The Rev. Ian T. Douglas, professor of Mission and World Christianity of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. and a member of both the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism and the Design Group for the 2008 Anglican gathering and Lambeth Conference, responds:
Whenever I hear someone refer to “The Anglican Church” I provocatively ask the question: “Which Anglican church?” For, technically speaking, there are 38 different Anglican churches around the world. Each of these 38 Anglican churches in some way trace their history to the life and witness of catholic Christianity inherited through the Church of England. The Episcopal Church is one of these 38 churches and as such is the “Anglican Church” in the United States.
The 38 Anglican churches around the world come together in a global family of churches known as the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion includes over 75 million members in 164 countries with the majority of Anglicans today living in the Global South (Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific). It can be argued that the seeds of the contemporary Anglican Communion were planted in 1789 when the Episcopal Church in the United States threw off its colonial association with the Church of England and became the first self-governing Anglican church outside the British Isles.
The same process of independence and growth has continued around the world, particularly in the last half of the 20th Century when Anglican mission fields in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific freed themselves from their colonial ties to England and the United States.
Many of the 38 churches in the Anglican Communion do include the word “Anglican” as part of their official name, such as: The Anglican Church of Canada, The Anglican Church of Kenya, or The Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea. Some Anglican churches, on the other hand, use the nomenclature “Episcopal” describing the key role of bishops in the church, such as: The Episcopal Church of Sudan, The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, or The Episcopal Church (in the USA).
Still other Anglican churches do not use the words “Anglican” or “Episcopal” at all in their titles. This occurs for a variety of reasons; either “Anglican” is assumed (The Church of England, The Church of the Province of Melanesia, The Church of the Province of the West Indies), or “Anglican” does not communicate in translation (Nippon Sei Ko Kai in Japan, Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui), or because the “Anglican” church in a particular nation or region has been joined with other Christian churches to form a wider ecumenical or “united” church (The Church of South India, The Church of Pakistan).
And finally Brazilian Anglicans in the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana de Brasil include both “Anglican” and “Episcopal” in their church’s name. Despite their various names, the 38 churches of the Anglican Communion are committed to witnessing to the Gospel in their own contexts while working together to serve the mission of God as mutually responsible and interdependent members of a global Body of Christ .
So “what is the difference between the Anglican Church and the Episcopal Church?” It all depends which Anglican church or Episcopal church one is referring to in the Anglican Communion. How Anglican!