05 December 2007

Our Anglican Heritage: (24) A Worldwide Communion

Deacons, priests and bishops are a tiny minority in the church. In actual fact, they exist only to offer leadership and service to the nearly eighty million people around the world today who call themselves Anglicans. While Anglicans can trace their historic roots back to the Church of England, the Anglican Communion in this century has become a truly international body, of which the Church of England and those of English descent, have been a minority for more than a generation. Anglicans in Uganda, for example, outnumber Anglicans (Episcopalians) in the United States by nearly four to one; in Nigeria by eight to one.

Today the Anglican Communion is made up of thirty-eight national or regional indigenous church bodies (often called “provinces”) found on every continent. Some of these, like the Episcopal Church, came about originally as a result of British colonial expansion. Some, such as the church in the southern cone of South America, began with the faithful and painstaking work of nineteenth-century missionaries. Others, such as the Reformed Church of Spain and the Mar-Thoma Church of India, are independent bodies that have chosen to enter into communion with the Anglican Church. Still others, such as the Church of South India, are union churches which have retained their links with the Anglican Communion while remaining in fellowship with other denominational bodies.

For the past century or more the Anglican Church has been a leader in ecumenical dialog. In recent years, the Anglican–Roman Catholic International Consultations have received the greatest publicity. This has sometimes eclipsed the other ongoing discussions with Lutherans, Methodists, the Reformed churches and Eastern Orthodox bodies (not to mention the ill-fated Anglican-United plan of union in Canada). In recent years dialog with the Lutheran Church in the United States and Canada has led to sharing at the Lord’s table and a full mutual recognition of ministries.

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