The Anglican Church

Anglicanism forms one of the main branches of Western Christianity, having declared its independence from the Roman pontiff at the time of the Elizabethan Religious Settlement. With more than 80 million members worldwide, the Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian communion in the world, after the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Anglicanism, in its structures, theology, and forms of worship, is commonly understood as a distinct Christian tradition representing a middle ground between what are perceived to be the extremes of the claims of 16th century Roman Catholicism and the Calvinism of that era and its contemporary offshoots, and as such, is often referred to as being a via media (or middle way) between these traditions. The faith of Anglicans is founded in the Scriptures and the Gospels, the traditions of the apostolic Church, the historical episcopate, the first seven ecumenical councils, and the early Church Fathers. Anglicans understand the Old and New Testaments as "containing all things necessary for salvation" and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith. Anglicans understand the Apostles' Creed as the baptismal symbol, and the Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith. Anglicans believe the catholic and apostolic faith is revealed in Holy Scripture and the catholic creeds, and interpret these in light of the Christian tradition of the historic Church, scholarship, reason, and experience.

Unique to Anglicanism is the Book of Common Prayer, the collection of services and liturgies that worshippers in most Anglican churches have used for centuries. While it has since undergone many revisions and Anglican churches in different countries have developed other service books, the Prayer Book is still acknowledged as one of the ties that bind the Anglican Communion together.

Anglicans celebrate the traditional sacraments, with special emphasis being given to the Holy Eucharist, also called Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper or the Mass. The Eucharist is central to worship for most Anglicans as a communal offering of prayer and praise in which the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are proclaimed through prayer, reading of the Bible, singing, and the offering of the bread and wine, giving God thanks over them for the innumerable benefits obtained through the passion of Christ, the breaking of the bread, and reception of the body and blood of Christ as instituted at the Last Supper. While many Anglicans celebrate the Eucharist in similar ways to the predominant western Catholic tradition, a considerable degree of liturgical freedom is permitted, and worship styles range from the simple to elaborate.

The Anglican Communion is an international association of national and regional Anglican churches in full communion with the Church of England (regarded as the mother church of the worldwide communion) and specifically with its principal primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The status of full communion means, ideally, that there is mutual agreement on essential doctrines, and that full participation in the sacramental life of each national church is available to all communicant Anglicans.

As such, there is not a single "Anglican Church" with universal authority, and each national or regional church has full autonomy. Some of these churches call themselves Anglican, explicitly recognising the historical link to theEcclesia Anglicana, meaning "Church of England." Others, such as the American and Scottish Episcopal churches, or the Church of Ireland, are named separately to recognize the autonomy of their province. Each church has its own doctrine and liturgy, usually derivative of that of the Church of England. Each church also has its own legislative process and overall episcopal polity, under the leadership of a local primate. The Archbishop of Canterbury, religious head of the Church of England, has no formal authority outside of his province, but is recognised as the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican communion. Among the other primates he is considered primus inter pares, which translates "first among equals."

The Anglican Communion considers itself to be part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church and to be both Catholic and Reformed. For some, it represents a non-papal Catholicism, for others a form of Protestantism without a dominant guiding figure such as Luther or Calvin. For others, their self-identity represents some combination of the two. The communion encompasses a wide spectrum of belief and practice including evangelical, liberal, and Catholic.