What Does It Mean to be Anglican?

In a Bronx parish, recent divisions in the Episcopal Church are troubling, but the openly gay priest and his church members from the West Indies and Africa remain comfortable as part of the Anglican Communion.

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There are a very few places in the world where more than one Anglican province functions with some overlap of territory; this is sometimes the result of missionary areas that were once distinct having now come to overlap, or because of a need to minister to a distinctive linguistic or cultural group. However, most importantly, unlike the new proposed Anglican Church in North America, these Anglican provinces recognize each other and cooperate with each other — they are, in short, in communion with each other, and members of the Anglican Communion.

The same cannot be said of the new proposed province. It is coming into existence precisely because its members do not wish to be in communion with the Episcopal Church; some of them are vociferous in their opposition to its policies and programs. Nor is it at all clear if it will be recognized by the Anglican Communion as a new member of that communion, or even if such recognition is possible, given the historic desire not to have two competing churches, both part of the same communion, in the same place.

At Saint James in the Bronx, people have shown little interest in the ongoing turmoil in the Communion. They see themselves as still very much a connected to their home country, but the church is the church they go to, the community with which they worship --- not the ecclesiastical structure of their homeland. "This" they will say, "is the Anglican church here; this is my church!"
So what does it mean to be "Anglican?" Two things, at least, seem to be essential for a province to be Anglican in any meaningful sense. First, it is important to be in communion with the Church of England, the source of Anglican identity. The decision as to who is in communion with the Church of England rests jointly with the archbishops of Canterbury and York. The present Archbishop of Canterbury has on several occasions noted his desire to see members of the communion and its churches work out their differences through the orderly processes of the communion and each church; so it seems unlikely that he would undercut a principal which he appears to regard as fundamental.

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The second qualification for being considered Anglican is membership in the Anglican Consultative Council, at present the only pan-Anglican body with a Constitution. That Constitution states that new members can be added to the Council with its approval, and the approval of two-thirds of the primates of the existing member churches. Again, it seems unlikely that approval would be forthcoming from the required supermajority of primates. No doubt they are aware that this breakdown in the tradition of national churches might leave any one of their own churches open to such an internal split. As of this writing, only a handful of the primates have intimated support for the creation of the new province, and their intimations have been guarded.

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