Archbishop of Canterbury Welby

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Here’s a look at the Episcopal Church, which has been a self-governing autonomous body since 1785. The Episcopal Church in the United States has around 1.6 million members.


The Anglican Church originated when King Henry VIII split from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534, when the pope refused to grant the king an annulment.

The Anglican Communion is made up of 46 independent churches, of which the US Episcopal Church is one.

The Anglican Communion represents over 85 million people in over 165 countries.

The churches of the Anglican Communion are bound together by similar liturgies based on the English Book of Common Prayer.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is viewed as the spiritual leader of the Anglican Community, but is not viewed as being the “pope” of the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop cannot reverse decisions made by a national church.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the head of the Church of England, which is the largest denomination in Britain. In 2020, about 1 million people were regular worshippers.

Recent Timeline

August 5, 2003 - The Episcopal Church USA, at its meeting for its General Convention in Minneapolis, votes to ordain Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as bishop of New Hampshire.

October 7, 2003 - Over 2,000 clergy and parishioners meet in Plano, Texas, to consider splitting from the Episcopal Church USA.

October 15-16, 2003 - The leaders of the Anglican Episcopal Church meet in London to discuss the Episcopal Church USA’s vote to ordain an openly homosexual bishop.

October 17, 2003 - The US Episcopal Church will risk a break with the Anglican Church if it allows the consecration of an openly gay bishop in its New Hampshire diocese, says the president of the American Anglican Church.

November 2, 2003 - Robinson is consecrated as the first openly gay bishop.

January 20, 2004 - A group of dissident members approve a charter for a new protest organization challenging the authority of the Episcopal Church. The aim of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes is “to stand within the (Episcopal) constitution and reclaim the Episcopal Church,” the group’s leader says. Under the charter, bishops would have the authority to “minister” and provide sacraments to any parish in the United States without the permission of the presiding bishop, something which is normally required.

March 7, 2004 - Robinson officially takes over as Bishop of New Hampshire, with his investiture ceremony.

October 18, 2004 - An Anglican church commission calls on the US Episcopal Church to apologize and refrain from promoting clergy living in a same-sex union.

June 21, 2006 - During its convention in Columbus, Ohio, the Episcopal Church approves a resolution calling on church leaders involved in picking bishops “to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate … whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”

November 4, 2006 - The Right Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop of Nevada, is installed as presiding bishop, elected to a nine-year term, becoming the first female to head the Episcopal Church nationwide.

December 17, 2006 - Eight conservative Episcopal congregations in Virginia announce their plans to leave the US Episcopal Church.

December 3, 2008 - At a meeting in Wheaton, Illinois, leaders of the new Anglican Church in North America announce they have formed a new province and drafted a new constitution for their church. The new church will have about 100,000 members.

April 16, 2009 - The conservative Episcopal congregations officially separate from the Episcopal church and form the Anglican Church of North America. It is now fully recognized as part of the global Anglican community.

May 15, 2010 - Mary Glasspool is consecrated as a suffragan bishop, the second openly gay person to be ordained as a bishop in the Episcopal church.

July 11, 2012 - The Episcopal Church approves a same-sex blessing service called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant.” The church becomes the largest US denomination to officially approve same-sex relationships.

November 9, 2012 - Bishop Justin Welby, a former oil executive, is confirmed as the next archbishop of Canterbury. He is considered an outspoken critic of the excesses of capitalism, a supporter of women bishops and an opponent of gay marriage.

March 21, 2013 - Welby is enthroned as the 105th archbishop of Canterbury.

January 9, 2015 - The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland Bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook is charged with manslaughter, driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene after killing a bicyclist in Baltimore. The incident sparks revelations of prior incidents of drinking.

February 4, 2015 - Cook is indicted on additional charges including negligent driving, drunk driving, and texting while driving, all stemming from the fatal crash where she killed bicyclist Tom Palermo.

November 1, 2015 - Right Reverend Michael Bruce Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, is installed as presiding bishop. He is the first African-American to lead the Episcopal Church.

January 14, 2016 - The Episcopal Church is suspended from participating in Anglican Communion activities for three years in response to the church’s acceptance of same-sex marriage. The decision is made during a meeting of leaders from the Anglican Communion’s independent churches.

May 19, 2018 - Curry delivers an address at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The choice is a break from royal custom as senior clergy from the Church of England traditionally give addresses at royal weddings.