16 March 2017

Anglican Studies (2016-2017) 8.2:
Anglican responses to Missio Dei

The Mission was the No 1 movie on the Church Times ‘Top 50 Religious Films’ list … but how do we respond as Anglicans to Missio Dei?

Patrick Comerford

MTh Year II

TH 8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Thursdays: 9.30 a.m. to 12 noon, The Hartin Room.

Thursday, 16 March 2017, 11 a.m.:

Anglican responses to the Missio Dei: Scripture, Worship and Communion as defining themes in contemporary Anglican self-understanding.


The Anglican Communion understands mission as primarily God’s mission (Missio Dei). For the member churches of the Anglican Communion, God’s mission is holistic, concerned for all human beings and the totality of a human person; body mind and spirit. It is concerned for the totality of God’s creation. This holistic understanding of mission is expressed in the Five Marks of Mission, as revised over four years ago at ACC-15 in Auckland, New Zealand on 7 November 2012:

● To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
● To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
● To respond to human need by loving service
● To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
● To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

Bonds of Affection (ACC-6, 1984, p. 49; Mission in a Broken World, ACC-8, 1990, p. 101); reports from ACC-15, 2012.

As you can see, the Five Marks of Mission are not comprehensive in themselves. But they serve as a guide and they help the member churches of the Anglican Communion to live out a mission lifestyle in our local contexts, and in a variety of ways.

Mission takes place primarily in a local context – congregation, parish, diocese and province – but it is the responsibility of every baptised Christian; young and old, male and female, lay and ordained.

Right from the first meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Nairobi, Kenya (ACC-1) in 1971, Mission has been an important strand of the work of the Anglican Communion Office. At this first meeting, the ACC identified four themes:

● Unity and Ecumenical Affairs;
● the Church’s role in Society;
● Order and organisation in the Anglican Church,
● Mission and Evangelism.

The ‘Five Marks of Mission’ were subsequently developed by the Anglican Consultative Council at meetings between 1984 and 1990:

● To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
● To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
● To respond to human need by loving service
● To seek to transform unjust structures of society
● To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

They were then updated by ACC in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2012, so that they now say:

● To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
● To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
● To respond to human need by loving service
● To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
● To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

These five points have won wide acceptance among Anglicans, giving parishes, dioceses and Anglican provinces around the world a practical and memorable checklist for mission activities.

The Five Marks stress the doing of mission. Faithful action is the measure of our response to Christ (cf Matthew 25: 31-46; James 2: 14-26).

The first mark of mission, identified at ACC-6 with personal evangelism, is really a summary of what all mission is about, because it is based on Christ’s own summary of his mission (Matthew 4: 17; Mark 1: 14-15; Luke 4: 18, Luke 7: 22; cf. John 3: 14-17). Instead of being just one (albeit the first) of five distinct activities, perhaps this ought to bed be the key statement about everything we do in mission.

But, as the Anglican Communion travels further along the road towards being mission-centred, do the Five Marks need to be revisited? And, if so, what is missing?

The challenge facing us is not just to do mission but to be a people of mission. That is, we are learning to allow every dimension of Church life to be shaped and directed by our identity as a sign, foretaste and instrument of God’s reign in Christ. Our understanding of mission needs to make that clear.

All mission is done in a particular setting or context. So, although there is a fundamental unity to the good news, as we saw last week it is shaped by the great diversity of places, times and cultures in which we live, proclaim and embody it. The Five Marks should not lead us to think that these are the only five ways of doing mission!

For example, we can also see mission as celebration and thanksgiving. An important feature of Anglicanism is our belief that worship is central to our common life. But worship is not just something we do alongside our witness to the good news: worship is itself a witness to the world. It is a sign that all of life is holy, that hope and meaning can be found in offering ourselves to God (cf Romans 12: 1).

And each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes (I Corinthians 11: 26). Our liturgical life is a vital dimension of our mission calling; and although it is not included in the Five Marks, it undergirds the forms of public witness listed there.

Introducing some readings:

‘Leading a Local Church in the Age of the Spirit’ … a bishop’s insights into ministry, mission and evangelism

1, Anglicans in Mission, a transforming journey eds Eleanor Johnson and John Clark (London: SPCK, 2000), Chapter 3, ‘Transformed and Sent’ (pp 12-31).

This is the report of Missio, the Mission Commission of the Anglican Communion, to the Anglican Consultative Council, which met in Edinburgh in September 1999 (ACC-11). The report was prepared by an international team from 19 nations, in the context of the 1990s, when Anglican Churches throughout the world were responding to the call from the 1988 Lambeth Conference for a ‘dynamic missionary emphasis going beyond care and nurture to proclamation and service.’

The members of the commission grew together through their meetings and encounters with Christians in the nations where they met. They recognised that the member Churches of the Anglican Communion were on a journey together that would transform them as they sought to follow God in his life-giving mission of love to the world.

Their report reflects on this journey towards transformation, and combines exhilarating stories of mission and evangelism with:

● Theological insight
● Advice and strategies for successful mission
● Reflection on the changing patterns and structures for international mission
● A review of the Decade of Evangelism, with guidelines to strengthen partnerships.

Their report concludes with a list of prayers and resources for mission to continue to challenge the Church today.

2, Communion in Mission (London: Anglican Communion Office, 2006), Chapter 5, ‘Mission in the Context of our Blessed but Broken and Hurting World’ (pp 79-90).

This is the report of the Inter Anglican Commission on Mission and Evangelism (2001-2005) to ACC-13 in Nottingham, and includes the interim report to ACC-12, Travelling Together in God’s Mission, and final reports of two major mission consultations in Nairobi and Cyprus.

The report identifies a number of strategic ways in which the Anglican Communion has moved forward in mission and evangelism supported by a growing network of connections.

It calls Anglicans to a renewed commitment to working together in mission as companions, friends and brothers and sisters, strengthening the relationships that hold us together for the sake of mission in the world.

It calls for a development of Covenants in Mission across the Anglican Communion. The report is earthed in stories from around the Anglican Communion and includes questions for discussion and reflection.

3, Jonathan Gledhill, Leading a Local Church in the Age of the Spirit (London: SPCK, 2003), Chapter 7, Mission and Evangelism.

Jonathan Michael Gledhill retired recently [September 2015] as Bishop of Lichfield. He became Bishop of Lichfield in 2003, shortly after this book was published, and this book offers an interesting insight into the approaches to mission of one of today’s best-known evangelical bishops.

Bishop Gledhill was born in 1949 and trained for the ministry at Trinity College, Bristol. He was a curate in Chester (1975-1978) priest in charge of Saint George’s, Folkestone (1978-1983), and Vicar of Saint Mary Bredin, Canterbury (1983-1996), before becoming the suffragan Bishop of Southampton (1996-2003), and then Bishop of Lichfield (2003=2015).

The book is based on Bishop Gledhill’s own experience of ministry, in particular at Saint Mary Bredin, Canterbury, which experienced spectacular and sustained growth while he was vicar.

The book, which is anecdotal in style, offers a blueprint for any church leader wanting to create a busy, thriving church. The first part of the book discusses issues and definitions of leadership, power within the church and worship. This discussion forms the basis for the second section, which is about the practical aspects of leadership, including sermon preparation, house groups, youth and children, mission and evangelism, church planting, social responsibility and managing volunteers, money and buildings. He has a clear enthusiasm for the charismatic movement and the ordination of women, yet this exists alongside a concern to promote preaching.

Mission and Mission agencies in the Church of Ireland today:

The Church of Ireland Council for Mission, which reports to the General Synod, includes members elected by the General Synod, representatives from the 12 dioceses of the Church of Ireland, one member each from the Bishops’ Appeal and the Mothers’ Union, one person from the Methodist Church, and representatives from the mission agencies working within the Church of Ireland through the Association of Mission Societies (AMS), of which I am a former chair.

This week [15 March 2017], John Young of Wycliffe Bible Translators spoke in the chapel on behalf the AMS member societies. The 17 member organisations listed in the current [2017] Church of Ireland Directory (pp 240-244) are:

The Bible Society in Northern Ireland, Church Army, Church Mission Society Ireland (CMS Ireland), Crosslinks, Dublin University Far Eastern Mission (DUFEM), Dublin University Mission to Chota Nagpur (DUMCN), Intercontinental Church Society, Irish Church Missions, Leprosy.ie (the Leprosy Mission in Ireland), the Leprosy Mission Northern Ireland (TLM), the Mission to Seafarers, National Bible Society of Ireland, SAMS UK and Ireland (South American Mission Society), Tearfund Ireland, Tearfund Northern Ireland, the United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG) and Wycliffe Bible Translators.

The Bishops’ Appeal, Christian Aid and the Mothers’ Union are not members. Why do you think this is so?

Is there a difference between ‘home mission’ and ‘foreign missions’?

Five years ago [2012], the report of the Church of Ireland Council for Mission spoke of how mission in the Church of Ireland is often driven by the mission agencies (see p. 391).

But should the Church take ownership of mission and drive it forward, owning the agenda and taking responsibility for identifying the resources? This implicit, for example in the full legal name of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the US a national church corporate body, which is the ‘Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.’

Is there a conflict between the goals of development and mission, or are they complementary?

Do the mission agencies give the impression of over-emphasising fund-raising in the parishes at the expense of empowering parishes to engage in mission?

Do the present divisions within the Anglican Communion have their sources in, or reflect the differences in emphasis of the mission agencies based in these islands?

Concluding comments:

The memorial in Saint Matthew’s Church, Westminster, to Bishop Frank Weston (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bishop Frank Weston, who was the Bishop of Zanzibar from 1908, held together in a creative combination his incarnational and sacramental theology with his radical social concerns formed the keynote of his address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923. He believed that the sacramental focus gave a reality to Christ’s presence and power that nothing else could. ‘The one thing England needs to learn is that Christ is in and amid matter, God in flesh, God in sacrament.’

And so he concluded: ‘But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, then, when you come out from before your tabernacles, you must walk with Christ, mystically present in you through the streets of this country, and find the same Christ in the peoples of your cities and villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums … It is folly – it is madness – to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children.’

Next week (23 March 2017):

9.1, Is it possible to speak of an Anglican ecclesiology?

9.2, Is there an appropriate ecclesiology for the Church of Ireland?

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is an extended version of notes prepared for a lecture on the MTh Year II course, TH 8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context, on Thursday 16 March 2017.

Anglican Studies (2016-2017) 8.1:
the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and
the emergence of an Anglican Covenant

Lambeth Palace, seen from Westminster on the opposite bank of the River Thames ... the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury also gives its name to the Lambeth Conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

MTh Year II

TH 8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Thursdays: 9.30 a.m. to 12 noon, The Hartin Room.

Thursday, 16 March 2017, 9.30 a.m.:

The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and the emergence of an Anglican Covenant.

8.2: Anglican responses to the Missio Dei: Scripture, Worship and Communion as defining themes in contemporary Anglican self-understanding.

8.1: The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and the emergence of an Anglican Covenant.

At the beginning of this module, we looked at the Anglican Communion, and who were are as a global communion of Churches, sharing much in common when it comes to liturgy, heritage, understanding of the church (ecclesiology), church order and structures, and ways of doing theology.

We looked at the tensions of holding together diversity in unity, and how the four instruments of communion act as agents for that: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council. But we said very little about we got to being the Anglican Communion, very little about how we managed to agree on these as the four instruments of communion, and little at all about the process that has led to the debates about the Anglican Covenant.

This morning, I want to introduce us to the processes that have led to the formation of the Anglican Communion, the ways we define ourselves, and to look at the way the Anglican Covenant came to be part of today’s debate for Anglicans in general and the Church of Ireland in particular.

The formation of the Anglican Communion and the first Lambeth Conference:

The compass rose, the symbol of the Anglican Communion … it is surmounted by a bishop’s mitre, in the centre is the cross of Saint George, and the Greek motto, Ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς (‘The truth will set you free’), a quotation from John 8: 32. It was designed by Canon Edward Nason West of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York

The Anglican Communion is the Anglican/Episcopal family, consisting of about 80 million Christians who are members of 44 different churches. It is the third largest communion or international denomination of Christians, following Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Anglican Communion is made up of 34 provinces, four United Churches, and six other Churches, spread across the globe.

As Mark Chapman of Ripon College Cuddesdon says in The Anglican Covenant (p. 2):

‘Anyone who travels across the world will soon realize that in some ways Anglicanism is a bit like Microsoft or any other global brand – in that it covers most of the inhabited world, and is the third largest Christian denomination after Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, with perhaps 80 million members. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, may not be quite as well known as Bill Gates, but I would guess that his beard and his eyebrows command a pretty high degree of international recognition.’

Mark Chapman says that in the days of the British Empire there was an obvious connection between Anglicanism and England … But while many of the member churches in the Anglican Communion claim a direct link with the Church of England, and see this as an important element in what defines them as Anglican, it is not always so, and has not always been so.

There are four Anglican churches on these islands:

● The Church of England,
● The Church of Ireland,
● The Scottish Episcopal Church; and
● The Church in Wales.

These four churches also have different origins in themselves. The Church of Ireland, the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church point out that the origins of Christianity in their countries predate the mission in England of Saint Augustine of Canterbury, who was sent from Rome in the year 597.

The Church of Ireland claims to be the successor to the ancient Celtic and Anglo-Norman churches. In the late mediaeval period, the churches in the dioceses in the ancient Viking cities of Ireland, including Dublin, Waterford, Cork and Limerick, sometimes continued to look to Canterbury for their episcopal orders and succession.

The Reformation in Scotland was followed by turmoil over whether the reformed church should be episcopal or Presbyterian in its style of church government. After the Episcopal Church was disestablished in 1689, it suffered under penal laws in force from 1746-1792. This church developed its own (high) liturgy; it had strong links with the dissenting, high church Nonjurors of the Church of England, and did not adopt the 39 Articles until the end of the 18th century.

Historically, there have been strong links not only between the Church of Ireland and the Church of England, but there have also been strong links between the Church of Ireland and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

At the restoration of Charles II, and the restoration of the episcopal model of Church in the Church of Ireland in 1660, four of the eight remaining bishops were of Scottish birth, or of immediate Scots ancestry. Later, when it came to framing its own Ecclesiastical Canons, the Episcopal Church of Scotland looked not only to the 1603 Canons of the Church of England, and the 1636 Canons of the Church of Scotland, but also to the 1634 Canons of the Church of Ireland.

Just as it would be wrong to define the distinctive characteristics of the Church of Ireland or the Scottish Episcopal Church within the strictures of our links with the Church of England, so too the Anglican Churches around the world cannot be defined as Anglican solely because of their links, directly or indirectly, back to the Church of England.

Some of those churches trace their episcopal succession, their liturgies, their ways of doing theology, their stories, back to the Episcopal Church of Scotland, including the Episcopal Church in the US (TEC), which in turn introduced Anglicanism to many parts of Latin America, to Korea, to Japan and to many parts of China.

Anglican origins and Irish missionaries

Charles Inglis from Glencolumbcille, Co Donegal … the first Anglican bishop in Canada

Some of the churches in the Anglican Communion trace their historical origins, at least in part, back to the Church of Ireland:

Canada: The first Anglican bishop in Canada was Charles Inglis from Glencolumbcille, Co Donegal; Toronto has traditionally been called the ‘Belfast of Ontario.’

South Africa: The first Anglican celebration of the Holy Communion in South Africa was by a priest of the Church of Ireland, and church historians see this event as marking the origins of the present-day Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACNA).

Many other Anglican churches, including those in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, owe their growth and present numbers to Irish missionaries. Irish missionaries were pioneers in establishing an Anglican presence in parts of Persia/Iran, India, China, &c.

Indigenous Anglican churches

In addition, some churches in the Anglican Communion today are indigenous churches that grew up in their own special circumstances, and looked not to the Church of England, but to the US or even to Ireland for episcopal succession:

Mexico: The Anglican Church of Mexico originated indigenously in 1810, and sought orders from the Episcopal Church in the US.

Spain: The Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church arose through the work of a former Roman Catholic priest. At first it was under the pastoral care of the Bishop of Mexico, but it received its episcopal orders from the Bishop of Meath in 1894, and was not fully integrated into the Anglican Communion until 1980. Is it Anglican? Is it indigenous? Is it a daughter church of the Church of Ireland?

Portugal: the Lusitanian Church (the Portuguese Episcopal Church) was formed by dissident Roman Catholic priests who formed congregations and adapted the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

India: The Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar in India, although not a full member of the Anglican Communion, is in full communion with all the member churches, and sends its bishops to the Lambeth Conferences. Yet its origins are to be found in the Syrian Orthodox Church in India.

These churches in the Anglican Communion are diverse in their language, their culture, their origins, and their ethnicity. So, to be Anglican is not to share a common English heritage, culture, liturgy, nor is it to look to the See of Canterbury as the source of Episcopal government. It would be wrong to equate Anglican with some form of ecclesial ‘Englishness.’ It would be wrong to assume that the Anglican Communion finds its identity through links with the Church of England.

Some questions:

● What do we mean by Anglican?
● What do we mean by the Anglican Communion?
● Where did those terms ‘Anglican’ and ‘Anglican Communion’ originate?
● How did the first Anglican churches outside these islands spring up?

The origins of a global Anglicanism:

Initially, it might be said, Anglicanism of the English variety followed not only the colonial flag, but also trade and commerce, and the penal system. But soon it started to spread too due to the endeavours of the missionary societies, including the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK, 1698), the (United) Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG, 1701, now USPG), and the Church Mission(ary) Society (CMS, 1799).

North America: The Eucharist was first celebrated according to Anglican rites in North America in present-day Canada at Frobisher Bay in 1578. In what is today the US, the first celebration of the Eucharist according to Anglican rites was at Jamestown in Virginia in 1607.

Latin America: The roots of the Anglican Church in Latin America were being planted with the arrival of English colonists on the Miskita coast in Central America from 1740. Expatriate Anglican chaplaincies were established in 1810 in Brazil, where the church today is Portuguese-speaking.

Europe: Soon there was also a diffuse and diverse Anglican presence on the European Continent. Anglican chaplaincies were established in ports in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe in the 17th century, and further afield as the Levant and East India Companies flourished. From the time William Laud was Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1630s, Anglicans abroad, in the colonies or in the centres of trade, were theoretically under the jurisdiction of the Bishops of London, not of the Archbishops of Canterbury.

In the 17th century there was an Anglican presence in such diverse places in Europe as the Dutch ports, including Amsterdam; in Zakynthos and Piraeus (both now in Greece but then part of the Venetian and Ottoman empires respectively), where the presence of the Levant Company meant there were Anglican services and Anglican burials; and in Paris, where there was also a Nonjuror Anglican presence at the Jacobite court in exile, those serving it including the former Chancellor of Connor, the Irish theologian, Charles Leslie.

