Who determines the member Churches of the Anglican Communion?

It appears likely that some sort of discipline for The Episcopal Church will either be proposed or determined at the upcoming Primates’ Meeting in Dar es Salaam, discipline that could take the form either of the expulsion of The Episcopal Church from the Anglican Commuion (which I think unlikely); or the demotion of The Episcopal Church to less than full membership in the Anglican Communion, in which the communion relationships with The Episcopal Church will vary from province to province within the Communion. (See my essay, “On Methodists, ‘associated’ Churches and the Anglican Covenant” for a suggestion of what this might look like.) Given this, the question has arisen, “Who has the authority to determine the member Churches of the Anglican Communion?” Clearly the answer is one or more of the “Instruments of Unity” of the Anglican Communion: the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting, the Archbishop of Canterbury - though ++Cantuar is perhaps better understood as a “servant” of unity, and the Anglican Consultative Council, newest of the instruments.

The answer to the question of which instrument of unity is determinative of membership seems largely to depend on the theological and ecclesiastical opinions of the person answering. Theologically conservative Episcopalians and Anglicans, or “reasserters”, have tended to understand either the Lambeth Conference or the Primates’ Meeting as having this authority. Thus, on this view the primates meeting together in February 2007 could determine the discipline to which The Episcopal Church would be subjected, or could at least make a recommendation the Lambeth Conference which will meet in 2008, understanding that the episcopal Conference will take up their recommendation and reject it or act on it. Theologically liberal or revisionist Episcopalians and Anglicans, or “reappraisers”, tend to deny such determinative (or even commendatory) authority to the primates, and some have suggested that the Anglican Consultative Council, by virtue of its more “democratic” nature (it is the only instrument to include in its membership clergy and laity as well as bishops), has the membership-determining authority.

Conservative Episcopalian weblogger Brad Drell recently entered these speculative waters with “Is Membership In The Anglican Consultative Council A Prerequisite To Being A Member of the Anglican Communion? Who Decides Who Is In And Who Is Out? “, which he concludes on the basis of an examination of the constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council that, while the Archbishop of Canterbury is “the final arbiter of who is in Communion” with the See of Canterbury, that the Primates’ Meeting could “by majority vote, recognize a new North American Province on a majority vote, and there wouldn’t be a whole lot anyone could do about it.”

Peter Ould, weblogger and priest in the Church of England, argues a similar conclusion regarding the Primates’ Meeting in “Why Virginia is SO important“, though he arrives there through more practical than constitutional considerations.

Brad’s understanding of the authority of the Anglican Consultative Council is, I think, correct. The constitution of the ACC clearly states that the Council has a facilitative and advisory role, including in the division of existing provinces of the Communion and the formation of new provinces. This later role, that of facilitating and advising, is clearly indicated as just that in various resolutions of the ACC over its past thirteen meetings (the texts of these resolutions are published online at the Anglican Consultative Council’s website). As recently as 1996 at their meeting in Panama City, Panama, the Council affirmed “its commitment to assisting in the creation of new Provinces, where conditions indicate that such a development is appropriate in the Anglican Communion”; urged “those involved in promoting the creation of new Provinces to consult the Council through its Secretary General and other officers from the earliest stages in their discussions”; and affirmed “the guidelines set out in previous Council resolutions”. At their 1973 meeting in Dublin, the ACC recommended “that the diocese of Melanesia and the Province of New Zealand proceed with plans for constituting a Province of Melanesia, and that when these are agreed to by the diocese and the General Synod of the Province, the Council recommends that the new Province may be formed.” The Council has offered similar recommendations - note, not directives - on the formation of new provinces since the first meeting in Kenya in 1971.

The ACC’s constitution clearly establishes the membership of the Council (based on a Resolution 69 of the 1968 Lambeth Conference), and the Council has welcomed new provincial members from time to time. For example, at their Panama City meeting in 1996, the Council welcomed the Province of Mexico and the Province of South East Asia (successor to the Council of Churches of East Asia) to membership in the Council (cf. Resolutions 1, 2 and 3), and at the 1999 meeting in Dundee, Scotland, welcomed the Anglican Church of the Central America Region and the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui into membership.

