What about the Anglican Church?
The Anglican Church is an organization with branches in 164 countries and a total of about 75 million members worldwide. The national Churches have a good deal of autonomy, but all recognize the spiritual leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Canterbury in England), and they talk to each other via a body called the Anglican Consultative Council. Also, all Anglican bishops come together at the Lambeth Conference, held every ten years.
There are many differences between individual Anglican churches, but we hold four things in common
- The Bible as a basis of our faith;
- The Nicene and Apostles' Creeds, basic statements of Christian belief;
- Recognition of the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and
- The historic episcopate; that is, the continuity of the line of bishops since the time of Christ.
It has been said that the Anglican Church rests on the four pillars of Faith, Reason, Experience and Tradition. The unique strength of Anglicanism lies in our balance of these three aspects of our religion.
Wasn't the Anglican Church formed by Henry VIII so that he could annul his marriage?
Ouch. Yes, it was, but leaders in the Church of England took the opportunity to make a number of reforms which the central authorities of the Roman Catholic Church opposed. Something like the Anglican Church would probably have happened without Henry VIII's political interference, but it might have taken longer. King Henry's main concern was simply independence from Rome.
So what else changed?
At the time, there were a number of doctrinal concerns, such as the exact nature of the Eucharist. The main practical difference between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches nowadays is that the Anglicans, while maintaining a hierarchy of priests and bishops, give much more autonomy to individual churches. This means that, while the basics of our belief are fixed, there are wide differences in our style of worship from parish to parish.
Is the Anglican Church male-dominated?
It's trying not to be. The Diocese of Dunedin, New Zealand was the first in the world to appoint a female Bishop, and there are now 30% of priests that are female in the Anglican Church of Canada. Most services and modern hymns use inclusive language. Some traditional hymns and forms of service do unfortunately contain male-specific language which can't be removed without damage to their poetic quality. We still often (but not always) refer to God as 'He' and 'Father', because sadly the English language has no suitable neutral terms other than the horribly impersonal 'it'. We are working on improvements in this area.