Anglicans in North America

Bishop George Berkeley … an early missionary from the Church of Ireland

With the foundation of SPCK in 1698 and SPG in 1701, both under the patronage of the bishops of both the Church of England and the Church of Ireland, a new missionary era opened up for Anglicans. In North America, the early SPG missionaries included Bishop George Berkeley, who went to Bermuda.

In the 18th century, SPG and later CMS were active in missionary work in Canada. The first regular church services in Canada began in 1710 at Port Royal, and the first Anglican church built in present-day Canada was Saint Paul’s, Halifax, built in 1750.

By now there was strong pressure for bishops to serve the church in the colonies. Anyone wanting to work as an Anglican priest in the colonies had to be ordained in England by the Bishop of London. Except in Scotland, where the penal laws enforced diocesan and episcopal reorganisation on the nonjuring Episcopal Church, a royal charter was needed to create new Anglican dioceses, and new bishops had to be consecrated under a royal mandate. Among those who were early advocates of providing bishops for the colonies in America was the Co Donegal missionary, Charles Inglis.

The American Revolution meant the expulsion of many loyalist Anglicans, including Inglis, to neighbouring Canada. But it left Episcopalians in the new US without bishops. In 1783, the clergy of Connecticut elected Samuel Seabury (1729-1796) as their bishop and sent him to London for consecration. But legal constraints prohibited the bishops of the Church of England from consecrating him – there was no diocese created by royal charter, no royal mandate to consecrate him, and he could be regarded as either a foreigner or a traitor.

Seabury turned to the nonjuring bishops of the Episcopal Church of Scotland, who consecrated him in 1784. He returned to America, promising to adapt the distinctive Scottish Communion in his office, and providing a line of episcopal succession that owes its origins not to the Church of England, but to Scotland.

By now, the church in the US was being slowly organised, and the convention in Philadelphia in 1785 and the election of a presiding bishop in 1789 mark not, as Charles Long asserts, the formation of ‘the first Anglican Province independent of the Church of England,’ but the formation of the first Anglican Province outside British jurisdiction.

Eventually, in 1786, an act was passed allowing the Archbishop of Canterbury to consecrate bishops who were not crown subjects. In the following year, two more Americans were consecrated at Lambeth Palace. That year also saw the consecration of the Irish-born Charles Inglis as Bishop of Nova Scotia. An Act passed in 1819 allowed the ordination in the Church of England of clergy to serve outside the Church of England, provided they were going to minister in the colonies. The act speaks of them of being ‘ordained for the cure of souls in His Majesty’s foreign possessions.’ An Act of 1841 allowed the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to consecrate bishops to work ‘in any foreign country’ without requiring the oath of allegiance.

Anglican expansion beyond Europe and North America

So, what about Anglican expansion outside Europe and North America?

In West Africa, Anglican mission work began on the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) in 1752.

South Africa: The oldest Anglican province in Africa is the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. Although Roman Catholic missionaries had arrived with the early Portuguese explorers, and the Dutch Reformed Church was present since the 17th century, the first Anglican presence in Cape Town is recorded in 1806.

But Bishop Harry de Vere White, who chronicled the labours of Irish SPG missionaries, traces the origins of the ACSA to the arrival of the first SPG missionary in South Africa, the Revd William Wright from Cork. Wright arrived at the Cape on 21 March 1821, and White sees Wright’s first celebration of the Holy Communion according to Anglican rites at Cape Town as ‘the beginning of the Province of South[ern] Africa.’

In India, SPCK worked in areas where there were British traders but no British colonies. There, unsure about the legal status of the Church of England clergy, SPCK initially employed Lutheran clergy from Denmark. In 1814, a bishop was consecrated for Calcutta, but his jurisdiction included most of Asia and much of Africa too, with Australia as an archdeaconry in his diocese.

Australia: The Anglican Church came to Australia in 1788 with the ‘First Fleet,’ primarily convicts and military personnel. Free settlers soon followed, and Australia received its first Anglican bishop in 1836.

The Anglican Churches in south-east Asia date back to a chaplaincy formed in West Malaysia in 1805.

Two Anglican bishops were consecrated for the West Indies in 1824.

Anglicanism was spreading rapidly, in an unplanned and uncontrolled way, following commerce, colonialism, trade and the penal system, and the travels of explorers and adventurers. It was outside the grasp of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and outside the limitations of any legislation passed by parliament in Westminster.

In 1841, the Colonial Bishoprics’ Fund was created, and speeded up the expansion of the colonial episcopate. The first bishop for Southern Africa was appointed in 1847, the first bishop for south-east Asia was consecrated in 1855.

In many colonies, the Anglican churches were seeking or finding their own measure of autonomy: in 1844, Bishop George Augustus Selwyn of New Zealand called an informal synod; New Zealand was granted a measure of self-government in 1852, and in 1857 the Church of New Zealand received its own constitution.

Bishop Samuel Crowther, the first black African Anglican bishop … from a window in CMS offices in Oxford

By 1864, Anglicanism had its first black African bishop with the consecration of Samuel Adjai Crowther (1806-1891) as Bishop for Nigeria. Three years later, in 1867, there were nearly 50 bishops in the British colonies, and 35 dioceses in the USA.

A new communion?

Anglicanism was no longer a collection of churches offering to serve people from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. It was no longer even confined to areas under British rule. Even in the Church of England and the Church of Ireland, there were early questions too of who we were in communion with.

In Ireland and in England at the end of the 17th century, our churches were happy to welcome the Huguenots. They were welcomed, found a place within the church, and allowed to continue their ministries, provided all future ordinations were carried out by bishops.

In the early 18th century, Archbishop William Wake (1657-1737) of Canterbury corresponded on Christian unity and his hopes for inter-communion of some form with Continental theologians such as:

● the German Moravian bishop and theologian Daniel Ernst Jablonski (1660-1741), who tried but failed to bring about a union of German Lutherans and Calvinists;
● the Swiss Calvinist theologian, Jean-Alphonse Turrettini (1671-1737) of Geneva;
● the French Gallicans, including Piers de Girardin and Louis Ellies Dupin (1657-1719), who also had a vision of uniting the Orthodox and Western churches.

The Nonjurors had a scheme for their form of Anglicanism to be recognised by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, seeing the Eastern Orthodox Church as natural partners for forming a wider church family.

The first missionary endeavours beyond the colonial boundaries saw Anglicans in SPCK happy to employ Danish and German Lutherans, provided they used the liturgy of The Book of Common Prayer. In the early 19th century, Anglicans were happy to collaborate with the Lutherans in establishing a bishopric in Jerusalem.

If the English language or some links with British sovereignty did not define ‘Anglicanism,’ then adherence to the Book of Common Prayer or the 39 Articles did not provide that definition either.

The Scottish liturgy, which was considerably ‘higher’ than the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, influenced and shaped the liturgy of the Episcopal Church in the US (TEC); for a long time, the 39 Articles were not part of the tradition of the Scottish Episcopal Church until 1811, and when they were adopted by the Episcopal Church in the US, they were modified to delete all references to the English sovereign.

The term ‘Anglican’

The terms Anglican and Anglicanism derive etymologically from the Latin anglicanus, meaning English. It is a term that predates the Reformation, that had mediaeval usage.

The terms Anglican and Anglicanism derive etymologically from the Latin anglicanus, meaning English. It is a term that predates the Reformation, that had mediaeval usage. So far, the earliest use of the term I can find is in Ireland, as early as 1172, almost half a century before it is used in England.

In the 12th century, separate and various Irish Rites were being used liturgically throughout the island. But these were abolished at the Synod of Cashel in 1172, when the Roman Rite juxta quod Anglicana observat Ecclesia, or the rite ‘as observed by the Anglican Church,’ was finally substituted. The term is also found again in the 13th century, 40 years later, when the Magna Carta in 1215 refers to Anglicana ecclesia, the English Church. The same phrase is used again at the time of the Reformation – in 1534 in the act confirming the royal supremacy, and in 1562 in John Jewel’s defence of the English Reformation, Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, however, the term ‘Anglican’ begins to refer more specifically to a distinct theological position. The Dublin-born political philosopher Edmund Burke refers to ‘Catholicks, Anglicans or Calvinists,’ and the historian Thomas Babington Macaulay to Anglican doctrine. The French form anglicanisme occurs, it seems, for the first time in 1817, presumably by analogy with gallicanisme, and John Henry Newman uses the phrase ‘Anglicanism’ from 1838 on.

The first use of the term ‘Anglican Communion’ is by John Jebb in a book written while he was in Limerick

Gregory Cameron identifies the first use of the term ‘Anglican Communion’ in 1843 in the title of a book by John Jebb, The Choral Service of the United Church of England and Ireland, being an Inquiry into the Liturgical System of the Cathedral and Collegiate Foundations of the Anglican Communion (London: James Parker, 1843).

This John Jebb (1805-1886) was born in Dublin, the nephew of John Jebb (1775-1833), Bishop of Limerick, and he was a canon of Limerick Cathedral until he moved to England in 1843, the year this book was published.

Four years later, in 1847, Horatio Southgate, the Missionary Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Dominions of the Sultan (Constantinople or Istanbul), spoke of ‘each of the three branches of the Anglican Communion …, namely, the English, the Scotch, and the American … I then combined the three under the title, “The Anglican Branch of the Church of Christ”.’