That membership in the Anglican Communion constitutes membership in the Anglican Consultative Council rather than vice versa is demonstrated by Resolution 25 of the 1990 meeting in Wales:

This Council welcomes the Philippine Episcopal Church, hitherto a member of the Eighth Province of ECUSA, as the latest member Church of the Anglican Communion, and thus of this Council.

So the question remains, who determines membership in the Anglican Communion?

The answer, at least from the Anglican Consultative Council’s own resolutions, is unequivocal - surprisingly so, in fact, given how this question has been argued about over the past several months.

In 1993, at a joint meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Consultative Council, the following resolutions were passed (emphases mine):

Resolution 47: New Provinces of Burundi, Rwanda and Zaire

Resolved, that this Joint Meeting of the Primates and the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Consultative Council welcomes the creation of the Province of Burundi, the Province of Rwanda, and the Province of Zaire and requests the Primates to add them to the list of Member Churches of the Anglican Communion, and that they be added to the Schedule of Membership of the Anglican Consultative Council.

Resolution 48: New Province of Korea

Resolved, that this Joint Meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Consultative Council welcomes the progress towards the creation of the new Province of Korea in April 1993 and requests the Primates to add it to the list of member Churches of the Anglican Communion following its inauguration, and that it be added to the Schedule of Membership of the Anglican Consultative Council.

Carefully reading the resolutions, two things should be noted.

First, the Council explicitly recognizes the Primates as having the authority to determine the membership of the Anglican Communion (though we should also bear in mind that the Archbishop of Canterbury, as the primus inter pares and focus - or servant - of unity among the Primates, will have a fundamental role in that determination). The Council does not direct the Primates to add the new provinces to the list of member Churches, as though the Primates were simply recording secretaries, but rather requests the admission of the new provinces to membership in the Communion.

Second, the principle that membership in the Communion determines membership in the ACC is affirmed, although as the case of the united Churches of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh demonstrates, membership in the Anglican Consultative Council does not determine full membership in the Anglican Communion.

As many readers are aware, the united Churches of South India, Pakistan, North India and Bangladesh were formed through arduous ecumenical discussion and work over a number of years among young missionary churches of various Reformation (and other Protestant) traditions: Anglican, Reformed-Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregationalist, Baptist, Disciples. I am most familiar with the Church of South India, and using this Church’s reception into the Anglican Communion hope further to demonstrate that the authority to receive churches into full membership in the Communion resides both with the Primates of the Communion and with the decennial episcopal Lambeth Conference.

The Church of South India was formally inaugurated in 1947 by the union of the South India United Church (an earlier union of churches in the Congregational and Presbyterian-Reformed traditions), the southern Anglican dioceses of the Church of India, Burma and Ceylon, and the Methodist Church in South India. The scheme by which the union took place was both innovative and controversial, given that, while the united Church was committed to the threefold ministry of bishop, presbyter and deacon, the ordained ministers of all the uniting churches were received into the united Church without reordination. At the inauguration service the Anglican bishops in the union ordained and consecrated several candidates from the non-episcopal churches to the episcopate per saltum, that is, without their first having been ordained to the diaconate and the presbyterate by bishops in historic succession. These new bishops, one of whom was the great missiologist and pastor Lesslie Newbigin, joined with the Anglican bishops to provide the episcopal oversight of the dioceses of the new Church, no distinction being made between the formerly Anglican bishops and the newly-ordained bishops from other traditions. Protestant pastors and Anglican presbyters alike were recognized - without any reordinations - as having valid presbyteral ministries, though the existence of non-episcopally ordained presbyters in the Church of South India delayed full communion with the Churches of the Anglican Communion until a generation had passed, and all presbyters and deacons of the Church of South India had been ordained by bishops in historic (Anglican) succession. And, indeed, this has been the case for the past twenty years.

