What is Anglicanism?
The Anglican Church of Canada is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a worldwide fellowship of churches in 160 countries and consisting of 32 provinces. The “mother” church of Anglicans is the Church of England in which the Archbishop of Canterbury acts as “first among equals” among all Anglican bishops.
Here in Canada there are 33 “dioceses” or areas of jurisdiction. Each is led by a Bishop, a Synod of parish clergy and elected lay delegates, and a Diocesan Council composed of clergy and lay representatives. St. James Westminster Church is part of the Diocese of Huron, which consists of southwestern Ontario from Kitchener-Waterloo to the east to Windsor-Sarnia to the west, Lake Erie to the south to Tobermory and Owen Sound to the north.
In his book The Spirit of Anglicanism, William Wolfe writes that “Anglicanism may be defined as a way of being Christian that involves a pastorally and liturgically oriented dialogue between four partners: catholics, evangelicals, advocates of reason, and [advocates] of experience.”
- Anglicanism is Catholic in that it possesses 2000 years of catholic heritage from the time of the apostles to the present day. The incarnation of Jesus (God-become-human) is fundamental because, through Christ, God is present in the world, in every human being, and, in a special way, in the consecrated bread and wine of Holy Communion.
- Anglicanism is Evangelical in that much of the Church’s doctrine and practice are rooted in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Today many Anglicans prefer to use the word “reformed” instead of evangelical. A reformed church is one in which the church is viewed as a work in progress rather than perfect and complete, and therefore always in need of reform. The phrase “the church reformed, always reforming” sums up this view. Church pronouncements are always understood as incomplete and provisional, because the meaning of scripture is never exhausted. As the pilgrim John Robinson put it: “The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word.”
- Anglicanism affirms Reason in discerning the mind of God and the Spirit at work in the world. Anglicans are committed to an open discovery of truth wherever it may be found. The Anglican tradition is one of a questioning spirit, which is not content with narrowness of thought. There is a willingness to pursue truth openly rather than possess truth defensively. This means that the conclusions arrived at by human reason are always open to amendment. In addition, Anglicans affirm the importance of conscience and involvement in social and political issues.
- Anglicanism relies on Experience to get its theology right. Any interpretations of Scripture and Tradition must have “the ring of truth” about them, which comes from experience. We look to our own personal experience and the experience of Christians in community in discerning what God is saying to the Church. Sometimes this reliance on experience leads to significant change in the Church, whether in supporting contraception, women in ordained ministry, or the rights of the LGBTQ community.
The Archbishop of York Cyril Garbett summed up the distinctive quality of Anglicanism: “Other churches may have one or more of these traits but none but Anglicanism has all four: catholic, reformed, sound learning, and toleration.” This is the Anglican way of being Christian.
And so, if you seek a church with roots and wings – a church grounded in the time-tested truth but open to change and willing to explore new ways of being Christian, then Anglicanism may be right for you.
— Reverend Gary Nicolosi
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