In 1851, the Bishop of Maryland, William Whittingham, referred to the need for a common code of canon law that could be recognised ‘by the whole of the Churches of the two Communions.’ By the mid-19th century, it was common to refer to the growing family of Anglican and Episcopal churches as ‘two communions.’

The term ‘Anglican Communion’ is eventually used as a defining term at the first Lambeth Conference in 1867.

Origins in disputes

John Colenso ... his heresy trial was one of the principal reasons for calling the first Lambeth Conference

The origins of that Anglican Communion as we have come to know it can be found in two legal battles and a doctrinal dispute that rocked the Anglican churches in the 1850s and 1860s. The first of these legal battles became known as the Eton College Case. In 1857, the courts ruled that the established Church of England could not exist in those colonies where there was a local legislature.

A year earlier, the Bishop of Cape Town, Robert Gray, called a diocesan synod in 1856 – a synod that preceded by 12 years the first diocesan synod in the Church of England, which was held in the Diocese of Lichfield in 1868.

A few years after his synod in Cape Town, Gray – by now accepted as Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan – attempted to depose the Bishop of Natal, John Colenso, for heresy in 1863. Colenso appealed to the Privy Council in London, which ruled in March 1865 that Gray and his synod could only exercise authority over those who voluntarily accepted it. It also held that the letters patent issued to the bishop were invalid because the Cape Colony had its own legislature.

By the time the judgment was issued, Gray had tried Colenso on the grounds that Colenso had sworn canonical obedience to him as metropolitan, thus voluntarily accepting his jurisdiction. The rulings from Gray and the Privy Council left a complete mess. The letters patent were invalid, bishops had been appointed by patents issued in London and yet there was no established church for them to serve in because the colony had its own legislature.

It was a difficult mess from which the churches in the colonies would find it even more difficult to disentangle themselves.

Bishop John Travers Lewis (1825-1901) of Ontario ... the Cork-born bishop, called for a general council of the Anglican Communion

The crisis over the deposition of Colenso and the problems it left inspired the Irish-born Bishop of Ontario, 40-year-old John Travers Lewis (1825-1901), and the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Church in Canada in 1865 to issue a formal request to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Longley, asking him to call a General Council of the Anglican Communion ‘in every land.’

Some English bishops doubted the wisdom or even the legality of calling such a conference. But the idea was supported at a meeting of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury in May 1866. But Longley conferred with other bishops beyond the boundaries of the Church of England and the Church of Ireland, beyond the colonial boundaries too: among those he consulted was the American Episcopalian Bishop of Illinois, Henry John Whitehouse (1803-1874).

It was clear, as the invitations were being sent out, that the proposed meeting could neither enact canons nor make any decision that was binding on the Church. Nevertheless, the invitations went out to ‘the bishops in visible communion with the United Church of England and Ireland’ to a meeting under the Presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Lambeth Palace. The invitations were sent to 150 bishops: 67 attended, although the Archbishop of York, petulant if not hostile from the first refused.

And so, the first Lambeth Conference met from 24-27 September 1867 and the Anglican Communion was formally established because of a dispute involving a church that traces its origins to an Irish missionary, and because of the response to that dispute by an Irish-born bishop in Canada, John Travers Lewis. Lewis was born in Garrycloyne Castle, Co Cork, and had been a curate in Newtown Butler, Co Fermanagh, before going as a missionary in 1849 to Canada, where he ended his days as Archbishop of Ontario.

The First Lambeth Conference, 1867

Canterbury Cathedral .... the Lambeth Conferences are called by the Archbishop of Canterbury

Eventually, the Convocation of Canterbury agreed to support sending out an invitation to all bishops in communion with the Church of England. But it was agreed that any conference could not enact any canons or reach any decisions binding on the Church.

At the time, there were 145 bishops in the Anglican Communion world-wide – if Colenso is included in this count. The invitations went from Lambeth Palace on 22 February 1867 to 144 bishops of the Anglican Communion, including the 12 bishops of the Church of Ireland. In addition, there were Irish bishops working with the Churches overseas, including Lewis of Ontario.

Preparatory discussions

A number of preparatory meetings were held before the conference was convened, and these were attended by the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin and the Bishops of Meath and Down.

A number of priorities for the conference, including visible church unity and mission, emerged as central themes at these meetings.

The Bishop of Montreal, Francis Fulford (1803-1868) – who would play a key role at the conference – saw Anglican unity as a step towards eventual unity or reunion with the English Nonconformists, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Scandinavian Church, and even the Church of Rome. In 1861, as Metropolitan of Canada, he had called the first provincial synod of the ‘United Church of England and Ireland in Canada’ in Montreal.

Lewis of Ontario wanted the conference to discuss methods of bringing about inter-communion with the Greek and Scandinavian Churches.

Bishop Horatio Southgate (1812-1894), the former American Episcopal bishop in Constantinople who by then was a parish rector in New York, wanted to restore the Creed of Nicaea and Constantinople to its original state by removing the filioque clause in the hope of advancing relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Some bishops even suggested conferring the title of Patriarch on the Archbishop of Canterbury.

On the other hand, the Dean of Westminster Abbey, Arthur Stanley, objected to the invitation to the Episcopal Church in the US, pointing out that that church had abandoned the Athanasian Creed. At the same time, he pleaded for the invitation to be extended to the Lutheran Churches of Scandinavia.

Conference debates

Eventually, the conference met at Lambeth Palace for four days from 24 to 27 September 1867. The invitation was accepted by 76 bishops, including 18 English bishops, six from the Scottish Episcopal Church, and five from the Church of Ireland: the archbishops of Armagh (Beresford) and Dublin (Trench), and the bishops of Meath (Butler), Kilmore (Verschoyle) and Limerick (Graves).

In addition, there were 24 bishops from the Churches in the colonies, including Cork-born John Travers Lewis from Ontario, and 19 from the US including John Henry Hopkins (1792-1868), the first Episcopal Bishop of Vermont and the eighth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church – he was born in Dublin on 30 January 1792, but had emigrated with his parents to Philadelphia when he was a boy.

A number of English bishops, however, refused to attend, including the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Durham. No one session was attended by all the bishops present – and only Beresford of Armagh and Butcher of Meath were present for the formal photograph.

But the signatures of all the bishops were printed with the final encyclical letter, and the names of several bishops who were unable to attend were added to the list.

In their resolutions, the bishops described themselves as the ‘Bishops of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church in visible Communion with the United Church of England and Ireland.’

At the opening service of Holy Communion, Archbishop Trench of Dublin read the Epistle and Archbishop Beresford of Armagh read the Gospel: in the absence of the Archbishop of York, the Archbishop of Canterbury was finding ways of demonstrating that the two Irish archbishops were Primates in their own right too.

Bishop John Henry Hopkins ... the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and Bishop of Vermont, was born in Dublin

At the opening, the Archbishop of Canterbury had the two Irish archbishops seated to his immediate right and left: seated to his right were the Archbishop of Armagh, the Bishop of London (the most senior-ranking bishop in the Province of Canterbury, but also the Bishop of the capital of the Empire), the Presiding Bishop of the American Church (the Dublin-born Bishop John Henry Hopkins of Vermont), the Primus of Scotland, the Bishop of Calcutta (India) and the Bishop of Sydney (Australia); ranged to his left were the Archbishop of Dublin, the Bishop of Montreal (an interesting precedent given the role of the Canadian Church in prompting this conference), and the Bishops of New Zealand and Cape Town.

Obviously, there was an intention to visibly symbolise the universal nature of a communion spread across every continent; there was a visible impression that the home churches were the Church of England, the Church of Ireland and the Scottish Episcopal Church; and there was the clear sign that the American church had not separated from the other Anglican churches.

But the gathering was not a synod, and any attempts to make it one were strongly opposed. The Archbishop of Canterbury had difficulty in keeping the bishops to the agenda, and this drew a negative reaction from some of the Bishops of the Church of England who had agreed to attend only after they had debated and accepted the initial agenda. Their worries and fears were that their independent exercise of episcopal authority within their dioceses might be infringed upon.

On the first day, the bishops produced a preamble that included a reference to ‘the first Four General Councils’ of the church. Some bishops were quite insistent that the reference should be to four, not six, councils; others felt that any reference to any councils would detract from the supremacy of Scripture.

In the end the words ‘General Councils’ were retained, without number, although the first four councils would eventually become a sort of benchmark for Anglicans in deciding what acceptable and orthodox doctrine was.

A more important statement in the preamble was the expression of ‘ardently longing’ for church unity, which would continue to be an important agenda item for successive Lambeth conferences. And so naturally the main agenda items for the conference were Anglican unity, the colonial churches and co-operation in mission.

The conference spent its first day considering inter-communion between the Anglican Churches, recognising the real fear that the lack of formal links could cause a breakdown in relations between the different Anglican Churches.

On the second day, the conference turned its attention to the Churches in the colonies, and despite the protests of several bishops, Longley agreed to a request from Gray to change the already-agreed programme and an unexpected debate opened up on the grades of synodical authority within the Anglican Communion, including diocesan, provincial and perhaps even patriarchal synods. But all the conference could agree on was a general resolution calling for the maintenance of unity of faith and discipline, and a committee was appointed to report on the subject.

When it came to the debate on mission on the third day, Gray was anxious to gain support for his action against Colenso.

The American Presiding Bishop, John Henry Hopkins, was ruled out of order when he tried to introduce a resolution of condemnation. The Bishop of Vermont felt a resolution from Bishop Selwyn of New Zealand did not go far enough, and that it should declare Colenso deposed and excommunicated.

