Written by: Russell P. Dawn
The Anglican Communion is the entirety of the Church in communion with the see of Canterbury. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not the Anglican equivalent of the pope, but rather is honored as "first among equals." The Anglican Communion originally consisted of the Episcopal Church in Scotland and the Church of England, but now there are provinces worldwide.
The instruments or focal points by which unity is sought to be maintained within the Communion are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the (roughly) decennial Lambeth Conferences of bishops, periodic meetings of primates, and the Anglican Consultative Council, an advisory board of both lay and clerical membership from throughout the Communion. Additionally, the Lambeth Quadrilateral (or Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral) was adopted in 1888 as Anglicanism's necessary ground for ecumenical union, and 110 years later it was affirmed as a basis of intra-Anglican unity. The Quadrilateral consists of four pillars of unity: scripture as sufficient for salvation and as the rule and ultimate standard of faith, the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds as sufficient statements of the faith, two sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, and the historic episcopate.
The geographical orientation of the Anglican Communion is currently being challenged. Theological disagreement within the Communion, made patent by its resulting ethical disagreement, has grown to a point beyond what many clergy and laity can bear. In North America, where the difficulties are most acute, many priests, and in some cases entire parishes, have disclaimed association with their bishops. They have sought and received episcopal oversight from sympathetic bishops and provinces overseas, such as in Rwanda, Nigeria, and Uganda. Recently entire dioceses within TEC have voted to withdraw from TEC and realign themselves with the Province of the Southern Cone of America (in South America).
None of these groups is in communion with the see of Canterbury, so they are not officially part of the Anglican Communion. Nevertheless, most are in communion with many other provinces of the Communion. Further, although some opponents of the groups question the groups' adherence to apostolic succession, maintaining proper succession has been a matter of central focus. Their status vis-à-vis Anglicanism is, therefore, highly contentious. TEC, meanwhile, is in communion with Canterbury, but a number of provinces have declared themselves out of communion with TEC. Consequently, there are questions surrounding TEC's status, as well.