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40 Years of Wandering: Global Anglicanism from 1980 through 2020

40 Years of Wandering: Global Anglicanism from 1980 through 2020
Appendix to Stephen Neill's Anglicanism

By the Rev. Dr. Duane Alexander Miller
Special to Virtueonline
July 23, 2020

Neill's masterpiece still has fans and sponsors. This is especially true in the hispanophone world where well-researched resources on Anglicanism are hard to find.

The purpose of this appendix is to provide a brief summary of some important events that have deeply formed and influenced what is today global Anglicanism. It is less centralized--not that it has ever been very centralized--than in 1980, and it is also much more heterogeneous and varied than it was then.

In this appendix I will briefly recount developments in three key areas: theological, jurisdictional and demographic. Under theology we'll cover the substantial--but not universal--embrace of women's ordination and the related issue of same-sex marriage. Under jurisdiction we will learn about the increase in provinces of the Communion, but also the emergence of important other bodies that may or may not overlap with the Communion, especially GAFCON. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for the future, we will consider the profound demographic changes that make global Anglicanism, in some important ways, though not all, a religious community of the two-thirds world.


The first woman ordained to the episcopate in the Anglican Communion was Barbara Harris, an African-American woman of the diocese of Massachusetts. She was ordained as a bishop suffragan in 1989. Since then a number of provinces, mostly predominantly white and anglophone, have ordained other women as bishops. A number of provinces appear to allow for the ordination of a woman as a bishop, but have not yet appointed or elected a woman for that position. The issue of women as bishops still remains controversial in many places, but there has been a much wider acceptance and instantiation of ordaining women to the presbyterate (or priesthood). A substantial majority of the provinces of the Anglican Communion ordain women to the priesthood, though there is a minority that do not.

The introduction of women's ordination was unacceptable to some Anglo-Catholics. Some of them tried to continue on within their jurisdictions requesting oversight from bishops who had not and would not ordain women, seeing this as an action that could call into question or even nullify apostolic succession. Even more concerning was the possibility for a priest or congregation of this persuasion to come under the oversight (or "oversight", perhaps) of a woman bishop (or "bishop"). From their point of view the matter of the sacrament had to be a male, and this in order to participate in the priesthood of Jesus Christ himself. It would be erroneous to dismiss their concerns as misogynistic or sexist; the issue, from their point of view, was one of sacramental theology first and foremost.

In England a compromise was reached whereby congregations and their priests could request a provincial episcopal visitor (PEV), who were popularly known as flying bishops. This concept of episcopacy by affinity (rather than territorial location) would grow and become a key factor in global Anglicanism.

Groups of Anglo-Catholics seeking reunion with the See of Peter had approached bishops of Rome from time to time requesting guidance. Some of these Anglicans were from within the Communion, others came from separated Churches known popularly as the Anglican Continuum or Continuing Anglicans. They are several and small and have never managed to achieve the vision of a single body of--they would say--orthodox, catholic Anglicans. But, taken together and on a global level, they were not insignificant.

John Paull II had, in 1980, promulgated the Pastoral Provision, whereby an Anglican priest could be received into the Roman Catholic Church and then be ordained again. Rome had long ago decided that Anglican orders are null and void, but in this curious move the pontiff also decided that the vocation to the priesthood may well have been authentic. And so the novelty of Roman Catholic priests with wives and children surfaced in places where the local bishops would allow for it. In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI promulgated the document Anglicanorum Coetibus. This allowed for the erection of personal ordainariates whereby groups of Anglicans would be received into full communion with Rome while also retaining what was, in effect, their own diocese. Again, territory was moved to the side and affinity--here, Anglican hymnody and a modified prayer book--were moved to the center. There are presently three such ordinariates: The Chair of Saint Peter (the USA and Canada, 2012), Our Lady of Walsingham (Great Britain, 2011) and Our Lady of the Southern Cross (Australia and Japan, 2012). In this way elements of Anglican hymnody, homiletics, spirituality, piety and polity have been reinserted into the Church of Rome.

