Facts on Anglicanism and Episcopal Church

By The Associated Press, Aug. 7, 2003

Facts on Anglicanism, a major branch of Christianity, and its American branch, the Episcopal Church:

NUMBERS: 77 million adherents in the 38 Anglican and Episcopal churches around the world. The mother Church of England is the largest branch but many of its 26 million baptized members are inactive. America’s Episcopal Church reports 2.3 million members, a notable drop from decades ago. The population has shifted to developing nations, with half of Anglicans now in Africa (17.5 million in Nigeria alone).

LEADER: Anglicanism’s spiritual leader is the Archbishop of Canterbury, currently Rowan Williams, who also heads the Church of England. Recognition by Canterbury defines a church as Anglican.

HERITAGE: Anglicanism originated when the Church of England broke with the papacy under King Henry VIII in 1534. These Christians cherish diversity and generally view themselves as standing between Catholicism and Protestantism.

STRUCTURE: Each of the 38 branches is self-governing. Policy guidance comes from the Lambeth Conference, a meeting of all Anglican bishops once per decade. The 38 primates who head the branches (including U.S. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold) confer annually.

BELIEFS: Anglicans worship according to the Book of Common Prayer. The 1888 Lambeth Conference listed four points of unity: The Bible as the “ultimate standard of faith,” the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper and the “historic episcopate” (leadership by bishops in a line extending to the 1st century apostles).

GAY DIVISION: The 1998 Lambeth Conference voted 526-70 (45 abstaining) that homosexual practices are “incompatible with Scripture,” thus opposing same-sex relationships and actively homosexual clergy. The Primates’ May meeting declared against same-sex unions. But the Anglican diocese in Vancouver, Canada, authorizes same-sex ceremonies, as do some U.S. Episcopal dioceses. A gay bishop candidate in England stepped aside last month after Nigerians and others protested.

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