The Anglican Communion and Anglican Identity

The Brooks Memorandum, a concise statement on just how a Province becomes, continues and might be expelled from the Anglican Communion, has been widely reposted from its first publication by The Episcopal Majority. TEM is to be congratulated on getting this out to the general public. Fr. Jake has a take HERE, and Episcopal Café weighs in HERE.

It does not answer the question of Anglican identity, but it does answer the question of the basis for inclusion in one of the two important lists – the list of member churches in the Anglican Consultative Council. We might remember that some years ago there was an attempt to rename the ACC as the Anglican Communion Council. That was viewed by enough people as a really bad idea and so was dropped. The ACC remains a consultative gathering, but it alone among the “instruments of unity” has a founding document that gives it authority to act on behalf of the member churches in specific areas.

The second important list is of course the list managed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and used for invitations to Lambeth. As per churches that list is published near the back (pg 206) of the document called The Canons of the Church of England.” Using that list as the framework for invitations, the ABC can of course not invite particular bishops.

So the ACC list determines who is part of the one constitutional governing body of the Anglican Communion, and the ABC’s list determines which bishops gather at Lambeth.

The question as to which Primates are invited to Primates Meetings seems to be this: The ABC invites, but the list of the ACC prevails. (Hopefully the ACC and ABC lists are the same as per membership in the Anglican Communion.) At least that is how I read the runes.

Some time ago I proposed a very simple Anglican Compact that spoke to the same issues. I think it still makes sense, and the Brooks Memorandum confirms at least part of its structure.

Here is that compact again:

“A Compact among the Churches of the Anglican Communion.

We acknowledge that the Dioceses, Provinces and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury are the constituent members of the Anglican Communion. We believe that God is calling us in Jesus Christ to the following affirmations:

Member Churches pledge:

To uphold and propagate the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer, which statements of historic Faith and Order are to be found in the collective informing corpus of the 1549, 1552, 1559, and 1662 Books of Common Prayer of the Church of England, understood to be continued as informative into the present in the books of Common Prayer of the several churches.

To invite ourselves and others into fellowship and, if God so wills, into organic union, with other churches on the basis of the principles of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, such churches to be considered part of the Anglican Communion if in communion with the See of Canterbury.

To exhibit mutual respect and interdependence in the Communion, honoring Anglican faith and witness as it finds expression in the affirmation of the faith in the recitation of the ancient creeds of the undivided Church, the commitment to common prayer and sacramental life informed by Holy Scripture, in the witness and ministry of the autonomous churches of the Communion, and in the ministry of all the baptized, every Christian contributing to the life of the whole.

Member Churches agree:

That each church is autonomous within the generous orthodoxy of life in Christ. Every member church recognizes the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion of all churches in the Communion. All baptized persons command the respect of every member Church. The several vocations of the baptized may are exercised in a member Church by affirmation of that Church. Such license and affirmation in one church of the Communion does not imply affirmation of the practice of that vocation in the life of any other church of the Communion.

That the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Consultative Council exercise certain executive powers within this fellowship. They hold the power to invite and include churches and persons into the deliberative consultations and programmatic activities of the Anglican Communion. No church can be a member of the ACC that is not in communion with the See of Canterbury; communion with the See of Canterbury does not guarantee membership in the ACC.

That Bishops express godly counsel and teaching as they meet in the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meeting and at other times. Such counsel and teaching informs the Communion and must be held in high regard, but such counsel cannot direct or command actions of member Churches.

That withdrawal of a member church from the Anglican Communion may be effected only by declaration by the Archbishop of Canterbury that the member church is no longer in communion with the See of Canterbury. The Constitution of the ACC may describe membership and conditions for withdrawal of membership in the ACC. Invitation to the gatherings of bishops and inclusion in the ACC are matters respectively of decision by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the membership of the ACC. Exclusion or disinvitation effectively limits fellowship but does not remove a church from inclusion in the Anglican Communion.

