Everyone agrees that what we know as Anglicanism, or the Reformed Catholicism of The Anglican Way, began when ecclesia anglicana, the Church of and in England, went through a reformation in the middle of the sixteenth century. To gain an immediate acquaintance of the heart of the changed religion of this National Church one needs to read the English Bible, the English Prayer Book, the English Ordinal [services of ordination] , the Articles of Religion, and the Book of Homilies.
Obviously, since the sixteenth century, there have been changes and developments in the religion of The Church of England and in the many churches created from it around the world. Nevertheless, everyone agrees that the Anglican form of Christianity began in the Church of England.
Until very recently everyone apparently also agreed that rightly to claim the name of Anglican a Church in any country had to be in communion with the Church of England, and the way of expressing this was often, “in communion with the See of Canterbury” as the seat of the archbishop who is known as the Primate of all England.
However, in 2008 we are in the amazing position where Churches, tiny and large, in America and Africa (and perhaps in South America), are claiming that they are truly Anglican; and, at the same time, they are asserting that this does not require being in communion with the See of Canterbury or with the Church of England.
To illustrate this point, let’s begin with the tiny churches, those known as the Continuing Anglican Churches in the U.S.A. and which originally seceded from The Episcopal Church in 1977.
On departing they clearly asserted that they desired to remain in communion with the See of Canterbury (see “Affirmation of St Louis, 1977” ). However, this dimension of their religion has now been dropped. So they claim to be able, in and of themselves, and by their own authority, to define what is “Anglican” and then practice that religion, as wholly separate from the See of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion of Churches.
Now let’s note what the largest of Anglican Churches in the world did in 2002. The Anglican Church of Nigeria removed from its constitution all reference to Communion with the See of Canterbury and stated its own authority to define both what is “Anglican” and what is “the Anglican Communion.” This new Constitution is currently in force.
Though the provinces of Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have not taken such dramatic action as Nigeria, they have effectively united with Nigeria in a position that in practical terms states that Communion with the See of Canterbury is at best optional and may even be damaging—and thus avoided. One major reason for the proposed Conference in June 2008 in Jerusalem (GAFCON), just before the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, is apparently to demonstrate that the Anglican Communion can do quite well without being [mis]guided by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The group of provinces and organizations associated with GAFCON appear to believe that “Anglican” can be defined and claimed by any group that so chooses and the ancient polity of relation to the C of E is no longer necessary—especially as long as Rowan Williams, whom they distrust, is in the See.
This means that the offshoots of these Provinces which are present in the U.S.A. and Canada have to follow the lead of their African leaders. This they seem happy to do! Apparently what is known as the Common Cause Partners (a fledgling organization of some of these offshoots and like-minded groups) has through its appointed leader, Bishop Bob Duncan, stated full commitment to GAFCON and thus to the mindset of it, which is the downgrading or rejection of the See of Canterbury.
Therefore in the U.S.A. any parish or congregation that claims the name of Anglican or Episcopal and desires to be in communion with the See of Canterbury has only one place to go, and that is The Episcopal Church! Though one could say that this Church is hanging on by a thread to its membership in The Anglican Communion of Churches, it is still a member! Much the same point applies in Canada.
There may be an exception to this and that is membership of a former TEC diocese that has become a diocese of The Southern Cone of South America—specifically San Joachin in CA. However, it is not wholly clear whether the association of this small Province with GAFCON means that it regards the See of Canterbury merely as an option rather than a necessity for truly Anglican identity.
All in all we are living in complex and confusing times, and nowhere is it more difficult to fathom what is going on than in the U.S.A.
firstname.lastname@example.org Sexagesima , January 2008, www.pbsusa.org