Reading an article in the Living Church I have been reminded of this definition of the Anglican Communion:
'The Anglican Communion
The Conference approves the following statement of nature and status of the Anglican Communion, as that term is used in its Resolutions:
The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within 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:
a.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;
b.they are particular or national Churches, and, as such, promote within each of their territories a national expression of Christian faith, life and worship; and
c.they are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference.
The Conference makes this statement praying for and eagerly awaiting the time when the Churches of the present Anglican Communion will enter into communion with other parts of the Catholic Church not definable as Anglican in the above sense, as a step towards the ultimate reunion of all Christendom in one visibly united fellowship.'
This is Resolution 49 from Lambeth Conference 1930.
Some points of interest here are:
- inclusion of 'dioceses' as part of the Communion. (Yes, I understand that in 1930 this would have been about the Diocese of ex-colony X which is not yet part of a national church, rather than providing for a diocese recently broken away from its national church).
- clear commitment to the autonomy of 'national' churches in which the 'national expression of Christian faith, life and worship' is within the framework of 'the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church' and related to other national expressions by 'mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference.'
- framing of the theology of the Communion and its member churches in these terms: 'the Catholic and Apostolic faith and order' as set out in Anglican prayerbooks.
- eager hope for future visible unity in fellowship with all churches.
Eighty-one years later this vision of the Communion is ragged if not in tatters. Consider:
(1) We seem only able to have 'common counsel' when we gather less than the sum of all our bishops together in conference.
(2) 'the Catholic and Apostolic faith and order' seems to be dispensable when it conflicts with some local interest or fashion.
(3) We talk to other churches, have made progress in visible unity with some, but generally have no eagerness to share in visible fellowship if it looks like we would lose control of our church and its autonomy.
(4) The Anglican Communion is not itself united so it becomes a mockery to organise for the Communion itself to engage in talks intended to make progress towards visible unity with other churches (e.g. ARCIC III).