The worldwide Anglican Communion consists of 38 self-governing churches, or provinces, including the Episcopal Church. The Communion’s provinces are national and multinational, operating from 164 nations on all seven continents. They are linked by their proclamation of the Catholic and Apostolic faith; their common ecclesiastical (church order or governance) structure, including the historic episcopate; their theological grounding in scripture, tradition and reason; their use of liturgies derived from The Book of Common Prayer; their recognition of the Eucharist as the central act of worship; and through their ties to the Archbishop of Canterbury who serves as the primate (primary leader) of the Church of England and spiritual leader of the Communion.
Member churches are interdependent in terms of sharing of mission work and resources, support for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, and joint advocacy of peace and justice concerns; but they exercise automony in the ordering of their doctrine, ministry, worship, and means of governance. The Communion does not have a centralized governing authority like the Roman Catholic Church; its life is ordered through council and consultation through three advisory bodies: the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops; the Anglican Consultative Council; and the Primates Meeting. Only the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) may be considered a representative governing body as it is the only one of the three so-called “Instruments of Unity” with its own constitution and canons (body of church law) and with elected representatives of each province in all four orders: lay people, deacons, priests, and bishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury is recognized as the fourth “Instrument of Unity” because of the Archbishop’s historic role as head of the Communion’s mother church, the Church of England (the Latin word Anglicanus refers to the Angles, the native people of England).