The Anglican Communion is an organization of autonomous national churches connected with the Church of England, which has its roots in the 16th century Protestant Reformation.
Anglicanism is the general form of doctrine, worship and structure based on the tradition of the Church of England; not all Anglican churches are official members of the Anglican Communion.
On a worldwide level, there are four "instruments of unity" that discuss issues impacting Anglicanism and often issue statements of decisions. These statements are more counsels than decrees, but they are taken seriously by Anglican churches around the world. They are:
- Lambeth Conference (bishops; meets every 10 years)
- Primates Meetings (primates; regular meetings)
- Anglican Consultative Council (laity, bishops, priests, deacons; meets every 3 years or so)
- The Archbishop of Canterbury in his international role as "first among equals."
Conferences of Anglican bishops from all parts of the world was instituted by Archbishop Longley in 1867 and became known as the Lambeth Conferences. The Lambeth Conferences do not have the authority of an ecumenical synod and their decisions are more like counsels than commands, but they have done much to promote the harmony and cooperation of the various branches of the Church.
An even more imposing manifestation of this common life was given by the great pan-Anglican congress held in London between the 12th and 24th of June 1908, which preceded the Lambeth conference opened on the 5th of July. The idea of this originated with Bishop Montgomery, secretary to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and was endorsed by a resolution of the United Boards of Mission in 1903.
As the result of negotiations and preparations extending over five years, 250 bishops, together with delegates, clerical and lay, from every diocese in the Anglican communion, met in London, the opening service of intercession being held in Westminster Abbey. In its general character, the meeting was but a Church congress on an enlarged scale, and the subjects discussed, for example the attitude of churchmen towards the question of the marriage laws or that of socialism, followed much the same lines.
The congress, of course, had no power to decide or to legislate for the Church, its main value being in drawing its scattered members closer together, in bringing the newer and more isolated branches into consciousness of their contact with the parent stem, and in opening the eyes of the Church of England to the point of view and the peculiar problems of the daughter-churches.
The Primates' Meeting was established in 1978 by Archbishop Donald Coggan (101st Archbishop of Canterbury) as an opportunity for "leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation" and has met regularly since.
Anglican Consultative Council
The Anglican Consultative Council was established as an advisory body in 1969. It includes bishops, clergy and laity from each province represented in the Anglican Communion.