The Anglican Church of Canada is a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Anglicans sometimes say we are both Protestant and Catholic – we are a via media (middle way) between the extremes of each, or perhaps simply the best of both!
How are Anglicans different from Roman Catholics, The United Church of Canada, or other Protestants?
On a practical level, Anglicans parishes are grouped into dioceses, like Roman Catholics (we are in the Diocese of Montreal). Each diocese is led by a Bishop and governed by a Synod which is an elected body made up of the laity and the clergy of the diocese. Canadian dioceses are gathered together into a national body, the Anglican Church of Canada. There are Anglican churches in almost every country in the world – most familiar here might be the Episcopal church in the USA and the Church of England – but each national church is independent from the others. All such churches around the world are said to be in “communion” with each other, and there are various international gatherings which contribute to this sense of communion and mutual belonging. It is sometimes said that there are four international Instruments of Unity: the gathering of the leaders of the national churches (the Primates), a committee of clergy and laity from around the world (the Anglican Consultative Council), and the Lambeth Confrence (a once-a-decade gathering of all the bishops from around the world), and the Archbishop of Canterbury (who has moral and persuasive authority in the Anglican Communion but does not have governing power outside of the Church of England).
As a church which was once an establishment church, the Anglican Church of Canada is often mistakenly believed to be under the authority of the British sovereign. Anglicans do pray for the Queen, as we do for all the leaders of the world, primarily because she is the Canadian head of state.
The Anglican Church began as the Catholic Church in England, the Ecclesia Anglicana. One of the most famous periods in the history of the Anglican Church is, of course, Henry the VIII’s rejection of the authority of the Pope over the Catholic Church in England. This is the “flashy” part of Anglican history – yet the true distancing of the Anglican Church from the Roman Catholic Church happened during the Protestant Reformation.
Of course, the most visible difference between Roman Catholics and Anglicans comes at the level of our clergy: Anglican clergy can be male or female, married or celibate (or divorced!), gay or straight. Yet they still generally follow the conventions of dress associated with Roman Catholics. Anglican clergy wear vestments when they are presiding over a service, and they will often wear a clerical collar which identifies them as members of the clergy (Deacons, Priests and Bishops).
Today, however, in part because of the liturgical reforms beginning in the latter part of the 19th century, Anglican worship in Canada today would be very familiar to Roman Catholics. Most Anglican churches have the Eucharist (also called the Mass or Holy Communion) every week at the principal service. Unlike many Protestant churches, worship in Anglican churches is according to prescribed forms (there are two books of worship authorized for use in the Anglican Church of Canada, one prayer book and a book of alternative services).
Anglicans often refer to the three aspects of scripture, tradition, and reason as guiding their understanding of doctrine. Anglicans affirm the truths in the traditional ecumenical creeds (the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed) and the early Church Councils.
In general, Anglicans accept a variety of doctrinal positions within a reasonable range. The church is understood as an authority which mediates the transmission of doctrine. Scripture is considered sufficient for salvation, but scripture is not inerrant: rather, there is room for adjustment to cultural context and for intelligent and informed interpretation of scripture. We turn to scripture to help shape and guide our doctrine – we do not lift our doctrine out of scripture.
Finally, Anglicans believe that you should not have to check your brain at the door. Anglicans are encouraged to relate to their context. We don’t think that secular culture is to be resisted or rejected, nor do we want to adopt everything uncritically; rather, we seek to see God at work in the world and to relate what we do and what we believe to the context in which we live and work.