Being an Anglican in an interconnected world

The Anglican Communion, as shown in this map created by its office in London, UK, is made up of member churches on every continent. Photo:
Published May 1, 2024

Why should you care about the Anglican Communion?

For some people, the answer to this question is straightforward: you shouldn’t. In the last generation, Anglicanism has fractured between, broadly, liberals and conservatives. The presenting issue has been the welcome the church offers to LGBTQ populations, but there are related issues of Scriptural interpretation, the role of women, and relationship to surrounding culture. The conflict has coincided with the rise of the internet and is set within the deeply rooted legacy of colonialism as well as the decline of church institutions in the Euro-Atlantic world and the shift of Christianity’s global centre of gravity to the south and east. The fractures have been evident within congregations, dioceses, and national churches, and across the global Anglican Communion.

Some of the discourse online suggests many people on either side want nothing to do with the other. Some on the liberal side struggle to see why they should be in relationship with Anglicans who seem to hold retrograde and harmful views in Uganda, Nigeria, and elsewhere. Some on the conservative side want nothing to do with those they deem heretical. Over more than 25 years, this division has unfurled at differing speeds. Right now, the Church of England is locked in a fraught moment of conflict over sexuality, and in February 2023 some bishops in the Global South declared that they no longer recognize the Archbishop of Canterbury as first among equals. But experience suggests this is unlikely to be the last such moment of division and “crisis.”

My identity as a Christian and my ministry as a priest and a theological educator have been indelibly shaped by my relationships with Anglicans around the world. These are relationships I’ve developed by living in, working in, and visiting other provinces of the Communion. I, too, am often confused and hurt by views I have heard other Anglicans express. But three reasons convince me that my vocation as a Christian involves membership in a global communion of Christians.

The first reason is right in front of me. I am writing this article on a computer designed in California, manufactured in China using materials from all over the world and sold to me here in Montreal. You may be reading this online with a device that has come to you in a similar way. This article, therefore, is a reminder that we live in a world that’s deeply integrate economically—and deeply inequitable. My computer, for instance, relies on coltan to function. Reporting suggests that much of the coltan in the world is produced in unsafe mines in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My computer puts me in relationship with the people who work in those mines—but I have the privilege of rarely thinking about that relationship and simply reaping the benefits from it. It is a purely economic relationship, and an unjust one at that.

In the Anglican Communion, by contrast, I find a way to be in relationship with people around the world in their full humanity, in ways that work towards wholeness and hope. Anglicans around the world are working for justice and peace in inspiring and important ways, though their work rarely gets the attention it deserves. It is true that our relationships are deeply deformed by our colonial past and present. Nonetheless, I am convinced that through the Anglican Communion, we have the opportunity to model to the world what global relationships can look like in their wholeness. It is an opportunity we are singularly failing to grasp—but we could if we wanted to.

The second reason is, frankly, more selfish. I cannot know everything there is to know about the gospel of Jesus Christ on my own. I need other Christians to help me grow. I also know that it is easy for members of a Christian community to get trapped in a particular view of their faith, overly limited by their cultural setting in their understanding of the expansiveness of the gospel. In ways little and big, silly and profound, my understanding of the Christian faith and my walk with Jesus have been deepened by working with and listening to Anglicans from other parts of the world. Max Warren, the mid-20th century Anglican mission executive, is reputed to have said, “It takes the whole world to know the whole gospel.” Again and again, I have found that interacting with Anglicans from different backgrounds broadens my horizons and makes me more faithful to the way of Jesus.

The third reason is the reality that the face of Canada is changing as we welcome more people from around the world. The diocese of Montreal has a long history of hiring priests from Great Britain. In recent years we’ve had new clergy come from Congo, Costa Rica, Haiti, and elsewhere. The same trend is mirrored in our congregations. The Anglican Communion isn’t just somewhere “over there.” It’s right here, in our communities already. We are called to welcome these people as siblings in Christ.

The New Testament offers us a glorious picture of the Christian community as one that is constantly seeking to receive from and give gifts to others to grow to full maturity in Christ. In an interconnected world, we all need Christians from outside our own cultures to help us move in this direction. For that, I thank God for the Anglican Communion


  • Jesse Zink

    The Rev. Jesse Zink is principal of Montreal Diocesan Theological College and canon theologian in the diocese of Montreal. His books include Backpacking through the Anglican Communion: A Search for Unity and Christianity and Catastrophe in South Sudan: Civil War, Migration, and the Rise of Dinka Anglicanism.

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