Eventually, the bishops agreed, in a 49-10 vote, that the situation in Natal had deeply injured the whole Anglican Communion. Once again, a committee was appointed to draft a latter on the subject.

The bishops discussed setting up a Spiritual Court of Appeal, but once again this was referred to a committee to consider. The conference agreed that a short ‘encyclical letter’ should be signed by the bishops, but this too was committed to a committee to draft.

When a second and unexpected debate on the Colenso affair arose, and the bishops eventually agreed 43-3 on the procedures to be put in place for choosing and consecrating a new bishop for the Diocese of Natal.

In all, the conference passed 13 resolutions, perhaps the most important being one calling for a synod or synods above the provincial synods, in order to maintain unity in faith and discipline; another calling for a voluntary spiritual tribunal to hear appeals beyond provincial level; and two resolutions supporting Gray’s action against Colenso. But the resolutions also looked at the principles under which The Book of Common Prayer should be revised.

The bishops who formed the drafting committees were asked to stay on in England, and the conference closed on the Friday evening. On the Saturday, 34 bishops attended a closing communion service in Lambeth Parish Church. It had been expected that this would take place in Westminster Abbey, but Dean Stanley had refused the use of the abbey except for some form of mission service. The bishops could attend, but they would have to make it clear that any such service was being held ‘without any relation to the Conference itself.’

Westminster Abbey ... Dean Stanley refused the use of the abbey for the closing service (Photograph Patrick Comerford)

During the next few months, the drafting committees met, and they presented their reports, nine in all, at a further session on 10 December.

Six resolutions were passed at the adjourned conference. But by now most of the bishops had returned home, and so the reports were simply received and sent for publication, without any real debate. It was realised that this first Lambeth conference had not been organised in a way that allowed the bishops to work efficiently and to carry that work forward. Another Lambeth Conference was inevitable – and that would make both the Lambeth Conference and the Anglican Communion institutions.

Achievements and failures

The first Lambeth Conference failed to achieve any great accomplishments. Despite the preliminary debates that discussed mission, unity, inter-communion with the Scandinavian Churches, and even the removal of the filioque clause, many of its final reports and resolutions look like petty, internal housekeeping.

But the significance of the first Lambeth Conference lies not in those reports and resolutions but in the very fact that it had met. The Anglican Communion, a concept only first articulated in 1851, now had a visible structure of unity in the forum of the Lambeth Conference. This unity would be maintained despite the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland.

To put that first Lambeth Conference into the context of its time, we must remember it met at the same time Pope Pius IX was planning to call the first Vatican Council, held in 1869-1870. It was a time when the larger Church groupings were afraid of fraying at the edges, they needed to show their unity, they needed a visible forum for debate, and they were seeking visible signs of authority.

For Roman Catholics, that would be expressed in the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Anglicans, however, would opt for a more diffuse form of authority, and have refused over the decades either to confer the title of Patriarch on the Archbishop of Canterbury, or to give super-synodical powers to the Lambeth Conferences.

Nor should the timing of this first Lambeth Conference be separated from the political climate globally.

Many pointed out that the American Civil War had just ended, and that such a conference would not have been possible a few years earlier.

Others pointed out that the conference was meeting in the climate of the great powers of Europe being at peace for the first time in living memory.

And, of course, this of course was the year in which Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and in which Karl Marx published the first part of Das Kapital.

A second Lambeth Conference would meet in 1878, and the conferences have met since then at roughly 10-year intervals.

In all, there have been 14 Lambeth Conferences: the last one in Canterbury in July and August 2008. The conference scheduled for 2018 was postponed, and is now planned for 2020.

Whatever happens, the Lambeth Conference has developed into a deliberative body, convened solely at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It still has no canonical or constitutional status, although it has enhanced the archbishop’s primacy within the Anglican Communion.

For some, these are weaknesses, for others these are strengths.

Huntingdon’s proposals

William Reed Huntington (1838-1909) ... he inspired the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral

The next conference took place in 1878. But two other important events in the life of the Anglican Communion took place before that: the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland; and, in 1870, the publication by an American Episcopal priest, William Reed Huntington (1838-1909), of his book, The Church Idea, An Essay toward Unity.

Huntington later became rector of Grace Church, an influential New York parish. Although never a bishop, Huntington had more influence on the Episcopal Church – perhaps even on the Anglican Communion – than most bishops.

Huntingdon’s proposals in the Church Idea were aimed initially at establishing what he described as ‘a basis on which approach may be by God’s blessing, made toward Home Reunion’ – his way of describing Anglican reunion with the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. But his proposals eventually helped the formulation of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which summarised four elements that would help both define what an Anglican Church is and what Anglicans would accept as the basis for talks on Church unity.

Huntingdon was worried about what the word Anglicanism conveyed, and its nostalgic appeal. ‘The word brings up before the eyes of some a flutter of surplices, a vision of village spires and cathedral towers, a somewhat stiff and stately company of deans, prebendaries and choristers, and that is about all.’ [The Church Idea, p. 124].

And he warned:

‘If our whole ambition as Anglicans in America be to continue a small, but eminently respectable body of Christians, and to offer a refuge to people of refinement and sensibility, who are shocked by the irreverences they are apt to encounter elsewhere; in a word, if we are to be only a countercheck and not a force in society; then let us say as much in plain terms, and frankly renounce all claims to Catholicity. We have only, in such a case, to wrap the robe of our dignity about us, and walk quietly along in a seclusion no one will take much trouble to disturb. Thus may we be a Church in name, and a sect in deed.’

It is interesting to note that Huntington was anticipating by 50 years Ernst Troeltsch’s formative church-sect typology.

But Huntingdon’s vision of the Church was formed by a very deep theology. He wrote:

‘But if we aim at something nobler than this, if we would have our Communion become national in very truth, – in other words, if we would bring the Church of Christ into the closest possible sympathy with the throbbing, sorrowing, sinning, repenting, aspiring heart of this great people, – then let us press our reasonable claims to be the reconciler of a divided household, not in a spirit of arrogance (which ill befits those whose best possessions have come to them by inheritance), but with affectionate earnestness and intelligent zeal.’ [p. 159.]

And so, in pursuit of those claims, Huntingdon laid out his four principles:

● The Holy Scriptures as the Word of God;
● The Primitive Creeds as the Rule of Faith;
● The two sacraments ordained by Christ himself (i.e., Baptism and Holy Communion); and
● The Episcopate as the keystone of Governmental Unity.

Huntingdon’s proposal stood for almost a century and a half as a cornerstone of Anglican ecclesiology and Anglican ecumenical endeavour. They were eventually adopted at the 1888 conference, and the formula has become known as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Are they being replaced by an Anglican Covenant?

But before Huntingdon’s quadrilateral came before the worldwide Anglican Communion, the bishops met once again at a second Lambeth Conference, in 1876.

Lambeth 2:

In the intervening years, between the first Lambeth Conference in 1867 and the second conference in 1876, the Church of Ireland was disestablished. But the first Lambeth Conference had shown that the bishops of the Established Church of England could maintain inter-communion with the bishops of non-established churches, such as Scotland and the US, and so disestablishment was not a barrier to maintaining communion.

Archbishop Archibald Cambell Tait ... called the second Lambeth Conference

The second Lambeth Conference was called by Archibald Campbell Tait (1811-1882), Archbishop of Canterbury, who was born and raised a Scottish Presbyterian. He became an Anglican at Oxford, was Dean of Carlisle at the age of 38, Bishop of London at 45, and became Archbishop of Canterbury at the 57, a year after the first Lambeth Conference. Disraeli chose Tait as Archbishop of Canterbury because he saw him as a strong foil to both the ‘Rits’ and the ‘Rats’ – the Ritualists and the Rationalists in the Church of England.

Tait had supported Dean Arthur Stanley in refusing to allow the use of Westminster Abbey in connection with the first Lambeth conference, and he had been a vociferous supporter of John Colenso, the Bishop of Natal, whose controversial writings and refusal to resign had triggered the first Lambeth Conference.

Tait would only agree to a second Lambeth Conference if:

● there were grave matters to be discussed;
● it was accepted that the conference could have no role in defining doctrine;
● it was accepted that the formularies of the Church of England were subject to interpretation in English law; and
● it was accepted that another conference would have no power to pass resolutions or canons that were binding on individual bishops or the constituent member churches of the Anglican Communion.

Lichfield Cathedral, with Selwyn House to the right ... Bishop Selwyn of Lichfield was the prime supporter of a second Lambeth Conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The prime English supporter of a second conference was the Tractarian Bishop of Lichfield, George Augustus Selwyn (1809-1878).

Selwyn was only 32 when he was consecrated Bishop of New Zealand in 1841, and had introduced synodical government to the Anglican Church in New Zealand. As Primate of New Zealand, he had been a key figure at the first Lambeth Conference, acting as corresponding secretary. During that Lambeth Conference, he accepted an invitation to become Bishop of Lichfield, and moved there in 1868. There he also introduced synodical government for his new diocese, and his ideas on synodical church government had a strong influence on the constitution accepted by the Church of Ireland immediately after disestablishment.

Selwyn House in the Cathedral Close, Lichfield... Bishop Selwyn’s introduction of synodical government in his diocese transformed many parts of the Anglican Communion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Apart from Selwyn, 42 of the 46 American bishops signed a petition in 1874 asking for a second, and a longer, Lambeth conference.