That no more than one church may have jurisdiction in a particular area except when for historical, ecumenical or pastoral reasons two churches both in communion with the See of Canterbury and with one another have mutually agreed to continue overlapping ministries.

This Compact will become effective when received and affirmed in a manner proscribed by the Anglican Consultative Council by two thirds of the current member Churches of the Anglican Communion.”

Meanwhile, of course, identity as an Anglican is a much broader matter. It is something individuals do in the context of their church and worship community. It is something churches sometimes claim seemingly unrelated to being part of the Anglican Communion.

Can one identify oneself as an Anglican and not be part of the Anglican Communion? I think so. The Anglican ethos or spirit or way is a subset of the more general problem of working out how to express our faith in a world that is broken is so many ways – including ecclesial. In looking for the “pattern” that constitutes being Anglican there are no easy determinants. But there are some.

These determinants are not things like “core” doctrine or “central” beliefs. They are more like steering mechanisms. I think these determinants include something of the following:

(i) A profound sense of the incarnational – of God present in Jesus Christ, in creation and in people.

(ii) A willingness to live into and through modernity, requiring that we understand our particular context as a faith community, one that is open to question and to mystery both.

(iii) An attitude of provisionality – in which we take positions and act on them without recourse to certainty, knowing that the whole truth belongs to no one person or group. This keeps us back from at least some forms of infallibility claims.

(iv) A commitment to belief – being willing to act on our understandings, faith, sensibilities and positions – within the context of a community of believers.

This is not a list of what we need to believe in order to be part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Those lists are found in the Creeds, the Baptismal Covenant, various religious statements including the Lambeth Quadrilateral. This is simply a list of additional determinants of what we might call an Anglican identity. Much of the content of belief draws on the witness of the core documents, but the way in which that content is used is what makes us Anglicans rather than, say, Presbyterians. And, of course, belief itself is a deeper and broader river.

I am writing this in Quito, Ecuador, where I am putting together several talks for local clergy on precisely these issues. This is all preliminary mutterings, but perhaps there will be more later.

Meanwhile at 9,200 feet the air is thin, the coffee good, and I feel blessed.


  1. once again, i would urge the rejection of formulas which imply that the books of common prayer of england have any authority as you describe them. there is nothing more normative about them over and against other books. they are not like protestant confessions: firm, immovable documents, establishing standards. they are occasional pieces, written for a season, and then changed as the season has.

    the 1979 bcp is the authority in these parts, not any of the books from england, and the 1979 bcp has its authority not because it continues some "collective informing corpus".

  2. tb,bsg...you are right to remind me of your previous concern. I will try to write out another way of saying this. I guess what was stumping me was that we are in some visceral way informed by these things. Sorry not to have caught this. More later.

  3. At least as I read the section on the collective corpus of BCP's through 1662, I didn't interpret it as saying that those are "normative" but rather "informative," that they are the foundational documents that continue to form our Faith and Order as Anglicans.

    However, some might argue that in the more recent revisions ('79 BCP in TEC, BAS in Canada, even Common Worship in CofE) that the traditional Anglican corpus is less formative than in prior Prayer Books (e.g. TEC's 1928).

    Kevin Montgomery

  4. We had a course in Anglican Identity at Seabury-Western, under Tim Sedgwick. Strangely enough, it fell under his discipline of Ethics. The first thing we had to do as a class was to agree on what the basic "fence posts" of an anglican identity were - we had to all agree, was the key. We came up with four basics for anglican identity. The following year I checked with the class behind me on their agreed norms for anglican identity - they had five; I think three of them were the same as ours.

    From the class's agreed upon norms for identity, we each had to write papers on three major Anglican figures, names provided by Tim Sedgwick, exploring how their stretching of identity was still within the bounds of the norms upon which we had agreed. I don't remember the first two, short papers I did, but my major paper was on Desmond Tutu. I remember one of the Anglicans we could choose was William Stringfellow, another a really edgy woman, a socialist I think, whose name I've forgotten.

