The Windsor Report 2004

The communion we share

  1. The communion we enjoy as Anglicans involves a sharing in double 'bonds of affection': those that flow from our shared status as children of God in Christ, and those that arise from our shared and inherited identity, which is the particular history of the churches to which we belong. This is a relationship of 'covenantal affection'; that is, our mutual affection is not subject to whim and mood, but involves us in a covenant relation of binding mutual promises, with God in Christ and with one another. All those called by the gospel of Jesus Christ and set apart by God's gift of baptism are incorporated into the communion of the Body of Christ. This communion is primarily a relationship with God, who is himself a communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and it binds every member of Christ into the whole body[25].

  2. Our communion enables us, in mutual interdependence, to engage in our primary task, which is to take forward God's mission to his needy and much-loved world. As a means to that end, it is also necessarily the expression of the worldwide, i.e. 'catholic', nature of the Church. In both these respects, communion remains God's gift as well as God's command.

  3. When “the Anglican Communion” describes itself as such, it is self-consciously describing that part of the Body of Christ which shares an inheritance through the Anglican tradition, that is, from the Church of England, whose history encompasses the ancient Celtic and Saxon churches of the British Isles, and which was given fresh theological expression during the period of the Reformation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Reformers of that time looked back explicitly to the Bible and the early Fathers, and had every intention that their theology would be 'catholic' in the sense of sharing the faith of the universal Church. The very fact that the family of churches which traces its roots back to the ancient churches of the British Isles should call itself an Anglican Communion is itself indicative of the twin fundamental concepts on which the community is built: our shared inheritance ('Anglican') and our worldwide fellowship as God’s children ('communion'). That shared inheritance has itself included a developing understanding of communion, which has been expressed, for instance, in some of our ecumenical dialogues. It also makes us aware of a responsibility, not only to our contemporaries within the Communion, but to those with whom we share in the Communion of Saints.

  4. Various different but interlocking descriptions of the Anglican Communion exist amongst us. The Lambeth Conference has described the Anglican Communion as a fellowship of churches in communion with the See of Canterbury[26]. Individual provinces express their own communion relationships in a variety of juridical forms, as: bipartite (in communion with Canterbury)[27]; multipartite (in communion with all Anglican churches)[28]; or simply through the idea of “belonging to the Anglican Communion”[29]. Communion is therefore a relationship between churches (institutional or ecclesial communion) as well as between individual Christians (personal communion).

  5. Communion is, in fact, all about mutual relationships. It is expressed by community, equality, common life, sharing, interdependence, and mutual affection and respect. It subsists in visible unity, common confession of the apostolic faith, common belief in scripture and the creeds, common baptism and shared eucharist, and a mutually recognised common ministry. Communion means that each church recognises that the other belongs to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, and shares in the mission of the whole people of God. It involves practising a common liturgical tradition, and intending to listen, speak and act alongside one another in obedience to the gospel. In communion, each church acknowledges and respects the interdependence and autonomy of the other, putting the needs of the global fellowship before its own. Through such communion, each church is enabled to find completeness through its relations to the others, while fulfilling its own particular calling within its own cultural context. This does not mean, of course, that each church must accept every theological opinion, or follow every sacramental devotion or liturgical practice, characteristic of the other. Such a distinction, between the essentials in which we agree and the non-essentials which do not inhibit communion, is a vital part of life within the Anglican Communion, and is explored further elsewhere[30].

  6. When people use the normally imprecise language of 'impaired', 'fractured', or 'restricted' communion, or speak of there being 'degrees' of communion between one church or group of churches and another, they commonly mean that only some of the characteristics outlined in the previous paragraph now obtain. Communion is now “less full than it was”[31]. Which characteristics are affected (perhaps a failure in complete mutual recognition of ministries, as has happened since the ordination of women to the priesthood and their consecration to the episcopate) will vary from case to case, contributing to the confusing nature of such terms[32]. Such a condition of impairment is not merely sad, and detrimental to our common mission and witness. It could in principle call into question the constitutional position of several member churches of the Anglican Communion, since many, as we have just seen, mark out their identity in terms precisely of being in full communion either with Canterbury or with all other churches in communion with Canterbury. But there has been little consensus within the Anglican Communion on how precisely to identify, beyond a bare assertion, that such impairment, fracturing, and so forth, has taken place, let alone how such a situation might be remedied[33].

  7. Communion clearly makes demands on all within it. It involves obligations, and corresponding rights, which flow from the theological truths on which the life of the Christian community rests. The Lambeth Quadrilateral commits Anglicans to “a series of normative practices: scripture is read, tradition is received, sacramental worship is practised, and the historic character of apostolic leadership is retained[34]. The commitments of communion provide objective criteria by which to understand the rights and responsibilities that go with the relationship and which promote and protect the common good of the worldwide community of churches. Many obligations are implicit in the foundation, purposes, forms, subjects and substance of communion, and thus relate to matters of critical common concern to the global Anglican fellowship. For instance, the divine foundation of communion should oblige each church to avoid unilateral action on contentious issues which may result in broken communion. It is an ancient canonical principle that what touches all should be decided by all. The relational nature of communion requires each church to learn more fully what it means to be part of that communion, so that its members may be fulfilled and strengthened in and through their relations with other churches. Communion obliges each church to foster, respect and maintain all those marks of common identity, and all those instruments of unity and communion, which it shares with fellow churches, seeking a common mind in essential matters of common concern: in short, to act interdependently, not independently.