If women's ordination was the occasion for some Anglicans to find other pastures, a greater debacle was related to the question of human sexuality: Could holy matrimony be celebrated by two persons of the same sex? Of the same gender? Were there ethical grounds anymore for barring non-celibate gay people from holy orders? Others answered that Scripture was very clear on that matter: that sexual relations between two people of the same sex was clearly prohibited and decreed as sinful. But revisionist scholars answered with novel reinterpretations of passages from Genesis to Revelation. The issue reached a boiling point in 2003 when the Rev. Vicky Gene Robinson--a divorced man who was homosexual and living in a same-sex relationship--was elected coadjutor of the small diocese of New Hampshire (USA). The House of Bishops of the USA, against the advice of the Archbishop of Canterbury, approved his election.

For many evangelicals this was a step too far. They had different opinions about women's ordination, but, for them, this was a clear violation of Scripture, not to mention the position of Lambeth 1998 that clearly stated that all sex outside of the marriage of a man and a woman was sinful and immoral. The Americans, convinced of the justice of their cause, proceeded ahead despite the warnings.

Without going into too many details, this would eventually lead (with many twists and turns, and much nuance and controversy) to the birth of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) which first met in Jerusalem in 2008. It also led to the secession of several diocese from the Episcopal Church (USA) and the formation, along with other likeminded Anglicans, of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) in 2009.

It is difficult to know how to describe GAFCON. It is not a rival to the Anglican Communion, really, because a large majority of the Anglican Communion is part of GAFCON. But GAFCON has launched ministry initiatives, including missionary dioceses and even new provinces, that overlap with jurisdictions of the Anglican Communion. Nor is it reasonable to ask--as some have--if GAFCON might leave the Communion: it is the large majority of the Communion. Who is GAFCON? This is their answer:

The Gafcon movement is a global family of authentic Anglicans standing together to retain and restore the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion. Our mission is to guard the unchanging, transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ and to proclaim Him to the world. We are founded on the Bible, bound together by the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration of 2008, and led by a Primates Council, which represents the majority of the world's Anglicans.

The unfolding of the events of 2003, wherein the American province ignored the clear position of the Communion led to a further conclusion by other Anglicans: if they can do it, why can't we? Anglicans, like other catholic Christians, had an ancient tradition of territorial bishoprics. But if one province of the Communion could, without any real, observable punishment or discipline, ignore other ancient traditions (like not ordaining gay men in same-sex unions), then why could they not do the same? From their point of view, they were receiving pleas for help from parishes and even entire dioceses. Numerous meetings with the archbishops of Canterbury and Primates' Meetings resulted in no significant or real discipline. It was clear, then, that evangelical and Anglo-Catholic provinces could likewise ignore the ancient tradition of not crossing episcopal boundaries and there would be no negative consequences. The Americans (and later the Canadians) had discarded an ancient principal in the name of "justice"; they could discard another one in the name of "mission" and pastoral exigency. And they did.

In sum, questions of gender and sex have been at the center of much of the theological development of the last decades. But these are theological issues, though both sides have failed to clearly enunciate this at times. One side is certain that they are on the side of justice, the other is certain that they are the Biblical Christians. Meanwhile, many Anglicans around the world have their own opinions on the matter, but do not feel that the battle is important enough to definitively take sides. Still others do not feel they have the liberty to provoke wealthy friends in the West by emphasizing the issue, even when they disagree.


In 1979 the Church of Nigeria separated from the Province of West Africa to become its own province.

In 1980 the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church and the Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church were accepted into the Communion, though both had been established many years before.

In 1981 the five dioceses of Argentina--previously extra-provincial to Canterbury--became the Province of the Southern Cone, later (2014) to be renamed the Anglican Church of South America. In 1995 five dioceses in Mexico were officially recognized as the Anglican Church of Mexico. In 1998 the Anglican Church in the Central Religion of America likewise became an autonomous province of the Communion, with its five dioceses of Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Originally, the idea had been floated that the other dioceses of Province IX (an administrative region of the Episcopal Church [USA], not a province of the Anglican Communion) would likewise become an autonomous province. To date, however, this has not happened, and Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Central Ecuador, Litoral Ecuador, Honduras, Puerto Rico and Venezuela all remain dioceses of the Episcopal Church (USA). In 2018 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) voted to readmit the diocese of Cuba.

