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Hallo again to all.

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.

The verse refers to the Communion of Saints of course, but it's tempting to transfer it to our own earth-bound Anglican Communion. That we struggle we doubt anyone would deny, but 'feebly' might be the wrong adverb just now. 'Strenuously', 'endlessly', or 'rancorously' might fit a bit better.

Leaving the adverbs aside, what about that Communion? To start with, is it a Communion in any way other than a sort of pious wishful thinking? Is it what's left of the pale pink areas that marked the British Empire on old maps? Do the Instruments of Unity mean anything, really? (Quick: Define the Anglican Consultative Council in 60 seconds or less, or whistle its theme song.) Just who are we, anyway?

This roster shows the members and associated churches. Note that each province, transnational province, or national church is self-governing; most govern through periodic synods that enact legislation. The oldest daughter of the Church of England, the Episcopal Church in the USA, will gather for its every-three-years General Convention this summer. We've prepared a brief overview of how it works, which we hope you will find useful. We plan to develop a brief guide to governance throughout the Anglican Communion, devoting a page to each national church and province, explaining how it manages its affairs*. That material isn't on the web, oddly, and it should be.

The Communion was defined by the Lambeth Conference in 1930, inter alia, as 'bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference'. 'Common counsel' is a somewhat nebulous expression, but it may suggest the 'moral force' that Lambeth Conference resolutions and pastoral statements are allowed. The difficulty there, of course, is that such resolutions are not binding. Indeed many, at a remove of some decades, are rather embarrassing. (See our 'Lambeth Resolutions through the Years' for some examples.)

An English church historian, whose name we have long forgotten, once wrote that Anglicanism is 'more a mood than a theology'. Some would think the last decades have shown us to be in a bad mood. Anglicans have traditionally shied away from a net of definitions, confessions, grim doctrinal statements, and rigid rubrics. But recently dioceses or national churches have enacted legislation or elected bishops that expand some of the traditional interpretations of doctrine. Other provinces have reacted strongly and are demanding that the Communion develop stronger internal means to regulate itself globally. What you understand the Anglican Communion to be (or what you want it to be) will strongly affect the way you respond to such a call for greater accountability and more explicit recourse.

Our own episcopal columnist, Pierre Whalon, has tackled the subject of whether there are limits to what a diocese can enact or do. Two further sources for thinking about the Communion include a paper written by Norman Doe, a renowned authority on canon law in the Anglican Communion, and the address of another brilliant canonist, Edward Norman, who discussed the issue of authority in the Anglican Communion in a devastatingly learnèd talk. These two treatises, each enlightening and challenging, inspired us to think about the interplay of law, independence, grace, and authority in our beloved church more deeply than we have before. Perhaps they will so inspire you.

We Anglicans have always prided ourselves on being an intelligent and learned church, as well as a praying church. We at Anglicans Online do everything we can to link you to materials that will enable you to form reasoned opinions. Clarity of information and informed thought will enable us all to fight hard against the tendency to strike out in sound bites, to react emotionally, and to dismiss without understanding.

See you next week.

Brian Reidís signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

* If you live in one of the smaller provinces of the communion, please let us know if you could provide basic information about your church's governance and structure. We should be most grateful.

Last updated: 29 June 2003

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