at least one independent bishop.

Administratively the Anglican Communion is very complex. It is divided into transnational provinces, extraprovincial dioceses, national churches, intranational provinces, and such. You needn't understand any of them in order to find what you are looking for, and in fact if you know too much about them you might have trouble finding things. For example, the Diocese of Colombia, in South America, is administratively part of the Episcopal Church in the USA, the Diocese of Peru, next door, is administratively part of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America, and the Anglican Church of Brazil, next door to Peru, is its own province with ten dioceses. There is also an Anglican Centre in Rome, an outpost of the Anglican Communion near the Vatican.

If you would like to read a short summary of the structure of the Anglican Communion, see "About our Church" in the anglican.org web site. If you want to study the administrative structure of the Anglican Communion, we refer you to the web site of the Anglican Communion Office in London.

In doing the research necessary to produce these web pages, we came across a paragraph in one of the Not In Communion church pages that seems a suitable way to end our discussion of interchurch relationships. We have slightly rewritten the quotation so that it is not so specific to that particular church:

'There are various Patriarchates, which ought to be united and form the supreme authority in the administration and government of the Holy Catholic Church. Unfortunately, owing to disputes and differences on the one hand, and to the lust for power and supremacy and domination on the other, the Patriarchs are not at present in Communion; and the welfare of Christendom is jeopardized by their unedifying quarrels, which, we pray, may soon have an end'.

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