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.
The structure of the Episcopal Church is similar to that of the United States government. The country is divided into 111 regions called "dioceses" (analogous to states). Each diocese is led by a democratically- elected bishop and a council of lay members. Nationally, the church is governed by General Convention, consisting of the House of Deputies (elected representatives from each diocese), and the House of Bishops. General Convention elects a Presiding Bishop for a term of 12 years. The Presiding Bishop is a spiritual leader, and is responsible for carrying out the programs enacted by General Convention.
Throughout the Anglican Communion, one role of bishops is "to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church." Therefore, Anglicans consider it important to elect bishops who can live up to this role.
What would be the main result of a schism between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion? Would it be loss of money for the Episcopal Church? Or loss of recognition?
Most Episcopalians would not notice the difference; the day to day life in their church would not change. For those who are aware of it, the main effect would be a loss of status, and a sense of having been disowned by the family. This is no small thing for Anglicans, for whom relationship is the cornerstone of faith--relationship with God, with one's faith community, and with the Church. Anglicans value "communion" far more than doctrine.
There would be no financial loss for the Episcopal Church. In fact, the reverse is true, since the Episcopal Church is the primary source of funds for Anglican churches in the global south.
A few conservative Episcopal parishes may attempt to secede from the Episcopal Church, and align themselves with other branches of the Anglican Communion. Others hope the Archbishop of Canterbury will refuse to recognize the Episcopal Church as a member of the Anglican Communion, and will instead recognize a small network of conservative parishes as the official American branch of the Anglican Communion. Since their church property is owned by their diocese, attempts to secede from it would spark lawsuits over ownership of church buildings.
Schism would also affect the Anglican Communion worldwide; after 137 years it would precipitate its redefinition--a process in which Americans might not be allowed to participate. The Church of England declared its independence in 1529 specifically to be free from the authority of foreign bishops, but now some conservative Anglicans would like to create a central authority imposing uniformity among Anglicans throughout the world.
What is the Windsor Report?
The Windsor Report is the report of a panel commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury to seek ways to maintain unity in the Anglican Communion in the face of dissent and divisive actions by its members. It will be presented to various Anglican bodies over the next four months for their review.
Among other things, the 93-page report (1) attempts to outline an understanding of both "interdependence" and "autonomy" in the Anglican Communion; (2) clarifies an Anglican view on the "authority of Scripture;" (3) chastises the Episcopal Church for consecrating a gay bishop (but does not call for his removal), and the Anglican Church of Canada for authorizing rites to bless same sex unions; (4) chastises other provinces for declaring themselves out of communion, and for violating the autonomy of the Episcopal Church; (5) asks the Episcopal Church to explain its views on the scriptural authenticity of ministry by homosexual persons; (6) recommends that all provinces sign a "unity covenant" agreeing not to take any more actions that might threaten the unity of the Communion, and suggests means of enforcing it; (7) calls on the American and Canadian provinces to apologize for their actions; and (8) recommends that the bishops who participated in them withdraw from participation in the Lambeth Conference and other official Anglican Communion gatherings.
The report does not call for the removal of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. While it does not call for expelling The Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion, if the report's recommendations are adopted, it will be difficult for the Episcopal Church to continue as a member.