The Lambeth Conference first took notice of the Church of South India in 1948, only one year after the united Church was inaugurated. In a resolution the bishops gathered at Lambeth gave thanks to God “for the measure of unity locally achieved by the inauguration of the Church of South India”, and pledged themselves “to pray and work for its development into an ever more perfect fulfilment of the will of God for his Church”, looking forward “hopefully and with longing to the day when there shall be full communion between the Church of South India and the Churches of the Anglican Communion.” Another resolution of the 1948 Conference answered questions about the status of laity and clergy (both episcopally ordained and non-episcopally ordained) in the Churches of the Anglican Communion and admitted that the bishops at the conference were not of one mind regarding the nature of the ministries even those bishops, presbyters and deacons of the Church of South India ordained at or after the inaugural service, though the resolution went on to state that “no member of the Conference desires to condemn outright or to declare invalid the episcopally consecrated and ordained ministry of the Church of South India”.

Resolutions dealing with the Church of South India, and eventually with the other united churches, were passed by each succeeding Lambeth Conference. In 1968 the Conference recommended that “Churches and provinces of the Anglican Communion re-examine their relation to the Church of South India with a view to entering into full communion with that Church”.

As the years passed, several Anglican Churches entered into full communion with the Church of South India, such that in 1971 the first meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Kenya passed the following resolutions:

Resolution 2: United Churches and the Anglican Communion

The Council recommends that united Churches in full communion with Anglican Churches or Provinces should be invited to send delegates to future meetings of the ACC, who should have equal status with Anglican delegates.

The Council instructs the Standing Committee to consider how representatives of such Churches may best participate in the work of the ACC.

Resolution 3: Church of South India

The Council notes that seven Provinces have requested full communion with the Church of South India and that eleven other Provinces have indicated their intention to work towards full communion. It urges all other Churches and Provinces to give further careful consideration to their relationships with the CSI with a view to entering into full communion with that Church.

Resolution 4: The Churches of North India and of Pakistan

The Council recommends that Churches and Provinces which have not yet established full communion with the new Churches of North India and Pakistan should do so as soon as they are able.

The 1978 Lambeth Conference took up the ACC’s recommendations in Resolution 14, “The Wider Episcopal Fellowship“:

The Conference requests the Archbishop of Canterbury: 1. in consultation with the Primates, to convene a meeting of Anglican bishops with bishops of Churches in which Anglicans have united with other Christians, and bishops from those Churches which are in full communion with Anglican Churches; and to discuss with them how bishops from these Churches could best play their part in future Lambeth Conferences; 2. to recognise the deep conviction of this Lambeth Conference that the expressed desire of both the Lusitanian and Spanish Reformed Churches to become fully integrated members of the Anglican Communion should receive both a warm and a positive response.

Parenthetically, this was also the Lambeth Conference which passed resolutions clearly indicating an understanding of the collegiality of bishops in the Anglican tradition as exercised across provincial boundaries, as for example in Resolution 13, “Lambeth Conferences”:

In order that the guardianship of the faith may be exercised as a collegial responsibility of the whole episcopate, the Conference affirms the need for Anglican bishops from every diocese to meet together in the tradition of the Lambeth Conference and recommends that the calling of any future Conference should continue to be the responsibility of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and that he should be requested to make his decision in consultation with the other Primates. While recognising the great value which many set on the link with Canterbury, we believe that a Conference could well be held in some other province.

and in Resolution 11, “Issues Concerning the Whole Anglican Communion“:

The Conference advises member Churches not to take action regarding issues which are of concern to the whole Anglican Communion without consultation with a Lambeth Conference or with the episcopate through the Primates Committee, and requests the Primates to inititate a study of the nature of authority within the Anglican Communion.

Here the bishops gathered at Lambeth clearly recognize their episcopal ministry as encompassing a discerning role for the Communion as a whole, and not only in their own provinces.

The united Churches of South India, Pakistan and North India participated as members of the Anglican Consultative Council for the first time at the 1984 meeting in Badagry, Nigeria (the Church of Bangladesh would not participate in the ACC until the 1990 meeting in Wales). At this meeting the ACC passed a resolution on the “United Churches and the Lambeth Conference“:

In the light of its consideration of the implications of full communion the Council welcomes the proposed invitation to representatives of the United Churches in full communion and other churches in full communion, to discuss the question of membership of the Lambeth Conference at the Primates’ Meeting due to be held in March 1986.

