[I raise a matter that is already being asked in the Courts of the USA and will be asked over and over again in the next decade.]
Some organizations are made up of individual persons, others are made up of corporate bodies, while others have both individual persons and corporate bodies in membership.
The Automobile Association is composed of thousands of individual motorists, who pay a fee to join. The United Nations is as its title indicates an association of nations. A political party both has corporate members (e.g., a trades union) and individual members.
In the case of the United Nations, an individual person may claim that he is a member only as he sees himself as a citizen of a country, which itself is a member. But in reality he is not a member as an individual person.
Now to the Anglican Communion of Churches—how is one a member of this religious organization and fellowship? The answer seems reasonably straightforward.
As the Name, “Communion of Churches,” clearly indicates it is an association, a federation, a communion of multiple, individual [and autonomous] national Provinces (Churches), each of which makes a certain commitment to inter-dependency when it joins the Communion. Membership of this organization is restricted, by the very nature of the case, to National Provinces/Churches. Individual parishes, and individual dioceses, are not by the nature of the case eligible for membership. Only as part of a regional whole can they be members and then only in a derivative sense.
Thus, a baptized Anglican person may say that he is a member of the Anglican Communion of Churches only in the sense that being a member of a parish and diocese in an autonomous Province, he is thereby, being within that Province, within the Anglican Communion.
In recent times, especially in the U.S.A., it has been claimed that individual dioceses and individual parishes, by a kind of determination of their desires and wills, and through association with kindred spirits in overseas Provinces of the Anglican Communion, are within the Anglican Communion. However, if it is the case—and it seems to be so as explained above—that the Anglican Communion is a fellowship of Provinces or National Churches then this claim appears to be without foundation.
But, it is asked, what if a congregation is within a Mission or Network established by an overseas Province, and that overseas Province is in the Anglican Communion of Churches. Is this congregation entitled to say it is in the Anglican Communion? The answer is not easy to supply for the case is complex.
The Episcopal Church is a Province of the Anglican Communion and, while not a few other Provinces would like to expel it, the fact of the matter remains that TEC is in the Communion, and is in it as a Province (a collection of dioceses). The Networks and Missions and Dioceses from overseas Provinces currently invading and working within the territory of TEC are not recognized, indeed they have been asked to depart, by the TEC. The Archbishop of Canterbury takes the same position.
Since only Provinces are members of the Communion of Churches, then one has to decide whether the outposts of overseas Provinces within the American Province (acting totally contrary to the rules of the same Communion) can be legitimately counted as truly an integral part of the overseas Provinces within this situation.
As there is no Anglican Court of Appeal to determine this matter, there are, and will be, differences of opinion. One may note in passing that those who belong to the outposts of overseas Provinces in the USA will give their claim of membership a stronger form, if they do not begin from the position that their local congregation and network (or diocese) is within the Anglican Communion; but, rather, always make it clear that the overseas Province to which they belong is, and that they are part of it , not by first of all an act of their wills but rather by the will of the Synod of that Province. In other words, if they simply begin from themselves with their claim and right to be inside the Anglican Communion (rather than in a kind of no man’s land) then they are on extremely weak ground. They will be heard in the USA but hardly at all overseas.
I truly hope that in charity at this late hour the Archbishop of Canterbury invites the missionary bishops of Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda to Lambeth 2008, even if he believes that their presence on US soil is both unnecessary and unfortunate. I say in charity because their canonical and legal right to be there is an open question, as the presentation above makes reasonable clear.
The Revd Dr Peter Toon
President of the Prayer Book Society 2007