The Windsor Report 2004

The episcopate

  1. The unity of the Communion is both expressed and put into effect among other things through the episcopate. At the Reformation, the Church of England maintained the threefold order of ministry, in continuity with the early Church. As the events of the seventeenth century bear witness, it was by no means a foregone conclusion that the Church of England would end up with a continuing episcopacy. But in the event “there was no attempt [during the sixteenth-century Reformation] to minimise the role of bishops as ministers of word and sacrament or to stop a collegial relation between bishops and presbyters in the diocese or bishops together at the level of Province.”[36] Within a short period of time, in fact, this retention of episcopacy as the foundational form of government within the Anglican churches became the distinctive mark of its claim to be both Catholic and Protestant; and, reflecting the practice of the very early Church, the ministry of bishops as chief pastors and teachers of the faith, as the focus of unity and source of ministry, became central. The principle of Anglican episcopacy was fought over and defended in the life of the Scottish Episcopal Church. It was retained in the life of the Episcopal Church (USA). It was subsequently, and carefully, preserved in the life of all thirty-eight provinces of the Anglican Communion, including the United Churches of South Asia. As recognised in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, an episcopate at once local and universal is therefore an essential element of the life of the Anglican Communion. And, to link once more with scripture as the central fact of unity within the Communion, it is the bishop's role as teacher of scripture that is meant, above all, to be not merely a symbolic but a very practical means of giving the Church the energy and direction it needs for its mission and therefore the motivation and the groundwork for its unity.

  2. It has always been maintained within Anglicanism that a bishop is more than simply the local chief pastor.[37] Bishops represent the universal Church to the local and vice versa[38]. This is why individual churches have developed ways of confirming the election of bishops, signifying their acceptability to the wider Church. Without such attention to general acceptability, the episcopate, instead of being in its very existence one of the bonds of unity in the Communion, quickly becomes an occasion and focus of disunity.

  3. The work, and symbolic unifying value, of the local episcopate is matched at the transprovincial level by the four Instruments of Unity (described more fully in paragraphs 98-104), and especially by the Archbishop of Canterbury himself as the chief pastor of the entire Communion. Their role and work is not a substitute for the mutual accountability of the rest of the Church, but is rather a means of expressing it, drawing it together, and enabling the whole Church to listen to each member and each member to listen to the whole. It is with this in mind that successive Lambeth Conferences have urged the primates to shoulder the burden of enhanced responsibility for the unity of the Communion, a request echoed by the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission at its meeting in September 2003[39]. This request draws on that theology of wider apostolic and episcopal leadership which is expressed in the New Testament by the apostles themselves (e.g. Paul, writing with authority to various churches including some he had not himself founded), by such writers as Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus and Cyprian, and in subsequent centuries by the recognition of the role of the great sees of Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, Rome and Jerusalem.

  4. The very existence of the Instruments of Unity points to the desire of the Communion to work together, with bishops, clergy and laity all involved as fully as possible. This is where the ongoing synods, at all levels of the Church, express by their existence, as well as (it is to be hoped) by their actual work, the unity-in-diversity which characterises our life in communion. In 1988, Archbishop Robert Runcie put the challenge this way:
    “…are we being called through events and their theological interpretation to move from independence to interdependence? If we answer yes, then we cannot dodge the question of how this is to be given 'flesh': how is our interdependence articulated and made effective; how is it to be structured? ... We need to have confidence that authority is not dispersed to the point of dissolution and ineffectiveness … Let me put it in starkly simple terms: do we really want unity within the Anglican Communion? Is our worldwide family of Christians worth bonding together? Or is our paramount concern the preservation of promotion of that particular expression of Anglicanism which has developed within the culture of our own province? … I believe we still need the Anglican Communion. But we have reached the stage in the growth of the Communion when we must begin to make radical choices, or growth will imperceptibly turn to decay. I believe the choice between independence and interdependence, already set before us as a Communion in embryo twenty-five years ago, is quite simply the choice between unity or gradual fragmentation.”[40]
    What this bears witness to is the understanding that the churches of the Anglican Communion, if that Communion is to mean anything at all, are obliged to move together, to walk together in synodality. It is by listening to, and interacting with, voices from as many different parts of the family as possible that the Church discovers what its unity and communion really mean. Synodality as a characteristic of the Anglican Communion finds expression in Lambeth Conferences as early as 1867 (Resolutions 4, 5, 8 and 10) as well as in the Lambeth Conference of 1897 (Resolution 24).