At the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, held in Singapore in 1987, the Council passed the following resolution on “United Churches in Full Communion“:

THAT this Council:

resolves that the ACC should now move towards normal membership of the Council for all united Churches with which the Churches of the Anglican Communion are in full communion (i.e. the Church of South India, the Church of North India, the Church of Pakistan and the Church of Bangladesh);

requests the Lambeth Conference of 1988 and the Primates’ Meeting of 1989 similarly to consider full membership of those bodies for united Churches in full communion.

At the 1988 Lambeth Conference, the united Churches were invited into full membership in the Anglican Communion:

This Conference:

1. Expresses its gratitude for the presence of bishops from the Church of South India, the Church of North India, the Church of Bangladesh and the Church of Pakistan, acknowledging that their presence reminds us that our commitment as Anglicans is to the wider unity of the Church.

2. Affirms the request of ACC-7 (Resolution 17) that all United Churches with which the Churches of the Anglican Communion are in full communion be invited to accept full membership in the Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meeting (as is already the case with the Anglican Consultative Council)….

Through this fifty year history of Lambeth Conferences, Primates’ meetings and meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council, two things emerge regarding the determination of membership in the Anglican Communion.

First, the Anglican Consultative Council has exercised a conscientious role in assisting Anglican provinces and autonomous dioceses in forming new provinces of the Anglican Communion and in recommending the recognition of those provinces (including the united Churches) by the Primates and bishops of the Anglican Communion as provinces of the Communion. However, the Anglican Consultative Council does not ordinarily initiate the process of forming new provinces.

Second, over its nearly forty year history the Anglican Consultative Council has demonstrated a clear understanding that the Primates of the Anglican Communion, along with the Lambeth Conference of bishops, have the authority to determine membership in the Communion. While not explicitly stated in ACC resolutions, the “gathering authority” of the Archbishop of Canterbury to invite bishops to the Lambeth Conference as a servant of unity within the Communion should also be recognized. At the same time, as one of the resolutions of the 1978 Lambeth Conference recognizes, ++Cantuar should exercise his gathering authority in consultation with the other Primates of the Communion.

This is precisely as it should be. Bishops are those ministers who have been called by God through the voice of the Church and ordained to exercise, through the Holy Spirit, a ministry of discernment and guardianship of the faith for the entire Church. In the examination of the bishop-elect in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (according to the use of The Episcopal Church), the bishop-elect is charged with guarding “the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church”. A similar charge appears in other Anglican rites for the ordination of bishops. It is far too easy to let issues of communion and membership within a Communion of churches falsely to assume a merely institutional form. Catholic teaching would have us understand that communion is personal, that it is focused in the bishop, and that we are in communion with one another insofar as our bishops are in communion with each other. Given this, it is unremarkable that bishops - and particularly those bishops with primatial authority within their separate Churches - should determine matters of membership and communion.

Edited 12-20-06

7 Responses to “Who determines the member Churches of the Anglican Communion?”

  1. Fr.Tony Clavier Says:

    Yes, but there’s no instance of this process working in reverse. Dr. Fisher expelled the Bishop of North Africa from the Communion when he accepted leadership of the “Church of England in South Africa”, Dr. Coggan issued a statement suggesting that the “continuing churches” were not in communion with Canterbury, and later retracted his statement and some Central African bishops were expelled by Dr.Carey for their part in genocide. In each case an individual Archbishop acted. In none of these cases was an entire Province expelled.

    It remains true that the invitation to Lambeth remains personal, between the Archbishop and a bishop in communion with his see.

  2. Michael Straight Says:

    Sheesh, Todd. That Ould article seemed interesting, but then I saw this ridiculous attack video:


    And I’m not inclined to take seriously anything the guy says. Ever.

    Watching it made me feel slimy. Like the debate over the fate of my church is in the hands of the Republican National Committee.

