Deriving from the ancient Celtic and Saxon churches of the British Isles, Anglicanism found its distinctive identity in the 16th- and 17th-century Reformation, when the separate Church of England, Church of Ireland and Scottish Episcopal Church came into being. At the time of the American revolution, an independent Episcopal church was founded in the United States, and later Anglican or Episcopal churches were founded across the globe as a result of the missionary movements of the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of these were given autonomy as provinces in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. In South Asia, the United churches, formed between Anglican and several Protestant traditions, also joined the Anglican communion, as did smaller churches elsewhere such as the Spanish Episcopal Reformed Church and the Lusitanian Church of Portugal.
Anglican and Episcopal churches uphold and proclaim the Catholic and Apostolic faith, proclaimed in the scriptures, interpreted in the light of tradition and reason. Following the teachings of Jesus Christ, Anglicans and Episcopalians are committed to the proclamation of the good news of the gospel to all creation. The faith and ministry have been expressed through the Book of Common Prayer, received and adapted by local churches, in the services of ordination (the ordinal), and in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, expounded at the missionary conference in Chicago in 1886, and adopted by the Lambeth conference of 1888. The quadrilateral sets out four essential elements of the Christian faith:
- The holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as "containing all things necessary to salvation", and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
- The Apostles' Creed, as the baptismal symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
- The two sacraments ordained by Christ himself - baptism and the supper of the Lord - ministered with the unfailing use of Christ's words of institution, and of the elements ordained by him;
- The historic episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of his church.
Central to Anglican worship is the celebration of the holy eucharist (also called the holy communion, the Lord's supper or the mass). In this offering of prayer and praise, the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ are made a present reality through the proclamation of the word, and the celebration of the sacrament. Anglicans and Episcopalians celebrate the sacrament of baptism, with water, in the name of the Trinity, as the rite of entry into the Christian church, and celebrate other sacramental rites, including confirmation, reconciliation, marriage, anointing of the sick and ordination. Common worship is at the heart of Anglicanism. The various books of common prayer give expression to a comprehensiveness found within the churches, which seek to chart a via media in relation to other Christian traditions.
The churches of the Anglican Communion are held together by bonds of affection and common loyalty, expressed through links with the "instruments of communion":
The archbishop of Canterbury
They are all in communion with the see of Canterbury, and thus the archbishop of Canterbury, in person and ministry, is the unique focus of Anglican unity. The archbishop calls the Lambeth conference, and primates' meeting, and is president of the Anglican Consultative Council, the three conciliar instruments of communion. The 104th archbishop of Canterbury in succession to Saint Augustine, Dr Rowan Williams, was enthroned in February 2003.
The Lambeth conference
Every ten years or so, the archbishop of Canterbury invites the bishops of the Anglican Communion to join with him in prayer, study and discernment. At the Lambeth conference in 1998, over 700 bishops were welcomed, including for the first time 11 women bishops. The most recent Lambeth conference was held in Canterbury in 2008.
The Primates' meeting
Since 1979, the archbishop of Canterbury has also invited the senior bishop, archbishop or moderator (the primates) of each of the thirty-four provinces and four united churches, to join him in regular meetings for consultation, prayer and reflection on theological, social and international matters. These meetings take place approximately every eighteen months to two years.