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"The 1930 Lambeth Conference described the Anglican Communion as a 'fellowship, within the one holy catholic and apostolic church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional churches in communion with the See of Canterbury.'" - Colin Buchanan, Historical Dictionary of Anglicanism
The Anglican Communion is a complex and rich Christian faith community, comprising 85 million people in over 165 countries.
Local bishops eventually became autonomous and in 1867 seventy six Anglican bishops attended the first Lambeth Conference following an invitation from Archbishop of Canterbury Charles Longley. This is the first of what has become known as the Instruments of Communion, one of three gatherings of Anglicans/Episcopalians that include the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates' Meeting.
In 1968 those gathered at the Lambeth Conference discerned the need for more frequent and more representative contact among the Churches than was possible through a once-a-decade conference of bishops. The constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council was accepted by the general synods or conventions of all the Member Churches of the Anglican Communion. The Council came into being in October 1969. It is the only one of the three Instruments that includes the participation of laity, priests and deacons.
The Primates' Meeting was established in 1978 by Archbishop Donald Coggan (101st Archbishop of Canterbury) as an opportunity for “leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation” and has met regularly since.
Today the Anglican Communion is 38 autonomous national and regional Churches plus six Extra Provincial Churches and dioceses; all of which are in Communion,in a reciprocal relationship, with the Archbishop of Canterbury who is the Communion's spiritual head.
There is no Anglican central authority such as a pope. Each Church makes its own decisions in its own ways, guided by recommendations from the Lambeth Conference, Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates' Meeting and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Anglicans and Episcopalians have always worked and worshipped together across national borders to support each others' lives and ministry. The insight, experience and wisdom contributed to joint endeavours by members of the Anglican Communion from all provinces means that the Communion can be influential at national and international levels. Examples of such collaboration can be found in the Communion's Networks, in projects such as Anglican Witness, the Anglican Alliance, in its International Commission on Unity, Faith and Order and on the Anglican Communion News Service.
It has always been a strength of the Anglican Communion that such co-operation continues and flourishes despite significant disagreements on certain issues. Other Christian traditions look to the Anglican Communion to learn from its ability to have good disagreements. Projects such as Continuing Indaba and Living Reconciliation testify to how reconciliation is at the heart of our Communion.