What is the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church?

Dear Maggie,

What is the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church?  When did we split from the Church of England?

Ecclesially Curious

Dear Curious,

I hear ye have a relationship status on yer Facebooks.  If the Episcopal Church and Anglican Churches had that filled in on their profiles it would be “It’s Complicated.”  There are whole tomes on the topic, so I’ll just ease yer curiosity a bit with the shortest answer I can offer.

First off, the Anglican Church is a Communion of Churches that all find their roots in the Church of England.  They range from Asia to Africa, Paris, France to Paris, Texas.  Each of them, however, is allied through a complex relationship of organization and practice to the Church of England.  The most prominent commonality is that they all worship using some form of the Book of Common Prayer, first developed by Thomas Cranmer in the 16th century.  They also all see Canterbury as their spiritual home and the Archbishop of Canterbury as the spiritual leader of the Communion (though the role is nowhere nearly as powerful as the pope is in the Roman Catholic Church).
Most of these churches were started out of some colonial relationship with England and then gained their own flavor and independence.  The Episcopal Church, for instance, began as a separate entity after the American Revolution made it a bit problematic to have a church that prayed for the King at the same time that we were fighting that King.  In response Americans sought to be allied with me dear ole Church of Scotland.  They created the “Episcopal” church to mark the fact that they operated through the authority of bishops.  Now the Episcopal Church is the American branch of the Anglican Communion. 

The Communion has been strained a various times and this is one of them.  Theological differences about sexuality and women’s ordination have animated a number of debates in the Communion over the last several years.  Yet, despite those differences, the Communion continues to grow in its witness in the world. 

The Anglican Communion is truly a family.  We all have a common lineage and sometimes bicker as siblings, but we still gather around the table to thank God for the many gifts God gives.

I hope that scratches yer itch!

Peace be with ya,