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What is the Anglican Communion?

[Episcopal News Service]  There are an estimated 70 million members of the Anglican/Episcopal family in 38 self-governing Member Churches or Provinces in more than 160 countries. The Anglican Communion has developed in two stages. Following the first stage, which began in the 17th century in Britain, Anglicanism was later established by colonization in places such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Southern Africa, and the USA. The second stage began in the late 18th century. During that era Anglican churches were planted all over the world as a result of the missionary work of the Churches in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, which were joined in this task by the Churches formed in the previous two centuries.

Anglican/Episcopal Churches uphold and proclaim the Catholic and Apostolic faith, based on the Scriptures, interpreted in the light of tradition and reason. Following the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Churches are committed to the proclamation of the Good News of the Gospel to the whole creation. Faith and order have found expression in the Book of Common Prayer, Ordinals of the 16th and 17th centuries, and most succinctly in the 'Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral' which was first approved by the Lambeth Conference of 1888. This document affirms as the essential elements of faith and order in the quest for Christian unity:

  • The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the revealed Word of God;
  • The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith;
  • Two Sacraments--Baptism and the Eucharist--ministered with the unfailing words and elements used by Christ;
  • The historic Episcopate

The Anglican Communion is served by the so-called "four instruments of unity": The Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Conference, Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates Meeting.

The Lambeth Conference

The Lambeth Conference is a gathering of bishops, meeting every ten years under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first was held in 1867. Since 1988 the members of the Anglican Consultative Council have been invited to attend the Conference.

The 1998 Conference welcomed all serving bishops, over 700, to Canterbury. Further information about the Lambeth Conference can be found at

The Primates Meeting

Since 1979, the Primates (the senior archbishop or presiding bishop) of the Churches of the Anglican Communion have met regularly in consultation on theological, social, and international issues. This meeting is generally not considered to be as powerful as the Anglican Consultative Council, and is more of an opportunity for the primates to give an overview of their provinces and discuss various issues.

The Anglican Consultative Council

The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) is the most comprehensive gathering of the Anglican Communion, representing the voice of the inner life of the provinces. The number of representatives serving on the ACC from each province depends on the number of Anglicans in that province. Each province can nominate 1, 2 or 3 representatives accordingly. There are approximately 120 people who serve on the council.


The ACC was formed following a resolution of the 1968 Lambeth Conference which discerned the need for more frequent and more representative contact among the Churches than was possible through a once-a-decade conference of bishops. The constitution of the Council was accepted by the general synods or conventions of all the Member Churches of the Anglican Communion. The Council came into being in October 1969.


The ACC meets every two or three years and its present policy is to meet in different parts of the world. Since it began there have been twelve meetings of the Council.

The Anglican Communion Secretariat

There is a permanent secretariat, the Anglican Communion Office (ACO), based in London, England, led by its Secretary General, the Rev. Canon John L. Peterson (retires at the end of 2004). The staff serves the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meeting, and the Anglican Consultative Council. Funding comes from the Inter-Anglican budget, which is supported by all Member Churches according to their membership and means.

The Provinces of the Anglican Communion

Details of all 38 Anglican provinces and the hundreds of dioceses can be found at:

A list of the Primates of the Anglican Communion is available at: