A Proposal for Extraordinary Ministry to be Exercised by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Order to Maintain the Highest Degree of Communion Possible in the Life of the Anglican Communion

Date of publication


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1.1 At the 1998 Lambeth Conference the Archbishop of Canterbury was invited to appoint a Commission to consider “the exceptional circumstances and conditions under which, and the means by which” the Archbishop of Canterbury might “exercise an extraordinary ministry of episcope (pastoral oversight), support and reconciliation with regard to the internal affairs of a province other than his own” (Resolution IV.13). Following a paper prepared by John Rees for the emergency Primates’ Meeting at Lambeth in October 2003 this was incorporated within paragraph 3 of the Commission’s mandate.[1] Such a ministry would mark a significant development within the Anglican understanding of provincial autonomy – although one already confronted in the first Lambeth Conference of 1867 with respect to Natal, which called on the Archbishop to do just this, and which eventually was a recommendation followed concretely, if cautiously.  It is not, in other words, a recent innovation, and one considered only in theory to this point.

1.2 The principle of “autonomy” as often applied in the Communion does not presume each province has total independence. Rather, it is generally understood that provinces are able to order their own internal affairs so that “autonomy is a form of limited authority: an autonomous body is one which is capable only to make decisions for itself in relation to its own affairs at its own level”.[2] It follows that “as autonomy is the right of a church (province) to govern its own internal affairs, it follows that no external body may intervene in these affairs”.[3]

1.3 Traditionally, a central outworking of this understanding of provincial autonomy is the respect of jurisdictional boundaries, a principle from early in Christian history that has frequently been reaffirmed by Anglicans in relation to life in Communion.[4] This, along with respect by churches for decisions reached in other member churches, was emphasized in the Second Lambeth Conference as among the “certain principles of church order which, your Committee consider, ought to be distinctly recognised and set forth, as of great importance for the maintenance of union among the Churches of our Communion”.[5]

1.4 Such a commitment to provincial autonomy does not, however, make a ministry of “extraordinary episcope” impossible to conceive within Anglican polity. This is because the principles of autonomy are intimately related to other principles of life in Communion, in particular respect by provinces for the limits of their autonomy. The need to set respect for the integrity of diocesan and provincial boundaries in a wider context derives from the practice of the primitive church of the first four centuries. The Nicene Canons not only bear on issues we conceptualise in terms of “autonomy” (e.g. Canons 15 and 16) but also the need for common agreement over discipline and excommunication (canons 5 and 19) and universal criteria for the priesthood (Canons 9 and 10) among priesthood common discipline. Furthermore, Nicea – calling itself the “Great Synod” – saw its decisions in these matters as superseding the authority of provinces and any decisions of lower synods by adjudicating among them on matters of common concern. It is these principles of the primitive church that lie behind the permissions and restraints constituted in the early Lambeth conferences where the intention was to order communion life “in accordance with the ancient laws and usages of the Catholic Church”.[6]

1.5 It is therefore clear that not all matters are internal matters. Doe has provided the following account and definition of the Anglican understanding: “some ecclesiastical acts performed within an autonomous church may be understood to have a wider nature and effect; they may be classified as communion acts: acts which may be seen as acts of the whole communion or of the church universal, or as acts which touch or affect relations with the Anglican Communion, ecumenical partners, and the church universal, such as ordination, or scriptural interpretation”.[7] He further notes that it is arguable that in relation to such acts a church may be left to decide on its own but only “provided that church acts compatibly with the interests and instruments of the wider communion”.[8]

1.6 It has thus been a principle of the Anglican Communion – clearly if painfully implemented in relation to permitting women to enter orders within the Communion – that “The Conference advises member Churches not to take action regarding issues which are of concern to the whole Anglican Communion without consultation with a Lambeth Conference or with the episcopate through the Primates Committee”.[9]

1.7 Developments in recent years (at least since the irregular consecrations in Singapore and in Denver[10] and most starkly in the events leading to the creation of the Lambeth Commission and developing during these past months[11]) have confirmed that indeed these principles cannot be divorced from each other: non-intervention in the internal affairs of a province is only realistic if each province ensures that its “communion acts” are compatible with the mind of the wider Communion and that it refrain from innovations in such acts until, through consultation, such innovations are acceptable within the Communion.

1.8 There is a strong theological basis for this conjunction of principles, and it is founded in the fact that Anglican provinces primarily understand themselves to be part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. They are not simply national denominational churches. The principle of legal autonomy is therefore only able to be upheld when “autonomous” bodies recognize their dependency upon the wider body of Christ and the subordination of juridical authority within a province to the (non-juridical) authority of Christ mediated through the Scriptures and the universal church. Thus, the Anglican Communion defines the “true constitution of the Catholic Church” as involving “the principle of the autonomy of particular Churches based upon a common faith and order[12] and emphasises that the Communion is “bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference”.[13]

1.9 This understanding of the church and the relationship of individual provinces to the wider Communion is also legally enshrined within the constitutions of many individual national churches, thereby formally and legally acknowledging the limits to their provincial autonomy which arise because of this theological self-understanding.[14]

1.10 “Autonomy” in Anglicanism is therefore akin, within political theory, to the principle of subsidiarity.[15]  In the institutional structures of the Anglican Communion there is no superior extra-provincial body with legal powers. There is, however, a recognition on the part of each province that there are matters which are not their concern alone and that there exist relationships of mutual responsibility and accountability between the autonomous provinces that must be respected if each province is to be free from interference on the part of other provinces.

1.11 If a situation arises in which provinces believe that common faith and order are being disregarded by a province, then the principle of autonomy – which is based on that common shared gift – will be undermined. If the common counsel of the bishops in conference is disregarded, then mutual loyalty (one of whose expressions is non-interference in other provinces[16]) will not be sustained and the bonds of the Communion will thereby be loosened or even cut.


2.1 The Commission’s mandate (and Lambeth Resolution IV.13 on which it is based) speaks of the possibility of an extraordinary ministry for the Archbishop of Canterbury in a province other than his own being considered in part “for the sake of maintaining communion…between the said province and the rest of the Anglican Communion”. It is therefore clear that among the necessary ‘circumstances’ and ‘conditions’ for such ministry is the imminent threat or reality of a serious impairment of inter-provincial communion. One sign of such a situation would be the threat or reality of other primates and bishops being willing to intervene in the internal affairs of another province. Such unilateral actions – even when justified by reference to that province’s disregard for the Communion – can only weaken rather than repair the bonds of Communion.

2.2 Given that territorial integrity is not absolute, when parts of the Communion believe it is no longer right to respect the jurisdiction of other bishops, extra-provincial ministry may be right but the demand for such ministry cannot be a sufficient condition. Rather, the Communion must find a means by which it can judge in any particular instance whether such proposed intervention is indeed justified and, if it is, to provide an orderly means by which it may be implemented.

2.3 Although a generally novel response within the contemporary setting of the Communion, it would be compatible with the principles of the Communion to argue that such intervention may be justified when the Communion determines that a province has exceeded the limits of its proper autonomy by unilaterally introducing innovations in a matter of concern to the whole Anglican Communion without regard to the Communion. Thus Doe writes, “As a general rule, autonomous bodies have a right to freedom from intervention of the wider community in relation to theinternal affairs of that autonomous community (ie those affairs which do not affect others outside); but if an autonomous community trespasses on matters of shared concern to the wider community of which it forms part, then external intervention is permissible”.[17]

2.4 The rationale for this is that by trespassing on matters of shared concern to the wider community and ignoring the fact that “the mutual interdependence of the provinces means that none has authority unilaterally to substitute an alternative teaching as if it were the teaching of the entire Anglican Communion”,[18] a province threatens communion both within the province and between the province and other provinces. In particular, those in the province who are unwilling to accept such innovations and the overturning of Communion teaching and practice, and who feel duty-bound to abide by the demands of their own ecclesial constitutions, will rightly seek support – including where necessary adequate alternative episcopal ministry – from those in the wider Communion.   It is for that reason that ministry ‘in regard to the internal affairs’ of such a province may become necessary. It is not that any minority in any dispute over an internal matter can seek extra-provincial intervention in their province’s internal affairs. It is rather that when a province seeks to perform ‘communion acts’ in disregard of the Communion then the Communion must concern itself with both the external and internal impairment of communion that results from such misuses of the province’s autonomy.

