The Anglican Church
Christianity is the religion with by far the greatest number of followers in the world (more than 2 billion and growing). The Anglican Church has branches in 164 countries and a total of about 75 million members worldwide. The national Churches (like the Church of England) have a good deal of autonomy, but all recognise the spiritual leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury. They talk to each other via a body called the Anglican Consultative Council. All Anglican bishops come together at the Lambeth Conference, held every ten years (in the photograph are the Anglican women bishops who attended the last Lambeth Conference).
There are many differences between individual Anglican churches, but share these ideas:
- 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 continuity of the line of bishops since the time of Christ.
The Anglican Church has (more or less!) maintained diversity in unity, balancing faith, reason, tradition, and experience.
The other principal Christian denominations with a presence in England are: the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, the United Reformed Church, and the Society of Friends (Quakers) - click on the names to see their websites. There are also a number of evangelical congregations which do not belong to a denomination. Worldwide, there are also the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Unitarians - the list goes on.
The Anglican Church as historical accident
It is often said that the Church of England came into being simply because Henry VIII wanted his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. It is quite a bit more complicated than that. King Henry's main concern, supported by many English churchmen, was independence from the authority of the Pope in Rome.
The history of the church in England after that is fascinating and complex. The monarch is the 'Supreme Governor' of the church and there has often been a creative tension between church and state. The church has continued to accommodate strong traditions of both Catholicism and Protestantism. There are wide differences of styles of worship.
The role of women
There are very many women priests. The Church of England has decided that there should be women bishops (as in a number of Anglican churches round the world) and the first appointments have now been made. The lay (i.e. not ordained) ministry and leadership of women is a mainstay of the church.