When the second conference was called, the Church of England bishops in the Province of York accepted the invitation enthusiastically. And, while Dean Stanley was still prepared to refuse the use of Westminster Abbey, he was not given the opportunity – instead, Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London was used for the opening service.

The invitations to attend the second Lambeth Conference were sent to 173 bishops (compared to 144 in 1867), and 108 accepted (compared with 76 in 1867). The actual attendance from 2 to 27 July 1876 was 100, a higher proportion of the Anglican episcopate than in 1867. The nine Irish bishops who took part were the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin, and the bishops of Meath, Down, Killaloe, Limerick, Derry, Cashel and Ossory.

The second conference, like the first one, was also introspective. Of the six subjects on the agenda, three were really a continuation of the first conference:

● the relationships between the various Churches of the Anglican Communion;
● establishing a projected Board of Arbitration; and
● the relationship of missionary bishops and missionaries overseas to the local church.

The debate on the relationship between missionary bishops and the place of missionaries in the overseas churches had important implications for Anglican unity and for the future cohesion of the Anglican Communion.

Thankfully, the bishops resisted a proposal to accept in principle the idea of having one bishop for chaplains ministering to European communities and another for those missionaries ministering to ‘native’ Christians.

As one commentator has written, ‘then the Anglican Church would have written into its heart an apartheid as adamant as an Afrikaaner’s.’

The new items on the agenda at the second Lambeth Conference included a discussion on modern forms of infidelity and the best way of dealing with them; and the condition, progress and needs of the various Churches of the Anglican Communion. The questions of ritual included private confession, which the conference agreed should not be compelled for anyone.

The decree on papal infallibility, which was promulgated at the first Vatican Council eight years earlier, was condemned. There was a general concern among the bishops that new legislation would make divorce easier. The bishops also discussed the possibility of inter-communion with the Old Catholics. And they called for an Annual Day of Prayer for Christian Unity.

In retrospect and with hindsight, it is difficult to grasp that no formal resolution was passed calling for another, third Lambeth conference.

Once again, there were few momentous decisions. Nevertheless, the calling of a second conference turned the Lambeth Conference from an occasion into an institution.

When Tait died in 1882 and was succeeded as Archbishop of Canterbury by Edward White Benson (1829-1896), there was no doubt that a third Lambeth conference would be called.

Meanwhile, in the USA …

Meanwhile, in the United States, William Reed Huntington’s ideas contained in his quadrilateral were beginning to stir responses.

Huntington was Rector of All Saints’ Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, at the time his book, The Church Idea, was published. It has been suggested that he first articulated his Quadrilateral idea in the late 1860s to his colleagues in a local ecumenical clergy fellowship in Worcester, Massachusetts, of which he was the co-founder with his neighbour, Father John Power of Saint Paul’s Roman Catholic Parish, and in a sermon he preached in his parish in 1870.

Dante described Peschiera as a fortress beautiful and strong ... it is one of the four Italian fortress cities inspired Huntington’s numbering of his principles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Huntington’s numbering of his four principles was inspired, he said, by the four fortress cities in the Veneto and Lombardy – Mantua, Verona, Peschiera and Legnano – which had provided the Hapsburgs with the means of keeping control of northern Italy from 1815 to 1859.

But in essence the political climate that helped Huntington to develop his ideas was the new unity in America brought about by the end of the Civil War in 1865. He was one of several Anglicans in America who turned their attention to this issue at this time; others included William Augustus Muhlenberg, Thomas H. Vail, and Edward A. Washburn.

Huntington was also echoing but altering the six visible signs of the Church that had been developed by Frederick Denison Maurice in The Kingdom of Christ (1838).

Huntington’s Quadrilateral was adopted overwhelmingly by the American House of Bishops at their meeting in Chicago on 20 October 1886. However, the Chicago resolution added the word ‘historic’ to the fourth point about the ‘episcopate,’ and the US bishops those four points were passed on by to the next Lambeth Conference in 1888.

Lambeth 3 (1888):

Archbishop Edward White Benson (1829-1896) (right), who succeeded Tait as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1882, called the third Lambeth Conference in 1888.

Benson had been a public school master at Rugby and Wellington, and is better remembered for the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, which he introduced at Truro Cathedral on Christmas Eve 1880, than for his role in consolidating the Lambeth Conference as an institution underpinning the Anglican Communion.

In 1886, without any petition from abroad, Benson sent out 211 invitations, calling the third Lambeth conference in 1888 and asking for suggestions for the agenda.

In all, 145 bishops attended the third Lambeth Conference, from 3 to 27 July 1888. The 11 Irish bishops present were the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin, and the Bishops of Meath, Derry, Kilmore, Clogher, Limerick, Cashel, Cork, Ossory and Killaloe. And there were other Irish-born bishops present too, including Bishop Magee of Peterborough, who would later become Archbishop of York, and Bishop Lewis of Ontario.

One of the principle items on Benson’s agenda was the relationship between the Anglican Churches and the other Christian Churches. Other agenda items included: intemperance, purity, the care of immigrants, and socialism. The bishops at the third Lambeth Conference were deeply concerned at the high figures for emigration from both Britain and Ireland, they commended co-operatives, and they agreed that ‘between socialism, as thus defined, and Christianity there is obviously no necessary contradiction.’

Indeed, the bishops accepted that ‘much of what is good and true in Socialism is to be found in the precepts of Christ,’ and they spoke of the need to move beyond charity to social and Christian duty. They also discussed Sunday observance, polygamy and divorce.

But their most important discussion was focussed on ecumenical relations, particularly with the Eastern Churches, the Scandinavian ‘and other Reformed Churches,’ the Old Catholics, ‘and others’ – note that there was no specific mention of Rome in this agenda item, but there was a hope that the Gallican movement in France would develop ‘towards establishing a basis for intercommunion between the Churches of France and England.’

Huntington’s quadrilateral was adopted and endorsed, as Resolution 11 (see below), with a number of other alterations in addition to those made at Chicago:

Point 1, on the Holy Scriptures, was embellished with material from Article 6 in the 39 Articles.

Point 2, on the Primitive Creeds, was embellished with material from Article 8.

Point 3, on the Sacraments, was rephrased with material from Article 25.

Interestingly, the Lambeth Conference did not change the wording of Point 4, leaving intact the term ‘historic episcopate,’ even though it would have been possible to draw from Article 36.

When the American General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the US met in Chicago in 1895, it adopted the Lambeth revision of the quadrilateral, so that it has since become known as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.

What is the status of the Quadrilateral?

The resolutions of Lambeth Conferences are not binding. The only moral authority they have is that they may be considered as the mind and thinking of the majority of the bishops then attending a Lambeth conference. In that sense, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral does not have a guaranteed place in fundamental Anglican canon law.

Nevertheless, in 1979, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral was bound in with the American Book of Common Prayer as one of the ‘Historical Documents of the Church,’ along with the Definition of Chalcedon, the Quicunque Vult (the Athanasian Creed), the Preface to the first Book of Common Prayer, and the Articles of Religion (the 29 Articles).

In the Anglican Church in Japan, the wording of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is included in the ‘General Principles in common with the Holy Catholic Church throughout the world.’

In Canada, the Anglican Church of Canada has entrenched in its constitution what amounts to a fuller form of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.

For over a century, therefore, the four points of Huntington’s Quadrilateral, as altered at Chicago and at Lambeth, have been seen as the distinctive characteristics of Anglican ecclesiology.

They remain the Anglican basis for discussing unity with other Churches and remain the cornerstone and standard by which the Episcopal Church (TEC) and many other member Churches in the Anglican Communion approach questions of unity with other Churches.

Ridley Hall, Cambridge, founded in 1881 … the Ridley Cambridge Draft was finalised there in April 2009 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Subsequent Lambeth Conferences

In all there have been 14 Lambeth Conferences between 1867 and 2008:

1, 1867;
2, 1878;
3, 1888;
4, 1897;
5, 1908;
6, 1920;
7, 1930;
8, 1948;
9, 1958;
10, 1968;
11, 1978;
12, 1988;
13, 1998;
14, 2008.

In addition, a number of events between the Lambeth Conferences might have threatened Anglican unity, and political events interrupted calling Lambeth Conferences. But the conferences continued, and Anglican unity, though never anything but imperfect, has been maintained. These potentially disruptive events included:

● The disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869.
● The decision by Archbishop Plunket of Dublin, Bishop Stack of Clogher and Bishop Welland of Down to consecrate a bishop for the Spanish Episcopal Reformed Church in 1894 despite strong misgivings and opposition within the Church of England.
● The Kikuyu Conference of 1913.
● World War I (1914-1918).
● World War II (1939-1945).
● The formation of the Church of South India in 1947.
● The ordination of women, first in ECUSA (now TEC) and then in other Anglican churches, and the subsequent formation of ‘continuing’ churches.
● The consecration of the first women bishops.
● The consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.
● The approval of the blessing of same-gender unions in the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada.

Maintaining unity

Today’s debates on human sexuality and homosexuality are posing the latest threat to Anglican unity. But has it always been so? Herbert Hensley Henson (1863-1947), when he was Bishop of Durham, once acknowledged that ‘under the description of “the Anglican Communion,” there are gathered two mutually contradictory conceptions of Christianity.’

Yet, Anglican unity has been maintained since that first Lambeth Conference in 1867, and was strengthened by the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (1886-1888).

The English theologian Paul Avis and the American J. Robert Wright have described Huntington’s book and the way it helped to shape the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as ‘probably the most significant Anglican work on ecclesiology.’