2.5 Within the instruments of unity as currently constituted, the natural body to make a judgment as to when such a situation has arisen is the Primates’ Meeting (unless a Lambeth Conference is imminent). It is that instrument of unity to which reference was made in the 1978 Resolution concerning consultation with the Communion[19] and in 1988 the Lambeth Conference asked that the Primates’ Meeting take ‘an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters’.[20] In 1998 this was not only reaffirmed but the Meeting was asked to ‘include among its responsibilities…intervention in cases of exceptional emergency which are incapable of internal resolution within provinces, and giving of guidelines on the limits of Anglican diversity in submission to the sovereign authority of Holy Scripture and in loyalty to our Anglican tradition and formularies”.[21] This gradual accrual of authority to the Primates’ Meeting within the Communion grants it legitimacy in addressing situations such as those outlined above.[22]

2.6  We must note, in this context, the present reality that the actual gathering of the Primates’ Meeting itself has now been placed under threat by the sense that the shared concerns of the Communion are no longer being respected by member Primates themselves.   In the face of this reality, it is clear that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s pastoral and directive role in maintaining the ongoing integrity of the Primates’ Meeting is paramount and cannot be ignored without throwing into grave doubt the future existence of both these central Instruments of Unity themselves.

2.7 The circumstances and conditions in which such a ministry of “extraordinary episcope” by the Archbishop of Canterbury could be exercised would then be the following: a decision by the Primates’ Meeting (based perhaps on an appeal from bishops within the province and Primates of other provinces) that a province (or in some cases a diocese within a province) had exceeded the limits of its autonomy by performing ‘communion acts’ without due consultation with the Communion or respect for its teaching and moral authority. Furthermore, that these actions have been so corrosive of communion within the province and between that province and other provinces of the Communion that the Communion has been placed in a case of exceptional emergency in which it must act collectively in relation to the internal affairs of that province.

2.8 Should the Primates judge that such an exceptional emergency does not exist, provinces could not claim authority to intervene in the said province’s affairs. Any such actions (now in clear contravention of Communion principles of catholic order) would therefore be clearly understood to represent an undermining of the Communion and may result in the intervening province’s own status within the councils of the Communion being reduced.

2.9 Should the Primates judge that such an exceptional emergency situation does exist, the province concerned should be given a - strictly limited - period in which it would be asked to revoke its actions and to make a clear re-commitment to act only within the bounds of provincial autonomy in a manner determined by the Primates’ Meeting.

2.10 Should the province fail to comply with this request and yet not willingly withdraw itself from the 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’[23], then it would thereby be accepting a new exceptional status within the Communion and a new relationship with the See of Canterbury.

2.11 In this new and exceptional status – which would effectively be one of ‘under discipline’ and which could not continue indefinitely - its role within the councils of the Communion would be diminished.[24] Furthermore, the Archbishop of Canterbury would be authorised – on behalf of the Primates – to exercise ‘an extraordinary ministry of episcope (pastoral oversight), support and reconciliation with regard to the internal affairs’ of that province.


3.1 The means by which the Archbishop of Canterbury would do this could take a form such as the following: Given its unwillingness to bring the Communion’s state of exceptional emergency to an end by either revoking its actions or leaving the Communion, the province would be required – as an aspect of its desire to remain in the Communion in this exceptional emergency - to accept one or more representatives of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The representative(s) would minister in the province on behalf of the Archbishop and be appointed by the Archbishop after consultation with the Instruments of Unity and the Primate of the Province.

3.2 The Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative(s) would be authorised by the Communion and accepted by the province as exercising an extraordinary three-fold ministry of episcope (pastoral oversight), support and reconciliation with regard to the province’s internal affairs. This would be in order to maintain Canterbury’s communion with the province, communion within the province, and between the said province and the rest of the Anglican Communion (not least by preventing other provinces seeking unilaterally to act in relation the province’s internal affairs).

3.3 In order to accomplish this the representative(s)

(a)                          Would be committed to bringing the exceptional emergency to an end by persuading the province to take the actions necessary to return the life of the province and the Communion to normality.

(b)                          Would be invited to attend and able to speak at meetings of the province’s House of Bishops, provincial and, where relevant, diocesan synods.

(c)                          Would liaise with the province’s Primate concerning the province’s relations with other provinces in the Communion

(d)                          Would personally provide or arrange episcopal oversight for those in the province who requested it, keeping their diocesan informed of all such provision but not requiring the diocesan’s permission (see 3.5 below for further details).

