Beliefnet

What exactly is the Anglican Communion?
The family of churches of the Anglican Communion are all "descendants" of the Church of England. When the English settled the British Empire, they brought their religion with them to new parts of the world. As British colonies became independent from England, so did their churches. In 1867 these churches began to think of themselves as a single family.

Today the Anglican Communion consists of 38 autonomous churches (or "provinces") in 164 countries. Each is an independent unit, with its own governance and cultural expressions, connected to the others by history and tradition.

What is the relationship of the Anglican Communion to the Episcopal Church?
The Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. is one of the 38 autonomous members of the Anglican Communion. It was the first branch of the Anglican Communion to declare its independence from the Church of England, in 1789.

How many Anglicans are there worldwide? What country has the largest number of members in the Anglican church? How many members of the Episcopal Church are there?
There are 76 million Anglicans worldwide. One-third are members of the Church of England, the original and still the largest single province, with 26 million members. After explosive growth in the last two decades, the 11 provinces in Africa now count 36.7 million members--more Anglicans than there are in England. The North American provinces--the Episcopal Church in the U.S. with 2.4 million members, and the Anglican Church of Canada with 740,000 members--represent just 4% of Anglicans worldwide.

The liberal churches of Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand have traditionally dominated the Anglican Communion because of their wealth. But since more than half of the world's Anglicans (55%) now live in the "global south"--developing countries in Africa, South America and Asia--provinces are in a new position of power, since Anglican leadership is by consensus and they are now a majority.

Who is in charge of the Anglican Communion? Is this person considered the Pope of Anglicans?
The Anglican Communion has no central authority. No one person or governing body is "in charge." The head of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is considered the spiritual leader of Anglicans worldwide. He has no authority outside the Church of England, but traditionally is respected by other Anglican bishops as "first among equals." Once every ten years, the Archbishop of Canterbury convenes the Lambeth Conference, the official gathering of all Anglican bishops worldwide. At the Lambeth Conference, bishops seek consensus on doctrinal matters. Their opinions are influential, but not binding.

The current Archbishop of Canterbury is Rowan Williams.

Who is the head of the Episcopal Church? What is his relationship to the Archbishop of Canterbury?
The head of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. is the democratically elected Presiding Bishop. Currently, this is the Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. The Archbishop of Canterbury has no authority over the Presiding Bishop or the American church. He can, however, dis-invite the Presiding Bishop (and all American bishops) from the Lambeth Conference, or refuse to recognize The Episcopal Church as part of the Anglican Communion.

What are the other levels of hierarchy in the Anglican Church?
There is no hierarchy as such. Governance structures differ in various churches. For instance, American bishops are democratically elected, while English bishops are appointed by the Queen. In American churches, clergy are servant-leaders with mostly spiritual authority; elected councils of lay members control finances and hiring and firing of clergy.

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