The Church of England, or Anglican Church, is the primary state church in England, where the concepts of church and state are linked. The Church of England is considered the original church of the Anglican Communion, which represents over 85 million people in more than 165 countries.
While the Church upholds many of the customs of Roman Catholicism, it also embraces fundamental ideas adopted during the Protestant Reformation. In recent years, the Church of England has been viewed as one of the more progressive sects of Christianity and is known for its relatively liberal policies, such as allowing the ordination of women and gay priests.
Church of England Facts
- The British monarch is considered the supreme governor of the Church. Among other privileges, he or she has the authority to approve the appointment of archbishops and other church leaders.
- The Church of England contends that the Bible is the principle foundation of all Christian faith and thought.
- Followers embrace the sacraments of baptism and holy communion.
- The Church claims to be both Catholic and Reformed. It upholds teachings found in early Christian doctrines, such as the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. The Church also reveres 16th-century Protestant Reformation ideas outlined in texts, such as the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer.
- The Church of England sustains a traditional Catholic order system that includes ordained bishops, priests and deacons.
- The Church follows an episcopal form of government. It’s divided into two provinces: Canterbury and York. Provinces are separated into dioceses, which are headed by bishops and include parishes.
- The Archbishop of Canterbury is thought to be the most senior cleric in the Church.
- The Church’s bishops play a lawmaking role in Britain. Twenty-six bishops sit in the House of Lords and are referred to as the “Lords Spiritual.”
- Generally, the Church embraces a way of thinking that includes scripture, tradition and reason.
- The Church of England is sometimes referred to as the Anglican Church and is part of the Anglican Communion, which contains sects such as the Protestant Episcopal Church.
- Each year, about 9.4 million people visit a Church of England cathedral.
- In recent years, women and members of the LGBTQ community were given the opportunity to participate in the church’s leadership roles.
Church of England History
The Church of England’s earliest origins date back to the Roman Catholic Church’s influence in Europe during the 2nd century.
However, the church’s official formation and identity are typically thought to have started during the Reformation in England of the 16th century. King Henry VIII (famous for his many wives) is considered the founder of the Church of England.
Henry VIII broke ties with the Pope in the 1530s after the Catholic church wouldn’t allow him to annul his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, who failed to produce any male heirs.
Henry passed the Act of Succession and the Act of Supremacy, which essentially declared himself the supreme head of the Church of England.
After Henry’s death, Protestant reforms made their way into the church during the reign of Edward VI. But, when Edward’s half-sister, Mary, succeeded the throne in 1553, she persecuted Protestants and embraced traditional Roman Catholic ideals.
After Elizabeth I took the title of Queen in 1558, however, the Church of England was revived. The Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion became important texts that outlined moral doctrine and worship principles.
The Puritan movement in the 17th century led to the English Civil Wars and the Commonwealth. During this time, the Church of England and the monarchy were quelled, but both were re-established in 1660.
The 18th century brought the Evangelical movement, which promoted the Protestant customs of the Church. Conversely, the Oxford Movement in the 19th century highlighted the Roman Catholic heritage.
These two movements and their philosophies have endured in the Church and are sometimes referred to as “Low Church” and “High Church.”
Since the 20th century, the Church of England has been active in the Ecumenical Movement, which promotes ideas of worldwide Christian unity.
Church of England in America
Many of the early American colonists were Anglican Puritans. During the Colonial era, the Anglican Church set up establishments in Virginia, New York, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
After the American Revolution, the Anglican Church became an independent organization in the United States and called itself the Protestant Episcopal Church.
The Episcopal Church, USA, is the official organization of the Anglican Communion in the United States. It’s been a self-governing body since 1785 and has about 1.9 million members.
Women and LGBTQ in the Church of England
In 1992, the Church of England voted to ordain women as priests. This decision sparked debate within the clerical community but also opened the door for further empowerment of women within the church hierarchy.
Over the next few years, several attempts to allow women to become bishops were put in place, but many of them were squashed by the opposition.
Finally, in 2014, the Church passed a bill to consecrate women as bishops. The archbishops of Canterbury and of York—the church’s most elite officials—approved the bill later that year. The first female bishop of the Church of England, Rev. Libby Lane, was consecrated in January 2015.
Since 2005, the Church of England has allowed for the ordination of gay priests, under the condition that they remain celibate. LGBTQ individuals in celibate civil unions were permitted to become bishops in 2013.
Also, in 2013, the House of Commons passed legislation to legalize same-sex marriages but didn’t allow the Church of England to perform them.
Many consider the Church of England’s elevation of women and LGBTQ people in the clergy as groundbreaking and long-awaited progress. Others in the church view it as sacrilegious and blasphemous.
While the debate continues, experts agree that the Church of England has paved the way for conversations about expanding gender and sexual orientation roles within Christianity.