    Mark, remember that the delicious coffee is dehydrating, and at that altitude you must stay hydrated in order not to get altitude sickness. Enjoy, and keep well.
    Peace, Lois Keen

  5. Mark, as a priest who shares a common vision I've quietly read your blog for a long time without comment. Thank you for your ongoing willingness to tackle these tough issues and bring out important news. There is one thing I'd like to point out as a suggestion. Modernism, an invention of the enlightenment, is coming to an end. We've seen this coming since Lauren Mead published The Once and Future Church. What will replace it is unknown, but some forward thinkers like Brian McLaren who make an appeal for a "generous orthodoxy" would argue that conflicts like the one we're embroiled in are more about the norms of modernity and the emerging theology/culture of post-modernity battling it out. It strikes me that the Anglicanism you articulate is, in fact, a thoroughly post-modern form and perhaps the use of modern in your piece is unhelpful.

  6. The stuff about only one jurisdiction in an area should probably be run past someone like Bishop Whalon. I don't think we want to make the situation in Europe any more complicated than it already is, and I'm not entirely sure that all the Anglican churches in Europe are happy with the overlapping jurisdictions there.


  7. Mike..you are right, I was at the moment reading Octavio Paz's Nobel Prize lecture and there he uses modernity in another sense. I was off on a tangent. (Gee, that happens sometimes.)

    Jon: yes the situation in Europe is not too happy at times, but everybody knows it is there and there is an ongoing attempt to deal with it. More importantly there is not the sense of overlapping jurisdictions between groups that are at war with one another. Some even argue that there is no overlap, but rather ongoing willingness to letting the historical accident of chaplaincies and the extra provincial diocese in Spain and Portugal simply be. These are three dioceses (Europe, Spain and Portugal) and one convocation that are all Anglican and consider each other Anglican.

  8. Thomas Busnell,
    The idea that books of common prayer are occasional pieces conforms with the approach of your provinc,\e TEC. Other provinces such as England and Australia have taken the view that the 1662 remains in some way the standard of anglican doctrine and the othet books are supplementary to them. In the case of my province, 1662 is written into the constitution of the church.
    Not evry province is alike. that part of the peril of writing a compact for the communion.

  9. In the declaration made by all CofE clergy on admission to office or licensing by the bishop, a distinction is drawn between the sources of doctrine (the Holy Scriptures and the Catholic creeds) and the Anglican formularies which "bear witness" to this doctrine (the Book of Common Prayer [viz. 1662], the Ordering of Bishops Priests and Deacons, and the 39 Articles).

    Not even within English Anglicanism, the source of the 1662 book, is it regarded as a touchstone of doctrine as some seem to want to imply.

  10. Mark -

    I like your descriptions, and I would disagree with Thomas Bushnell concerning the authority of our ancient documents - such as the early editions of the BCP.

    Considering the upcoming generations, a most interesting finding among demographers and those who study such things is that the newer generations are, in fact, looking for the tried and true - that which is not trendy and trite.

    Those I know that are a part of the more "cutting edge" ministries within the Episcopal Church and outside it would readily claim that the ancient documents were part of what actually define us. They might even tend to say that they have more faith in the authority of the ancient documents (early Prayer Books, for example) than our most "modern" documents.

    This deeply troubles many people of the 1960 generation that have worked for so long to remake the Church, but what will happen will happen. Are we willing and do we have the wisdom to understand the change, or are we too entangled with our pet social and political theories to recognize and allow such change?

    Isn't it ironic that many within the current leadership of the Church are now considered "The Man" against whom the youngin's are rebelling?

  11. The compact you propose specifies that the overlap is only permitted when there is a mutual agreement that the overlap should continue. Do such agreements currently exist (preferably in writing) between the dioceses and the convocation in Europe? I don't know that the situation there conforms to the language of the compact, that's why I suggested running it by Bishop Whalon. If the wording is problematic he, or someone else intimately familiar with the European situation, could almost certainly suggest alternate wording that both keeps pressure off Europe and rules out things like CANA and AMIA.



OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, 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.