About The Anglican Church

The Anglican Church is an organisation with branches in 164 countries and a total of about 75 million members worldwide.   The national Churches have a good deal of autonomy, but all recognise the spiritual leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Canterbury in England) and they talk to each other via a body called the Anglican Consultative Council.   Also, all Anglican bishops come together at the Lambeth Conference, held every ten years.

There are many differences between individual Anglican churches, but we hold four things in common:

  • The Bible as a basis of our faith;
  • The Nicene and Apostles' Creeds, basic statements of Christian belief;
  • Recognition of the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and
  • The historic episcopate; that is, the continuity of the line of bishops since the time of Christ.

It has been said that the Anglican Church rests on the three pillars of Faith, Reason and Tradition.   The unique strength of Anglicanism lies in our balance of these three aspects of our religion.

Wasn't the Anglican Church formed by Henry VIII so that he could annul his marriage?

Ouch.   Yes, it was, but leaders in the Church of England took the opportunity to make a number of reforms which the central authorities of the Roman Catholic Church opposed.   Something like the Anglican Church would probably have happened without Henry VIII's political interference, but it might have taken longer.   King Henry's main concern was simply independence from Rome.

So what else changed?

At the time, there were a number of doctrinal concerns, such as the exact nature of the Eucharist.   The main practical difference between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches nowadays is that the Anglicans, while maintaining a hierarchy of priests and bishops, give much more autonomy to individual churches.   This means that, while the basics of our belief are fixed, there are wide differences in our style of worship from parish to parish.

Is the Anglican Church male-dominated?

It's trying not to be.   Most services and modern hymns use inclusive language.   Some traditional hymns and forms of service do unfortunately contain male-specific language which can't be removed without damage to their poetic quality. We still often (but not always) refer to God as 'He' and 'Father', because sadly the English language has no suitable neutral terms other than the horribly impersonal 'it'.   We are working on improvements in this area.

Who Can Come To An Anglican Service?

Anyone!   You don't need to be an Anglican or even a Christian to come along.   (Holy Communion, a ceremony which takes place during many of our services, is technically restricted to baptized Christians; see section 3 below.)   Attending a service doesn't commit you to anything.   We will (hopefully) try to be friendly, but that's all.   You can become a Christian at your own pace.

We don't charge membership fees.   (We're always after donations, but how much you contribute is up to you, and entirely private.)   There's plenty of ceremony in a typical Anglican church, but we don't have secret initiation rites or anything else scary or sinister.   We don't even have a dress code - people normally dress tidily for church, but you don't have to wear a suit or a big flowery hat.

Audience participation in an Anglican service isn't particularly strenuous.   The words of the service are provided, either in the Book of Alternative Services (the green book) or an equivalent, or on a piece of paper.   If you're not familiar with the service, just sit near the back and do what everyone else does.   You can stay in your place when people go up to the altar for Communion, if you don't want to take part in this section of the service.

What Happens In Church?

The core of many Anglican services is Holy Communion, also known as Eucharist.   This is a ceremony derived from the supper, which Jesus held with his followers on the night before his arrest and execution.   Christians believe that this ceremony creates a special sort of contact with God, which helps to strengthen us as Christians.

What actually happens?

Holy Communion involves the giving out of bread and wine which has been consecrated, or made holy, with special prayers.   In some parishes real bread is used; others use special wafers which look like slices of glue-stick.   Normally the congregation walk up to the front of the church and kneel at the altar, receiving the bread from the priest in cupped hands.   The chalice, the ceremonial goblet containing the wine, is usually taken round by an assistant.

Won't I catch horrible diseases from sharing a cup?

Probably not, as alcohol is a disinfectant and the rim of the chalice is wiped between uses.   If you are concerned, you can hang on to the wafer and dip this into the wine instead of drinking directly from the chalice.

Does anything weird happen when you receive Communion?