(e)                          Would communicate with those bishops committed to their Province’s action about their relationship with the Communion and what was needed for them to return to full communion status.

(f)                            Would convene regular meetings with those bishops who dissociated themselves from their province’s decisions and who committed themselves to the life and teaching of the Communion.

(g)                          Would attend Primates’ Meetings with the status traditionally given to the Primate of the province.

(h)                          Would report regularly to the Instruments of Unity on the relationships within the Province.

3.4 In relation to alternative episcopal oversight within the province, the ministry of episcope that the Archbishop of Canterbury would exercise through his representative(s) could take a form such as the following:

(a)                          Any parish or priest in the province whose bishop did not dissociate themselves from its actions would be free to inform their bishop that - in order to remain in full communion with worldwide Anglicanism and adhere to its teaching - they were seeking episcopal oversight from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative. Obviously, no parish or priest would be required to do this or to receive ministry from other than their diocesan bishop.

(b)                          When such requests are made, all the episcopal functions traditionally performed by the diocesan – visitation, confirmation, appointments, ordination etc – would automatically be arranged by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative (using bishops of the province committed to the Communion – in office and retired – and perhaps bishops from elsewhere in the Communion).

(c)                          The diocesan and the Archbishop of Canterbury would be informed of all such ministry and the Archbishop’s representative(s) would meet with any such diocesan but the diocesan would not be able to determine or prohibit such ministry.

(d)                          If a diocesan changes his stance and dissociates himself from the province’s actions – either through a personal repentance or through election of a new bishop – then he has thereby brought an end to the exceptional emergency in relation to his diocese. All parishes in that diocese would therefore automatically be returned to the diocesan’s episcopal care by the Archbishop’s representative

3.5 The rationale for this form of ministry would be that in a situation judged by the Primates to be an exceptional emergency, there will be Anglicans within the province wishing – in accordance often with their own provincial constitution - to remain committed to Communion teaching and in full communion with other Anglican provinces and the Instruments of Unity. Communion with the wider catholic church is established through bishops. Any bishop of the Province who rejects the Communion’s appeal that the province desist from the actions judged to have impaired communion, thereby unjustly impairs communion with the wider Communion for all under his/her jurisdiction. In taking such a view of autonomy and rejecting the teaching, appeals and disciplines of the Communion (yet not wishing to depart from the Communion), bishops can no longer automatically claim or legitimately enforce sole episcopal authority (ie monarchical rule) within their diocese, something which the Communion has traditionally upheld. This apparent anomaly in catholic order is based on the fact that episcopal authority is related to the bishop’s position within the catholic church’s college of bishops and his/her commitment to uphold the church’s teaching. If one embraces a pluriform view of truth and a particular view of autonomy within the catholic church then there cannot be adherence to a monopolistic view of episcopal authority within a geographical unit (or rather such adherence is only possible if authority is divorced from truth and the wider church catholic and based on some form of crude legal positivism).

3.6 By developing such a ministry, the Communion’s intention would be that, in accepting the necessity of being the focus for such an extraordinary ministry, the Archbishop of Canterbury would be seeking to maintain the highest degree of communion possible and to prevent diverse and multiple offers of support from other provinces which risk further disintegration and disorder. He would also be authorised to work for the full reintegration of the province into the life of the Communion and an ending of the emergency situation. Should such reconciliation prove impossible, the Communion would – in the form of those under the Archbishop of Canterbury’s extraordinary oversight and those bishops who had dissociated themselves from their province’s actions – have an ecclesial structure that could be recognised by the wider Communion as a new province. While the exceptional situation continued, each province could determine what level of communion it wished to maintain with the said province as a whole and with those receiving the ministry of the Archbishop. Should the ministry succeed, the Primates would be able to declare the emergency situation brought to a close and the province could return to function fully within the life of the Communion and the anomaly of the Archbishop of Canterbury exercising a ministry in a province other than his own be brought to an end.

Submitted by the Anglican Communion Institute, prepared by Dr Andrew Goddard in consultation with ACI colleagues, August 2004.

[1] Rees, “Some Legal and Constitutional Considerations”, especially 8.4 & 8.5.

[2] Doe, “Communion and Autonomy in Anglicanism: Nature and Maintenance”, p26.