According to Paul Avis, the teachings of the Lambeth Conference merely ‘supplement the Quadrilateral.’

However, the range of topics that has been discussed at the Lambeth Conferences – and that, to some degree, has been reflected in the printed reports – has developed Anglican self-consciousness in the midst of great cultural diversity.

Appeal to All Christian People

From the beginning, Christian unity beyond the confines of Anglicanism has been one of the leading themes of the Lambeth Conferences. Outstanding among the moves on Christian unity is the Appeal to All Christian People issued by Lambeth 1920 and addressed to all those throughout the world who had received Christian baptism, and it invited the Churches to seek unity together.

Bishop Herbert Hensley Henson … played a controversial but key role in steps towards Christian unity at the 1920 Lambeth Conference

The appeal was inspired, to a large measure, by Bishop Frank Weston (1871-1924). Earlier, both Weston and Charles Gore (1853-1932), the founder of the Community of the Resurrection and Bishop of Oxford, had expressed their doubts about calling the 1920 Lambeth Conference, and they had strongly voiced the view that the Bishop of Hereford, Herbert Hensley Henson, who was about to become Bishop of Durham, was a heretic.

Henson was a controversial bishop and had been in the public eye from 1892 after an outburst at a diocesan conference at which he referred to dissenting Protestant churches as ‘emissaries of Satan.’ Yet, as a canon of Westminster Abbey, he was a vociferous advocate of inter-communion between the Church of England and all regular Protestant churches. According to the Church historian Owen Chadwick, who died in 2015, Henson was a theological liberal, who tried to ‘restate the doctrines of the Church of England in such a way that they will not offend intelligent men.’ His nomination as Bishop of Hereford in 1917 and as Bishop of Durham in 1920 provoked what Henson himself called a ‘heresy hunt.’

(In the first of her Starbridge novels, Glittering Images, Susan Howatch carries a quotation from Henson’s letters at the beginning of each chapter. In the novel’s afterword, she acknowledges that the character of Bishop Jardine is based on Henson, although the unusual details of Jardine’s personal life are not part of Henson’s life story.)

Some years earlier, Weston also led the Anglo-Catholic protests after what he described as a ‘Pan-Protestant’ communion at Kikuyu in 1913 after a mission conference drawing together representatives of the Church Mission Society and other evangelical, non-Anglican mission agencies working in Kenya, including Presbyterians.

Yet, despite Weston’s objections to what had happened at Kikuyu, he was seen going to the other extreme 10 years later. At the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress in London, Weston succeeded in persuading the congress to send greetings to the Patriarch of Constantinople and to send what was described as ‘a respectful telegram of congratulation’ to the Pope, who was addressed in the greetings as ‘The Holy Father.’

Despite their differences, Weston and Henson eventually came to the Lambeth Conference in 1920, and they sat down together at the same committee that produced that Appeal to All Christian People issued by the conference.

The Appeal is significant because it described all those who had undergone Trinitarian baptism as members of the Christian Church. In this statement, we can see Anglicans holding that the unity of the Church is grounded in the one baptism.

Anglicans have been the first to perceive the ecumenical significance of the mutual recognition by the Churches of common baptism.

The Appeal also recognised the authorisation of the Holy Spirit in the ministries of the non-episcopal churches. But it argued that the episcopate is a God-given instrument of unity and continuity that will enable God’s people to meet in the security of one Eucharist.

The 1920 Lambeth Conference also agreed that while maintaining The Book of Common Prayer as the Anglican standard of doctrine and practice, liturgical uniformity should not be required as a necessity throughout the Anglican Communion.

Three bishops from the Old Catholic Church in the Netherlands attended Lambeth 1920. The Old Catholic Church traces its beginnings to the mainly German-speaking groups that split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1870s following the decree on papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council (1869–1870), and an earlier group in the Diocese of Utrecht who had rejected papal authority since the 18th century. They removed the requirement for clerical celibacy in 1874 and had replaced Latin in the liturgy with the local languages by 1877.

The Society of Saint Willibrord was founded in 1908 to foster closer relations between the Church of England and the Old Catholic Church. At first, its activities were aimed at promoting full communion between the two Churches, a major step towards visible communion with other Churches that came about a year after the 1930 Lambeth Conference with the Bonn Agreement (1931) between the Church of England and the Old Catholics of The Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.

The Bonn Agreement established full communion between the Church of England and the Old Catholic Churches, and this full communion has since been extended to all member churches of the Anglican Communion.

The Bonn Agreement incorporates three statements:

● Each Communion recognises the catholicity and independence of the other and maintains its own.
● Each Communion agrees to admit members of the other Communion to participate in the Sacraments.
● Full Communion does not require from either Communion the acceptance of all doctrinal opinion, sacramental devotion or liturgical practice characteristic of the other, but implies that each believes the other to hold all the essentials of the Christian faith.

Classic statements of Anglican identity

Both the 1930 and the 1948 Lambeth Conferences provided classic statements of Anglican identity. The 1930 Lambeth Conference described the Anglican Communion as ‘a Commonwealth of Churches without a central constitution … a federation without a federal government.’

This is how the bishops at the 1930 Lambeth Conference defined the Anglican Communion:

The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within which the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, which have the following characteristics in common:

● they uphold and propagate the catholic and apostolic faith and order as they are generally set forth in The Book of Common Prayer as authorised in their several churches;
● they are particular or national churches, and as such, promote within each of their territories a natural expression of Christian faith, life and worship; and
● they are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained by the common counsel of the bishops in conference.

Lambeth after World War II

Both World War II and the formation of the Church of South India in 1947 failed to disrupt the unity of the Anglican Communion.

The 1948 Lambeth Conference helped heal the terrible disruption brought about by World War II. It also issued another seminal statement on the dispersed nature of Anglican authority that is deservedly regarded as a classical definition of the nature of Anglicanism.

That statement is worth quoting in full:

“The positive nature of the authority which binds the Anglican Communion together is ... moral and spiritual, resting on the truth of the Gospel, and on a charity which is patient and willing to defer to the common mind.

‘Authority, as inherited by the Anglican Communion from the undivided Church of the early centuries of the Christian era, is single in that it is derived from a single divine source, and reflects within itself the riches and historicity of the Divine Revelation, the authority of the eternal Father, the incarnate Son, and the life-giving Spirit. It is distributed among Scripture, Tradition, Creeds, the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments, the witness of the saints, and the consensus fidelium, which is the continuing experience of the Holy Spirit through his faithful people in the Church.

‘It is this dispersed rather than a centralised authority having many elements which combine, interact with, and check each other; these elements together contributing a process of mutual support, mutual checking, and redressing of errors or exaggerations in the many-sided fullness of the authority which Christ has committed to his Church. Where this authority of Christ is to be found mediated not in one mode but in several we recognise in this multiplicity God’s loving provision against the temptations to tyranny and the dangers of unchecked power.’

The 1948 Conference also condemned the unilateral war-time decision by Bishop Ronald (‘R.O.’) Hall of Hong Kong to ordain the Revd Florence Tim Oi Li (right) to the priesthood on 25 January 1944. She was ordained not because her bishop had strong principles about the ordination of women, but due to necessity – but because she was needed to serve Anglicans who had been cut off from the rest of the Church by the Japanese invasion of China.

Contraception and family planning

In 1958, the Lambeth Conference gave guarded approval to family planning and contraception, declaring ‘self-discipline and restraint are essential conditions of the responsible freedom of marriage and family planning …’

Fifty years earlier, in 1908, the bishops expressed alarm at the increasing availability of the ‘artificial restriction of the family.’ The 1920 Lambeth Conference expressed grave concern and issued an ‘emphatic warning’ against contraception. There was noticeable shift in attitude in 1930. However, by today’s standards, the 1958 resolution must be regarded as ground-breaking, coming ten years before Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae.

The 1968 Lambeth Conference noted the publication of the encyclical and, while expressing its appreciation of the Pope’s deep concern for the institution of marriage and the integrity of married life, it disagreed with his views on contraception and affirmed the two relevant resolutions passed 10 years earlier.

These statements (see Appendix 2) show how the Lambeth Conferences can move on moral issues from total opposition, to qualified acceptance, and then full acceptance. The change also reflects the changing of status of women in the world, and also within the Anglican churches.

In this change of opinion and teaching on contraception, we can see how the Anglican Church relies on the experience of the faithful members in working out its moral judgments. According to a leading Anglican ethicist, Professor Gordon Dunstan, it ‘exemplifies an instance in which the magisterium of the Church formulated and ratified a moral judgement made by a sort of Consensus Fidelium, for which a good theological justification was worked out ex post facto.’

As the former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, has pointed out, this is a crucial indication of the nature of Anglican moral judgments. They are not simply laid down from on high. The official pronouncements of the Church must reflect the tested experience of the wider Christian community, particularly the experience of lay people.

That Lambeth Conference in 1968 also reflected the growing worldwide sense of the problems of the ‘Third World’ and the chasm between the rich and poor nations and Churches. It established the Anglican Consultative Council. And the conference also accepted that women who had been ordained as ‘deaconesses’ should be accepted as ‘deacons.’

The ‘irregular’ ordination of eleven women as priests in the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia in 1974

Shortly after the 1968 Lambeth Conference, the ordination of women threatened a major rift within the Anglican Communion. Women were ordained in Hong Kong in 1971, in Canada in 1976 and in the US (after several irregular ordinations starting in 1974) and in New Zealand in 1977.

