Anglican Communion, the body of churches in all parts of the world that are in communion with the Church of England (see England, Church of). The communion is composed of regional churches, provinces, and separate dioceses bound together by mutual loyalty as expressed in the Lambeth Conference of 1930. There are 44 churches in the Anglican Communion, including the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Church in Wales, the Church of Ireland (see Ireland, Church of), and the Nippon Sei Ko Kwai (Japan). There are nearly 77 million members worldwide (1997); in the late 20th cent. the communion experienced tremendous growth in Africa. Worship is liturgical and is regulated by the Book of Common Prayer and its revised alternates; about half of the churches ordain women as well as men as priests.
The consecration in 2003 of an openly homosexual priest as a bishop by the Episcopal Church and the blessing of gay unions by the U.S. and Canadian churches led to tensions within the communion, especially with more conservative African churches, some of which broke their ties the Episcopal Church; the 1998 Lambeth Conference had rejected homosexual practice as incompatible with the Bible and refused to advise blessing same-sex unions and ordaining individuals involved in such unions. In 2005 the two North American churches were asked to withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council, which they did voluntarily, attending as observers in June, 2005. In September, however, the Anglican Church of Nigeria removed explicit references to being in communion with the Church of England from its constitution, again raising the possibility of a schism in the Anglican Communion.
Following the Episcopal Church's call in 2006 for a moratorium on the consecration of openly homosexual bishops, a move that many Anglican conservatives regarded as inadequate, the archbishop of Canterbury proposed that Anglicans adopt a formal covenant concerning their shared beliefs, a suggestion that seemed likely to exclude the Episcopalians from full membership in the Anglican Communion or split the American church. Homosexuality, however, is not the only issue dividing the communion; the ordination of women as priests and bishops is also a subject on which the churches are split. A 2007 proposal by the Anglican primates to establish a separate vicar for conservative American parishes was strongly opposed by Episcopal bishops, who regarded it as foreign interference in their provincial affairs and contrary to the principles of the Episcopal Church and the nature of the Anglican Communion.
Nigerian primate Peter Akinola subsequently installed a Virginia bishop as leader of a conservative North American Anglican group, despite a request not to do so from the archbishop of Canterbury. In 2008 conservative Anglicans met in Jerusalem and formed their own organization, but did not break completely with the Anglican Communion. Many conservatives, however, did not attend the subsequent Lambeth Conference (July, 2008). The Episcopal Church ended its moratorium on consecrating openly homosexual bishops in 2009, and after a lesbian was elected (2010) as an assistant bishop of Los Angeles, Episcopalians were suspended from serving as official members on ecumencial commissions involving the Anglican Communion. In 2012, the bishops of the Church of England approved the election of homosexual priests as bishops as long as they were celibate.
See S. Neill, Anglicanism (4th ed. 1977); G. J. Cumings, A History of Anglican Liturgy (2d ed. 1980).