Time to Retire the Nomenclature of Churches as Provinces.

The definition of the Anglican Communion, dating from the 1930's is that it is "a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer." ( The form used here is that found in the Constitution of the Episcopal Church.)

The whole business of using the word "provinces" is increasingly problematic. The word implies that there is a larger something - a nation, a church, a social grouping - that is the reality and that there are subsections of that exist here and there with approval of the whole. The idea is that Provinces exist at the pleasure of the whole and that they are under the authority of the whole. It is an matter of governance.

Until fairly recently this is not the way that Anglican national and regional churches thought of themselves. Churches that grew from other churches and took up a life of their own, separate from their "mother" church did so with full autonomy not as subgroups of the larger entity, but as full independent churches. Their inclusion in wider Anglican Communion life was really defined by invitation to Lambeth and recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury as churches with which the Church of England was in communion.

The notion that a new province might apply for inclusion in the life of one of the "instruments of communion," namely the Anglican Consultative Council, and by that be somehow "approved" as a member of other Anglican bodies - the Primates Meeting, the invitation list to Lambeth, etc, is all a post World War II phenomena closely aligned with the rapid expansion of Provinces as the colonial period was coming to a close.

But now, regrettably, the notion of Province has become all important. The Anglican Communion has come to mean that world wide conglomeration of decision makers who determine if a Province is in or out of the Communion. That is, the Anglican Communion has come to assume that being a Province is more important than being a national or regional church in an autonomous relation with the See of Canterbury.

This is a mess and likely to get messier. So in the interest of clarity, I would like to propose that we drop the use of the word "Province" and use some other phrase, the easiest being "autonomous national or regional churches." Using either, the definition of the Anglican Communion would read,

...a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, and autonomous national or regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer."

On that criteria the Archbishop of Canterbury's list is the working list of the Anglican Communion. Churches make some effort to convince him that this or that church ought not be part of the Communion, or use the ploy that a particular church might break communion with Canterbury if he did not break with someone else. They might even suggest that the Anglican Communion defined this way was simply unbearably colonial, giving the list over to some white guy appointed by the Crown, etc. But so long as that definition held the matter would be simple. If you are in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury you are in. If you are not you are not.

More, there would be no shame in not being in communion with the ABC. There might be regret, but that's a different matter. This is because the beginning premise is that the churches are indeed autonomous and the Communion is not a Church of which the Provinces are members.

I have read what the Archbishop said today in his closing Presidential Address. He made a plea for catholicity in pushing for a communion wide covenant, display of restraint, etc. I think he is profoundly mistaken. It is not catholicity that he is arguing for, it is the sense that the churches of the Anglican Communion first think of themselves as part of the whole, and not as autonomous churches. The ABC understands exactly what a Province is. It is a part of a whole whose life is greater than the parts. In a broken Christendom, catholicity is defined otherwise than by inclusion in a world wide church itself out of communion with the big three - Rome, Constantinople and Geneva.

So let's correct our misuse of the word. It is a word of governance, one which got misapplied to the churches of the Anglican Communion and continues a patriarchal model that fits no one well.

Let it go. We are not a Province of anything. We are a church in communion with the see of Canterbury and hope to remain so. If either of us chooses not to be it will be part of the broken pot of Christianity, or perhaps a sign of the limp of Jacob Israel. But for God's sake and the sake of the Gospel, let's stop worrying about what happens if we are not bound by subservient relationship as a province, conquered or otherwise. There is no reason for us to be instruments of our own oppression, or of others. (tip of the hat to Canon Edward Rodman).


  1. 4 May 1535+3/8/08 5:34 PM

    Brilliant. How do we begin?

  2. .
    Well put. Well spoken, Mark. And you can say that again -

    " ... Let's not be instruments of our own oppression ... "

  3. Gotcha Mark,

    So the next step is to define, What is Catholic, and how does this move play out within that definition? To me the answer is.. is a Protestant sort of way, but everyone is going to have to answer that question on their own.


  4. John-Julian, OJN3/8/08 11:37 PM

    Of course, TEC has already set up that process by calling its own regional gatherings "provinces". Is there any formal statement anywhere that TEC calls iself a "Province" of the AC?

  5. To respond to your question, joel, *I* still think the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (1886/1888) holds.

    If we (TEC) continue to subscribe to it, to me it only points out the "sect-like" qualities of any denomination (from Akinolism, to Popoidism, to Southern Baptistism!) which insists upon adding extraneous dogmas to this core Catholic faith.

  6. (Dan)
    To paraphrase the author: It is my ball and if you don't play by my rules I am taking my ball home. Do the words "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic" mean anything to you or are they just words consigned to the historic section of the BCP like the 39 Articles?

  7. Nom de Plume4/8/08 9:03 AM

    Er, how about using the Orthodox term of autocephalous churches? That way we don't have to define a whole new term ourselves, nor do we get stuck in the rut of using circumlocutions or lengthy and inevitably growing phrases.

    The Episcopal Church, therefore, is an autocephalous church in the Anglican Communion. Et cetera.

  8. Should we perhaps consider "autocephalous" at this point? It is a word more rooted in ecclesiology and in the tradition of the whole Church, without relinquishing any autonomy.

  9. 4 May 1535+4/8/08 11:31 AM

    Norman Doe's original definition of "autonomy" in Communion and Autonomy in Anglicanism: Nature and Maintenance (prepared for the Eames Commission) specifically contrasted it with "autocephaly" (to the amazement of many English speakers on this side of the Atlantic): cf. page 25, and footnote 252. All the more reason for using the Orthodox term, in my opinion.

  10. I agree with nom de plume and Marshall that "autocephalous" well describes what we are as TEC. But the rest of the country still hasn't figured out what "Episcopal" means -- let's not throw them an even more obscure Greek term!

    But you're quite right, Mark, that the equivocity of "Province" has caught up with us. The TEC has nine provices (which we number rather than name, which is boring). The CofE has two. The Church of Ireland has two. The Anglican Church of Canada, has four, as does the Anglican Church of Australia (plus one extraprovincial diocese). The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) (ho ho ho) has ten, plus a "mission" group that includes CANA. The "other" use of the term "Province" seems to have originated as the English missions in Africa became independent and self-governing (e.g. the Province of South Africa, the Province of West Africa, the Province of East Africa -- which subsequently divided into groupings that were often more nationally specific).

    So, yes -- a "province" (ecclesiastical) is a subdivision of a Church (among Anglicans usually though not always a national church). National churches are (usually) just that -- national churches, or at least regional churches. Example: "The Church of the Province of Southern Africa" is now (or will be shortly) "The Anglican Church of Southern Africa." Let's use that as a model throughout the Communion.

    If there still is a Communion by next week....

  11. Autocephalous, it makes sense to those of us with Latin-based mother tongues, but I am sure most folks would think it a disease.

    How about independent, self-governing national and regional churches?

  12. Mark, I think you are exactly right, but I agree with David... PLEASE do not use "autocephalous".

    Part of the problem with language, especially in the church, is that the majority of the time one is talking above people... which is the cause of that repeated echo, BTW.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.