The 1978 Lambeth Conference was unable to do more than accept that there was a variety of practice while affirming its commitment to the preservation of Anglican unity.

Eucharistic hospitality

On the eve of the 1978 Lambeth Conference, Stephen Sykes published his The Integrity of Anglicanism, a book that marks the beginning of the current preoccupation with Anglican identity.

In the practice of Eucharistic hospitality, Anglicans show that we believe that the common baptism we share calls for unity in the Eucharist – for that is where the Body of Christ, to which we already belong by baptism, is most fully known.

The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is the paradigm of koinonia and this concept – so fruitful in current ecumenical work – is particularly congenial to Anglicans. Anglicans have contributed to the ecumenical theology of communion, and this theology is particularly reflected in the document of the 1988 Lambeth Conference, The Truth Shall Set You Free.

The growing strength and confidence of the Anglican provinces in the developing world has intensified the centrifugal forces within the Anglican Communion.

At the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the battle lines were drawn up between first and second world liberals and third world conservatives over human sexuality, and the chasm opened even wider nine years ago at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

Statements over the decades

Over the past century, the Lambeth Conferences have also produced important statements on:

● drug abuse (1908).
● moral principles in economic life (1908).
● moral responsibility in politics (1908).
● war and peace (1897 – when war was decried as ‘a horrible evil’ – 1920, 1930, 1968 – when the use of nuclear and bacteriological weapons were condemned ‘emphatically’ and the right of conscientious objectors upheld – and 1978).
● human rights (1948, 1978).
● contraception (1908, 1920, 1930, 1958, 1968).
● social responsibility (1958, 1978).
● the family (1958).
● the ministry of the laity (1968).
● ecology (1968).
● sexuality and homosexuality (1988, 1998).

In 1968, Lambeth asked the member churches to consider whether the 39 Articles need to be bound up with The Book of Common Prayer and suggested that assent to the 39 Articles should no longer be required of ordinands, and suggested that where subscription is required and given, it is only in the context of setting them in their historical context.

Today’s agenda

An important reader for the 1998 conference produced by Chris Sugden and Vinay Samuel, Anglican Life and Witness, shows the variety of issues that confront Anglican life in our days:

● fascism and nationalism,
● the family,
● the Gospel and Culture,
● homosexuality,
● Christian faith an economics,
● trade and development,
● the impact of the market economy on the poor,
● business and corruption,
● the media and modernity,
● Christian feminism,
● population control,
● adolescence and youth ministry,
● dialogue,
● accessible liturgy,
● contraception,
● genocide in Rwanda.

The stresses within the Anglican Communion have been increased by the different speeds at which the Anglican provinces are ordaining women as deacons, priests and bishops.

The acceptance of the notion of ‘impaired communion’ between provinces that no longer enjoy a full, mutual recognition of ministries, because of this issue, called into question the reality of a coherent and unified Anglican identity. The possibility then arose of a diversity of interpretations of Anglican identity emerging within the Anglican Communion.

In addition, there have been serious questions about the continuing value of the Lambeth Conferences as they have evolved: their expense; their practical ineffectiveness; the English or Anglo-Saxon domination in the proceedings; and their limitation to bishops only. But as the conference came into being through a desire for consultation on common problems, we have not yet seen another effective way in which mutual responsibility can be totally exercised by the bishops of the Anglican Communion.

Appendix 1:

Huntington’s four principles:

● The Holy Scriptures as the Word of God;
● The Primitive Creeds as the Rule of Faith;
● The two Sacraments ordained by Christ himself;
● The Episcopate as the key-stone of Governmental Unity.

The Chicago Quadrilateral (1886):

● The Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament and New Testament as the revealed Word of God;
● The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
● The two Sacraments – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution and the elements ordained by him.
● The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.

The Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888):

● The Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament and New Testaments, as ‘containing all things necessary to salvation,’ and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
● The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
● The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and the elements ordained by him.
● The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.

Lambeth Conference 1888, Resolution 11

Appendix 2:

1930 Lambeth Conference definition of the Anglican Communion:

The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within which the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, which have the following characteristics in common:

● They uphold and propagate the catholic and apostolic faith and order as they are generally set forth in The Book of Common Prayer as authorised in their several churches.
● They are particular or national churches, and as such, promote within each of their territories a natural expression of Christian faith, life and worship. And
● They are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained by the common counsel of the bishops in conference.

1948 Lambeth Conferences statement on the dispersed nature of Anglican authority (a classical definition of the nature of Anglicanism):

The positive nature of the authority which binds the Anglican Communion together is ... moral and spiritual, resting on the truth of the Gospel, and on a charity which is patient and willing to defer to the common mind.

Authority, as inherited by the Anglican Communion from the undivided Church of the early centuries of the Christian era, is single in that it is derived from a single divine source, and reflects within itself the riches and historicity of the Divine Revelation, the authority of the eternal Father, the incarnate Son, and the life-giving Spirit. It is distributed among Scripture, Tradition, Creeds, the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments, the witness of the saints, and the consensus fidelium, which is the continuing experience of the Holy Spirit through his faithful people in the Church.

It is this dispersed rather than a centralised authority having many elements which combine, interact with, and check each other; these elements together contributing a process of mutual support, mutual checking, and redressing of errors or exaggerations in the many-sided fullness of the authority which Christ has committed to his Church. Where this authority of Christ is to be found mediated not in one mode but in several we recognise in this multiplicity God’s loving provision against the temptations to tyranny and the dangers of unchecked power.

Appendix 3:

Lambeth Conference statements on contraception:

1908: The Conference regards with alarm the growing practice of the artificial restriction of the family, and earnestly calls upon all Christian people to discountenance the use of all artificial means of restriction as demoralising to character and hostile to national welfare.

1920: The Conference, while declining to lay down rules which will meet the needs of every abnormal case, regards with grave concern the spread in modern society of theories and practices hostile to the family. We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers – physical, moral and religious – thereby incurred, and against the evils which the extension of such use threatens the race.

1930: Where there is a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, providing that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles.

1958: The Conference believes that the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children has been laid by God upon the consciences of parents everywhere: that this planning, in such ways as are mutually acceptable to husband and wife in Christian conscience, is a right and important factor in Christian family life and should be result of positive choice before God.

1968: [T]he Conference finds itself unable to agree with the Pope’s conclusion that all methods of conception control other than abstinence from sexual intercourse or its confinement to the periods of infecundity are contrary to the ‘order established by God.’ It reaffirms the resolutions of the 1958 Conference of 113 and 115.


The reports and resolutions of the Lambeth Conferences.

The Anglican Covenant and the three draft covenants, Nassau (2007), Saint Andrew’s Draft (2008) and Ridley (2009).

Six years ago, The Church Times [18 March 2011] published a 12-page guide to the Anglican Covenant, including a six-page annotated version, with explanatory marginal notes and comments.

P Avis, The Anglican understanding of the Church (London: SPCK, 2000).
P Avis, The Identity of Anglicanism: essentials of Anglican ecclesiology (London: T&T Clark/Continuum, 2007).
I Bunting (ed), Celebrating the Anglican Way (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1996).
MD Chapman, Anglicanism: a very short introduction (Oxford: OUP, 2006).
MD Chapman (ed), The Anglican Covenant: Unity and Diversity in the Anglican Communion (London: Mowbray/Continuum, 2008).
C Chartres (ed), Why I am still an Anglican (London: Continuum, 2006).
D Dormor et al (eds.), Anglicanism: The answer to modernism (Continuum, 2003).
GR Evans, JR Wright (eds), The Anglican Tradition (London: SPCK, 1991).
R Hannaford (ed), The Future of Anglicanism (Leominster: Gracewing, 1996).
C Helfling, C. Shattuck (eds), The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Oxford: OUP, 2006).
R Holloway (ed), The Anglican Tradition (London: Mowbray, 1984).
CH Long (ed), Who are the Anglicans? (Cincinnati: Forward, 1988).
A McGrath, The SPCK Handbook of Anglican Theologians (London: SPCK, 1998).
S Neill, Anglicanism (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958 and later eds).
S Platten (ed), Anglicanism and the Western Christian Tradition (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2003).
J Rosenthal (ed), The Essential Guide to The Anglican Communion (Harrisburg: Morehouse, 1998).
C Sugden, V Samuel (eds.), Anglican Life and Witness (SPCK, 1997).
S Sykes, The Integrity of Anglicanism (London: Mowbray, 1978).
S Sykes, Unashamed Anglicanism (London: DLT, 1995).
S. Sykes, J. Booty (eds), The Study of Anglicanism (London: SPCK, 1988).
The Virginia Report: The Report of the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission (Harrisburg: Morehouse, 1999).
JCW Wand, Anglicanism in History and Today (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1963).
SR White, Authority and Anglicanism (London: SCM, 1996).
The Windsor Report 2004: The Lambeth Commission on Communion (London: Anglican Communion Office, 2004).
A Wingate et al (eds), Anglicanism: A Global Communion (London: Mowbray, 1998).
WJ Wolf, JE Booty, OC Thomas, The Spirit of Anglicanism (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1979).


8.2: Anglican responses to the Missio Dei: Scripture, Worship and Communion as defining themes in contemporary Anglican self-understanding.

Next week (23 March 2017):

9.1, Is it possible to speak of an Anglican ecclesiology?

9.2, Is there an appropriate ecclesiology for the Church of Ireland?

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is an extended version of notes prepared for a lecture on the MTh Year II course, TH8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context, on Thursday 16 March 2017.