Mostly, no.   People do have mystical experiences, but they are not a normal part of Communion in most churches.   (Some branches of Christianity actively encourage them; the Anglican Church tends to be suspicious of this sort of thing.) In general, Communion strengthens your relationship with God in the same way as you can get to know people well by spending a lot of time with them over many years.

Can anyone take part in this ceremony?

Officially, you have to be baptized in order to receive Communion.   It doesn't have to be an Anglican baptism; any branch of the Christian Church will do.   The ceremony of Confirmation (a deliberate reaffirmation of the vows of baptism, made when we're old enough to know what we're doing) still exists in the Anglican Church, but it's no longer necessary to go through this process before you can receive Communion.

Will I go to Hell if I don't receive Communion regularly?

We sincerely hope not!   Holy Communion, like most of the Church's activities, is a means to an end rather than an end in itself.   However, the Anglican Church believes that Communion is a valuable component of our relationship with God.

What else happens in a church service?

Anglican services are extremely varied and flexible.   Set forms of words are available. There is much variation in style between individual parishes, and some parishes use different services on different Sundays.   There are specific words to accompany Communion, and the Lord's Prayer will normally find its way into a service.   There will often be a Creed, a formal statement of basic Christian beliefs.   Most services include hymns, which may be either traditional or modern.   There will be prayers; some of these will be in set words, but we also pray about current issues.   Services also include readings from the Bible.

And a sermon?

Quite often.   We're fully aware that sermons have a reputation for inducing sleep.   This doesn't have to be the case.   Some preachers are very good speakers, adept at making Christianity relevant to everyday life.

And . . . ?

Yes, we admit it.   There will normally be a collection.   We need to meet running costs and pay salaries, and the Anglican Church is also a major social service organisation.   No one will pay attention to how much you're dropping in the basket, and you don't have to make a contribution at all.   If you see any value in what we're doing, you'll probably want to help if you can.

Why do priests wear funny clothes?

Like many of the details of our worship, this is a historical accident.   A priest's robes are based roughly on the garments worn by Roman officials in the early days of the Church.   We've added Christian symbols to them, but (being Anglicans) we haven't actually changed anything much.

Where Do I Go From Here?

Newcomers are always welcome at any Anglican church.   There are no membership fees and you don't have to fill in any forms.   Anyone can attend any Anglican service and see what happens.

What if I like what I see?

There are two ceremonies relevant to becoming a fully functional Anglican.   The first is Baptism, and the second is Confirmation.

Baptism is a ceremony representative of spiritual cleansing, 'renewing' a person upon entry into the Church.   Originally the recipient was fully immersed in water; a modern baptism in the Anglican Church involves a ceremonial sprinkling of water on the head, and special prayers.

Some people are baptized as babies.   This is an indication that the parents have decided to bring up their child as a Christian.   In this case, people can be Confirmed when they are old enough to make their own decision to be part of the Church.

You can take part in most of the activities of the Church without going through either of these procedures, and there are no rules about how soon, or how late, you should make a formal commitment.   Talk to your friendly parish priest about it some time.

What can the Church do for you?

The Church can bring you closer to God. We believe this is more important than anything in 'ordinary' physical existence.   It can also help teach you to become a better person by living in a more 'God-like' way.   The Church answers the human need for something greater than themselves in which to believe, and gives our lives a sense of meaning.

The Church also provides community with fellow humans, all working towards a common goal.

What can you do for the Church?

Many Christians become involved in the life of their Church in ways other than simple attendance.   Any member of the congregation can undertake many functions in a church service, such as reading lessons from the Bible.   Many churches have choirs and music groups.

Parishes also run groups, which operate outside the confines of Sunday services.   These include youth groups, studies and courses, and community service organisations.

Christians can also become qualified as ministers.   Becoming a priest requires several years of study, and a deep commitment to Christianity.   However, all Christians have a part to play, using their own individual talents in their everyday lives to further the work of the Church and bring the world a little closer to the way God wants it to be.

Anglican Church Ring