In 1992 the Episcopal Church of Rwanda separated from the Province of Rwanda, Burundi and Boga Zaire. In 2007 the name of the province was changed, replacing the word Episcopal with Anglican.

The Anglican Ordinariates were mentioned above, reminding us that theological issue are always, also, jurisdictional. GAFCON has branches or provinces in New Zealand (2019), Brazil (2018), Australia (2015) and North America (2009) that are not part of the Communion, and which overlap with members of the Communion. The ACNA ordained a missionary bishop for the United Kingdom and Europe (2017) but little has come of that to date.

In 2011 the Republic of South Sudan gained independence from Sudan. Sudan is largely Muslim and South Sudan is largely Christian with some communities practicing indigenous religions. South Sudan decided to use English as its main language, as opposed to the Arabic of Sudan. These and other factors led to local Anglicans requesting recognition as the autonomous Province of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan. This was granted by the Anglican Consultative Council and other authorities in 2017.

In 2018 the Anglican Church of Chile, originally the diocese of Chile of the Anglican Church of South America, was likewise recognized as a new province of the Anglican Communion--both are also members of GAFCON, incidentally.

Finally, in 2020 a substantial rearrangement of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East was concluded. That province consisted of four rather disparate dioceses:

Jerusalem (including Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon and Syria),
Egypt (including the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia and North Africa but not Morocco, which is under the Church of England's Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe),
Iran (barely functioning) and
Cyprus and the Gulf States (whose membership is almost entirely expatriate).

Egypt withdrew from the province, split into four dioceses, and was recognized as the 41st province of the Communion under the name of the Episcopal/Anglican Province of Alexandria. This took place in 2020 and the four dioceses were Egypt, North Africa (again, minus Morocco), the Horn of Africa, and Gambella (a region in Ethiopia).

There have always been three Lambeth Conferences, or, to be more precise, two Lambeth Conferences and one Lambeth Indaba. Lambeth 1988 was presided over by Archbishop Robert Runcie and there were over 500 bishops present. Lambeth 1998 was presided over by George Carey and is, even outside the Anglican world, considered by many to be the landmark (or history marker) signaling that Christianity of the two-thirds world was no longer beholden to Western, white Christianity. There were over 740 bishops present, including, for the first time, some women bishops. Finally, Rowan Williams presided over the 2008 conference, though the format was so different that calling it a 'conference' is a mere formality. Around 670 bishops were present as numerous bishops from the two-thirds world decided not to attend when it became known that Bishop V. Gene Robinson had been invited--divorced, gay and living in a non-celibate same-sex relation.

The 1998 conference is a watershed in the history of Christianity. It represents the first time that a global body of Christian leaders voted against the explicit will of the majority of wealthy, white, Western bishops:

What emerged was a major divide between conservatives and liberals. The global shift in Anglicanism was asserting itself. The post-colonial fight-back, with support from Western conservatives, meant that the final Lambeth resolution was toughened with the insertion of a brief text declaring that 'homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture.'

In so far as there is any official position of the Anglican Communion on the issue, this is it. But, as has been demonstrated above, the so-called instruments of unity were either unwilling or unable to apply any sort of discipline to provinces that disregarded the Communion's position from 1998. Americans (and by extension anyone else) could completely ignore Lambeth, the Primates' Meetings, the archbishop of Canterbury, and the Anglican Consultative Council and still receive invitations to the Lambeth Conference.

By the 2008 Lambeth 'Conference' was no longer a conference where juridical and canonical issues would be debated and adjudicated. Rowan Williams opted for practical training in "effective, truthful and prayerful mission," and ruled out revisiting 1998's resolution 1.10, cited above. He also emphasized listening to different voices. But by 2008 many conservatives had concluded that "listening" was a code word signifying lack of discipline for the heterodox and even the heretical. Many conservatives--evangelical and Anglo-Catholic--believed that what was needed was decisive, disciplinary action, which was precisely what Williams had ruled out.

Four Anglican primates announced they were boycotting the meeting--Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. As we will see below, by that time the active membership of the first three provinces mentioned above was beyond that of the Church of England. So, while a large number of bishops did attend, a very large portion of active Anglicans in the world were not represented by their bishops. A number of other bishops from around the Communion also decided not to attend.