  3. Katherine Says:

    I have no experience with the Church of South India, but I do have some experience with the Church of North India on the ground, where I have been living. The pastor I know, whose English is adequate but not great, is a modern saint. He lives modestly on the charity of his parishioners, and he evangelizes among Hindus successfully and at some personal risk. His training and ordination are Anglican. Because the Indian government forbids foreign donations to the churches, they are mostly poor. The former Anglican seminary in town is now a police office. The pastor’s sons are also strong Christians who evangelize, but they are not Anglican evangelicals, as their father is. They are simply evangelicals, not identifiably Anglican either in my view or in their own (they tell me so).

  4. Todd Granger Says:

    Michael, I’m not endorsing the content of the weblog, merely pointing out a post that arrives at a conclusion like that Brad Drell made in his article. Had my point been to contrast them, I think I would have pointed out that Brad is on firmer ground with his constitutional examination, as I think that I am with an examination of Lambeth Conference and ACC resolutions. I nowhere remark on the merits (or the lack thereof) in Peter Ould’s post. I suppose that you could argue with my even taking note of his post, but it has garnered some discussion elsewhere.

    My apologies that merely taking note of his commenting on the question so offended you.

  5. Todd Granger Says:

    Fr Clavier,

    You are exactly right, though I think that the precedent of how provinces have been admitted to full membership in the Communion can provide some guidance.

  6. Michael Straight Says:

    Sorry, Todd. I’m not blaming you for that guy, just expressing my dismay at the level of discourse. Didn’t mean to derail your discussion.

  7. Sinner Says:

    Elves. I’m trying extra hard *not* to be contentions here.

    Todd, for better or for worse, there is a clear procedure to expel provinces from the communion. It has been tried precisely once, and either failed or is still ongoing. I am amazed so few people seem to know this precedent, because it is hightly relevant to the current situation of the commion and of ECUSA’s status within it.

    I refer, of course, to the motion raised by the Global South Primates from the floor of the last full ACC meeting in Nottingham. This motion would simply have amended the schedule of membership of the communion to remove references to ECUSA and ACCanada. Discussion around that motion made clear that it was advanced in order to expel those two provinces from the communion, and had the resolution succeeded, that most Primates attending the meeting would have understood that as being the result.

    At that meeting, the voting on that resolution was more than a simple majority, but less than the two-thirds majority required by the constitution. This is, I understand, due to some otherwise Global South friendly provinces changing their votes after a personal appeal from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and after ECUSA and ACCanada made the argument that only their respective conventions could bind their provinces to accept or reject the Windsor report. The resulting compromise was the continued suspension of ACCanada and ECUSA, which was passed by a supermajority.

    Given that the ECUSA’s response is now it, it seems clear that a 2/3rds majority of primates (especially as ECUSA and Canada cannot vote) are clearly in favour of removing ECUSA - if you’d like a list, my tally is:
    Nigeria, Rwanda, North & South India, Uganda, Central Africa, Congo, Keyna,
    Pakistan, Tanzania, West Indies, Bangladesh, Burundi, Central
    American, Ceylon, Hong Kong, Indian Ocean, Japan, Korea, Melanesia,
    Myanmar, PNG, Philippines, Southen Cone, SE Asia, West Africa.

    So: based on the very recent actions at the last, most significant communion meeting, it is clear there is a procedure to expell provinces; that is at 2/3rds vote of primates at a meeting which can be considered as a meeting of the ACC Primates. There is, I admit, an interesting procedural question as to whether the February Primates meeting may be considered duly constituted, or whether (technically) that vote can only take place at the ACC meeting, which is due just before Lambeth in 2008. Personally, I think the difference is moot, that if 2/3rds of Primates vote to remove a province then the province is immediately out of the communion and out of the ACC, and that such a vote will be put and passed at the meeting in February.

    The question of what replaces it is much more diffficult and much more interesting: but it is very clear that no formal replacement structure needs to be finalised before ECUSA is removed; that existing arragmnts - treating the US as a mission field of Uganda, Rwanda, and Nigeria, with perhaps some (covenanting) Church of England oversight for ECUSA “Windsor Bishops”- is actually working pretty well; and that expelling ECUSA as soon as possible is an important prerequisite to finding a long-term solution in the US, rather than part of some ultimate solution.

    I expect, pray, and hope that this expulsion will indeed happen in February.

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