The end of the Anglican Communion has been announced again.

In response to Archbishop Welby’s suggestion that a looser community of Anglican churches might be formed around the world enabling Anglican churches to stay together while disagreeing on contentious issues, commentators have rushed to proclaim the death of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

But Andrew Brown at the Guardian suggests that this thing called the “Anglican communion” cannot end because it has not existed for at least the past thirty years:

The Anglican communion has been a fantasy for at least 30 years. The term suggests there are Anglican churches outside of England grouped into a spiritually and politically significant whole with agreed beliefs and some kind of chain of command, but there isn’t.

Brown concludes that, in suggesting looser ties between autonomous Anglican bodies around the world,

All that Justin Welby has done is to give up the pretence that he heads any kind of global organisation. Only in the light of the sustained unreality of the last three decades could this appear a revolutionary act.

Roman Catholic commentator  agrees with Mr. Brown:

Given that the Anglican churches around the world have always been canonically autonomous, and given that they have never really sung from the same hymn sheet doctrinally, while all claiming some sort of common Anglican heritage, the news that the Communion is, not to be dissolved, but to be acknowledged as a term without any true meaning, is nothing more than common sense.

Should we lament the passing of the Anglican Communion as a recognizable body?

Father Lucie-Smith certainly sees nothing to grieve in the demise of the worldwide Anglican Communion:

I believe, along with Andrew Brown, that it is surely correct to call time on the Anglican Communion, which has never really stood for much, especially in recent decades. Some sort of looser club, which has no pretensions to doctrinal unity, is to be preferred. The idea of claiming a unity that does not exist is not just absurd, it’s also morally wrong.

But he does worry that there may be some legitimate concerns:

But this leaves two challenges. We are meant to be united. All Christians are called to unity. How are we to bring this about, when unity seems further away than ever: after all if the Anglicans cannot unite with themselves, how on earth are they to unite with Rome?

The second challenge is internal to the Catholic Church: how are we to safeguard unity? How are we to ensure that the practices and beliefs of the Church are the same everywhere, and in continuity with the inherited tradition?

Bringing together these two concerns raises the interesting question what it actually means “to be united.”

What actually is the nature of this “unity” Father Lucie-Smith is concerned to “safeguard”? Does unity mean that “the practices and beliefs of the Church” must be “the same everywhere, and in continuity with the inherited tradition”?

Is this uniformity of “practice and belief” in fact a hallmark of Father Lucie-Smith’s own unified church?

Is “unity” still possible in the looser way to which the Archbishop of Canterbury appears to be pointing? Could there be a unity of spirit that is not dependent upon uniformity of practice and belief?

I find myself at times feeling more deeply connected/unified to Christians who do not locate themselves in any way within the institutional boundaries labelled “Anglican.”  How much uniformity is necessary to the unity of love and respect that I would hope might characterize all Christians around the world?