[3] Doe, p34. Cf. Principle 5.3 of proposed principles of canon law common to churches of the Communion – “No particular church, or any authority or person within it, shall intervene in the internal affairs of another church without the consent of that other church given in the manner prescribed by its own law`” (Doe, n271, p36)

[4] The most recent reaffirmations of this at Lambeth Conferences are found in 1988 LR 72. The importance of this is seen in that, in 1998, not only did the Lambeth Conference reaffirm LR 72 but it requested the Primates ‘to encourage the bishops of their Province to consider the implications of Resolution 72 of the Lambeth Conference 1988” (1998 LR V.13). The issue is also discussed in the Lambeth Primates’ Statement of 2003 (“we reaffirm the teaching of successive Lambeth Conferences that bishops must respect the autonomy and territorial integrity of dioceses and provinces other than their own”).

[5] “There are certain principles of church order which, your Committee consider, ought to be distinctly recognised and set forth, as of great importance for the maintenance of union among the Churches of our Communion. First, that the duly certified action of every national or particular Church, and of each ecclesiastical province (or diocese not included in a province), in the exercise of its own discipline, should be respected by all the other Churches, and by their individual members. Secondly, that when a diocese, or territorial sphere of administration, has been constituted by the authority of any Church or province of this Communion within its own limits, no bishop or other clergyman of any other Church should exercise his functions within that diocese without the consent of the bishop thereof. Thirdly, that no bishop should authorise to officiate in his diocese a clergyman coming from another Church or province, unless such clergyman present letters testimonial, countersigned by the bishop of the diocese from which he comes; such letters to be, as nearly as possible, in the form adopted by such Church or province in the case of the transfer of a clergyman from one diocese to another” (1878 Recommendation 1).

[6] 1878 Lambeth Conference Encyclical Letter, 1.6, Recommendation 2.

[7] Doe, p28.

[8] Doe, p28.

[9] LR 1978:11.

[10] On these see the Letter of the Archbishop of Canterbury (17th Feb 2000) and the Porto Communique and the discussion in Rees, section 7.

[11] In addition to the situation in New Westminster, a number of dioceses in ECUSA have already seen ‘interventions’ without the consent of the diocesan (e.g. Ohio confirmations and the departure of parishes to the jurisdiction of other provinces in West Tennessee (Kenya) and Los Angeles (Uganda)).

[12] LR 1930:48, italics added.

[13] LR 1930:49.

[14] Both of the provinces explicitly mentioned in the Commission mandate – ECUSA and Canada – have statements in their constitutions which emphasise this and draw on and many other provinces explicitly recognise the limits which arise from their Communion status. See, for further examples and discussion, Doe, p7ff.

[15] Doe, p27.

[16] LR 1988:72 on episcopal responsibilities and diocesan boundaries ends by noting that “With the number of issues that could threaten our unity it seems fair that we should speak of our mutual respect for one another, and the positions we hold, that serves as a sign of our unity”. Once mutual respect is undermined, unity is further threatened. Once the relational bonds of communion are undermined, the institutional structures are drained of their life-blood.

[17] Doe, p26.

[18] Lambeth Primates’ Statement, Oct 2003.

[19] 1978 LR 11 (cited above).

[20] 1988 LR 18.2(a).

[21] 1998 LR III.6.

[22] The move to an annual meeting of Primates in recent years, combined with the Lambeth Resolutions noted above mean that “its influence is immense, notwithstanding its lack of legal authority” (Rees, 4.14, p12). Owen Chadwick’s comments on the Lambeth Conferences increasingly apply also to the Primates’ Meeting – “meetings start to gather authority if they exist and are seen not to be a cloud of hot air and rhetoric. It was impossible that the leaders of the Anglican Communion should meet every ten years and not start to gather respect; and to gather respect is to slowly gather influence, and influence is on the road to authority. It continued to have that absence of legal authority which some of its founders wanted and which of necessity was denied to them. But in most Churches some of the most important parts of authority are not based upon the law”(quoted Rees, 4.6, p10).

[23] 1930 LR 49. This language is taken up in the Preamble to the Constitution of ECUSA.

[24] The possible forms of this have been discussed in some detail in To Mend the NetTo Hold The Helm, and the earlier ACI submission, Communion and Discipline, especially in chapter six and appendix 2.