The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, reflects on how membership of the Communion is defined.
There is much about our Anglican Communion which makes us unique. We are an extraordinary international family, bound together by faith in Jesus Christ and by our rich tradition.
The See of Canterbury is one of the unique features which binds us together. At the Primates’ Meeting in October it was clear just how much Canterbury meant to those who came. For Anglicans, communion with the See of Canterbury – and with its Archbishop – is the visible expression of our communion with one another.
In his advent letter to GAFCON, the Primate of Nigeria says: “the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration clarified that the Anglican Communion is not determined simply by relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury”.
However, the relationship with the See of Canterbury is essential for Anglicans. You cannot be in the Anglican Communion without it.
The fundamental character of this relationship was spelled out by the 1930 Lambeth Conference which refers to the Anglican Communion as “a 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...”
Similarly, the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council defines member churches as “the churches in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury whose names are listed in the Schedule to these Articles”.
As recently as 2012, the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order said in its excellent report “Towards a Symphony of Instruments” that the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury is integral to the way the Anglican Communion is made up: “it is not possible for a Church to be a member of the Communion without being in communion with the archbishop as bishop of the See of Canterbury”.
Of course individual member churches and Provinces of the Anglican Communion are free to enter into relationships of communion with non-Anglican churches. However this does not make those churches members of the Anglican Communion.
We pray wholeheartedly for all churches and communities who are engaged in spreading the gospel, but it’s not correct to say that they are part of the Anglican Communion if they are not in communion with the See of Canterbury. This applies to Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), and other similar bodies.
In our Advent, as we wait for the coming of the Prince of Peace, let us all pray for peace and unity among all Christians, especially those who were once part of the Communion.