A month before the beginning of Lambeth 2008 on July 16 the first meeting of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) met in Jerusalem from June 22 through 29. GAFCON's foundational statement, the Jerusalem Declaration, was issued. Later global meetings of GAFCON would take place in in Nairobi, Kenya (2013) and again in Jerusalem (2018). To reiterate, a large majority of the members of the Anglican Communion are also, simultaneously, a large majority of the members of GAFCON. Some provinces of GAFCON have announced impaired communion or broken communion with certain provinces of the Communion (i.e., the ones who have decided to ordain non-celibate gay people to the presbyterate and also, in some cases, to the episcopate, and then later transgender people as well).

One would have expected a Lambeth Conference to have been held in 2018, but it was announced that it would be held in the summer of 2020. Due to the spread of the global COVD19 pandemic the conference has been postponed until 2022, but even that date is, of this writing, uncertain.


The vast majority of active Anglicans in the world today are not in the West, they are not white, and they are not for the most part liberal or progressive. The Church of England alleges a large membership, but in terms of actual people involved in their churches the number is much lower. In terms of active membership, then, the four largest provinces of the Anglican Communion are, in descending order, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and then, England.

While the Episcopal Church (USA) is widely known and has an exorbitant number of bishops given its small membership, its membership is, like that of England and Canada, in steady decline. Consider: In 2011 there were 6,736 domestic parishes and missions and about 1.92 million active baptized members. By 2018 there were 6,423 domestic parishes and missions and about 1.68 million active baptized members. The numbers for average Sunday worship were 640, 142 and 531,958, respectively. In 1980 the reported membership was 2.78 million. From 1980 through 2018, then, the Episcopal Church (USA) lost 40% of its membership, and this during decades when the population of the USA grew substantially.

Similar figures could be provided for England, Australia, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and more. For instance, a national poll in Britain in 2017 revealed that only 15% of Britons identify themselves as being Anglicans. The demographic implications are quite clear: first, the future of global Anglicanism is in places where the church is growing or, at least, stable. The provinces of the anglophone West are wealthy and often have centuries of resources at their disposal. Second, many of the provinces of the two-thirds world are conservative and judge that the issue of same-sex marriage and the ordination of non-celibate LGBT people is a clear violation of Scripture and catholic tradition. It is these latter churches that are growing. Third, there are always exceptions. For instance, the Episcopal Church in Brazil (Anglican Communion) has in many cases welcomed the SSM and the ordination of LGBT people; likewise, there are some dioceses in the West that are still conservative--though most have left or been forced out and have gone to new, non-Communion jurisdictions or Rome.

In the end, the future of Anglicanism is one of preference and individualism. Overlapping jurisdictions are now the norm in much of the West. Demographic trends point to the eventual extinction of the progressive Anglican wing, as they tend to plant very few new churches and have very few children, if any. The conservative Anglicans will continue to struggle with the issue of women's ordination, which remains a bone of contention within GAFCON, and this is especially true in relation to women bishops. The authority of the instruments of unity is, I think it is safe to say, practically null and void at this point. But those instruments never claimed to have any juridical or canonical authority, so perhaps this was in the cards all along.

In sum, after 40 years of wandering, we are less unified, more diverse, less white and less wealthy. In the West our cultural influence is much decreased but not so in certain countries in Africa.


1. "About GAFCON" at www.gafcon.org/about, July 2020.
2. Mark Chapman, Anglicanism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford Press, 2006, p. 139.
3. Rowan Williams, "Pastoral Letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion," March 9, 2006, NP.
4. The Association of Religious Data Archives, http://www.thearda.com/Denoms/D_849.asp
5. Cited in Stoyan Zaimov, "Church of England in Decline" in The Christian Post, March 2018, NP, https://www.christianpost.com/news/church-of-england-in-decline-whats-being-done-to-combat-shrinking-congregations.html

The Rev. Dr. Duane Alexander Miller serves on the pastoral staff at the Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer in Madrid and is adjunct faculty at the Protestant Faculty of Theology at Madrid (UEBE). He is author of Living among the Breakage: Contextual Theology-making and ex-Muslim Christians (2016) and most recently Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity (2018). He can be contacted through his blog at duanemiller.wordpress.com

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