The Church of England, the Church of the English People, separated from Rome in the C16th, founded branches in the world-wide colonies of the British Empire.
After the long process of independence, local people wanted yet to carry on worshipping God and witnessing to their faith in the old tradition. From this the Anglican Communion was born. From Canada to the Caribbean, from Australia to the Algarve, people have founded church communities, both long in the past and quite recently in countries never part of the Empire. The German Anglican churches are “Church of England” in the North and “American Episcopal” in the South. But in general, many parts of the globe have an independent province, joined to the Church of England and to the Archbishop of Canterbury by common spiritualities and traditions.
The Archbishop of Canterbury isn’t however a second Pope. That’s why the current conflicts over sexual orientation and the role of women have not been resolved by a central magisterial decree.
We are catholic, that is universal in scope and practice, yet reformed, in that we recognise the value of the Reformation in the C16th and subscribe to mainstream Protestant values, like the freedom of conscience of the individual believer and the to the standpoint that a Pope may be a focus of unity but cannot claim to speak infallibly about faith and morals.
So that gets us into difficulties when some people claim to read from the Bible that women should have a subordinate role in the church, despite the rightness of equal opportunity in society; that same-sex relationships and particularly intimate ones are against the commandments of God. Other people maintain that the cultural norms of a people who lived two thousand years ago cannot completely determine our own.
The mainstream Anglican opinion is that we are not simply the people of a holy book but that our way of praising God and living life in the manner which Jesus marked out is informed also by tradition and reason. In any case, Jesus’ passionate concern for the poor and disadvantaged and his insistence that we should conform our lives to God’s will in obedience and graceful faith, bring more urgent agendas to play. While bishops threaten to leave the Anglican Communion over sex and gender, others think they are “fiddling while Rome burns” – in the face of the huge problems of society in local and global terms, not to mention the care and preservation of the environment. We need to have something to say to our communities in prophetic and maybe unpopular guise. We need to stand up for equality, for all of us are equal in God’s sight. Clinging to those familiar to us in safety and comfort is not the Christian way.
Anglicans then, like other sister and brother Christians, should be people of hope and expectation, believing that he who sustains creation will someday bring it to perfection. Many are strongly engaged in ecumenical work between churches. Many also, regard other religions’ attempts to be faithful to God and neighbour as valid and real expressions of the movement of the Spirit of God in the world and in people’s hearts and minds.
The Anglican Church is therefore known as a “broad church” in which people holding a wide spectrum of views find community to explore the nature of God and what it means to be a Christian. It has great liturgical and musical tradition that inspires believers and non-believers alike. And because it is accepting of many views, it has much to offer particularly to those who find faith intellectually challenging.
For an accessible summary of how we got to be where we are now, see “What is the Anglican Church?” by our Danish neighbours, St Alban’s Copenhagen.