Not just a celebration of the past, Anglicanism is a rich spiritual tradition that has grown into a
worldwide movement of Christians on every continent. Anglicanism has become the third largest
Christian communion in the world. Today, people from various backgrounds are embracing the Anglican
tradition anew. Bishop Todd Hunter (who recently became an Anglican) describes this growing
movement in the following way, “There is something in the air today, something in the spirit of our age,
something in the Spirit that is leading thousands, maybe millions, of people to reconsider liturgical forms
Becoming Anglican means that I am a part of the larger Christian family whose roots go back to Christ.
Too often, contemporary Christians forget that there have been two thousand years of church history.
Anglicanism offers a rich family heritage and roots from which to grow today.
As Anglicans we are part of the larger body of Christ whose roots began, not with the Reformation or
the evangelical movement, but with Jesus Christ. Many evangelicals long for a faith that wasn’t started
yesterday and is not driven by fads and personalities. The Anglican tradition offers a refreshing
alternative to the postmodern world by helping reconnect to the historic Christian faith.
There are many reasons why people may or may not choose a particular faith tradition. So, “why
Anglicanism is an ancient tradition that traces its roots back to the time of the Roman Empire when a
Christian church first came into existence in the British Isles. The word “Anglican” is based on the word
“Angle” and actually means “English” and refers to its place of origin and comes from the Medieval Latin
phrase ecclesia anglicana. According to legend, Christianity first came to England by Joseph of
Arimathea, who was known in all four gospels for being responsible for the burial of Jesus. He also
witnessed the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Early Christian writers also mention the existence of
a British church in the third century. Saint Alban, a converted Roman soldier, was executed around 209
AD, as the first Christian martyr in the British Isles.
Christianity spread throughout the British Isles under the leadership of Celtic missionaries like Patrick
and Columba. St. Patrick baptized thousands of people, ordained hundreds of ministers and helped
plant hundreds of churches throughout the British Isles. Christianity continued to spread throughout the
British Isles like wildfire under the gifted leadership of men such as Columba who established monastic
communities in Iona and Aidan in Lindsfarne. These monasteries were not places for monastic recluses,
rather they became spiritual centers and discipleship training hubs that sent out missionaries
throughout Western Europe.
An important step in the history of the English church was taken in 596, when Pope Gregory the Great
sent one of his assistants Augustine, who was a Benedictine monk to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons to
Christianity. He is considered by many to be the “Apostle to the English” and a founder of the English
Church. Early on, Augustine almost abandoned the quest, but was persuaded by Gregory to continue the
mission. He eventually arrived in Kent (the southeast corner of England) in 597 with a team of monks.
There, King Ethelbert, whose wife was already a Christian, allowed them to settle and preach. Augustine
was eventually successful in converting the king and many others to the Christian faith.
Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury and helped establish a center for Christianity in
Brittan. From that time onward, the Cathedral of Canterbury has been honored and respected as the
‘Mother Church’ of the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion. In a letter, Pope
Gregory wisely counseled Augustine to allow room for the English church to retain its own
distinctiveness, since the British Isles were uniquely different from the European continent.
Gregory said: “For things are not to be loved for the sake of places but places for the sake of good
things. Select, therefore, from every church the things that are devout religious and upright, and when
you have, as it were, combine them into one body, let the minds of the English be trained therein.”
Anglican Christianity was also strongly influenced by the Protestant Reformation. During this time
period, the Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church during the reign of King Henry
VIII, reunited under Queen Mary I and then separated again under Queen Elizabeth I. Under the
leadership of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the Church of England began to embrace some elements of
the Reformation throughout England, yet retaining many of the historic practices of the Catholic Church.
Cranmer carefully danced around the politics of his position, and was able to introduce a number of
reforms in England such as the Great Bible in 1539. Cranmer’s greatest achievement was realized in
1549, where he helped organize the Book of Common Prayer in the English language. It was the book
determining how worship was done in Anglicanism. Cranmer’s legacy was fulfilled with development of
the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty Nine Articles. During this time period, the Anglican
tradition also included great luminaries such as Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, John Jewel, Richard
Hooker, and Lancelot Andrewes who helped translate the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, which
could be printed with the invention of the printing press. The Church in England became the Church of
In the years that followed, Anglicanism continued to develop and flourish and eventually grew into a
worldwide movement that spawned later movements such as the Puritans, the Wesleyan revival, and
the Oxford Movement. Over the years, the Anglican tradition has produced some of the world’s greatest
Christian thinkers, writers, and leaders such as Bishop Jeremy Taylor, John Donne, John and Charles
Wesley, Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers and William Temple to name a few. With over 2,000
years of rich history, this ancient tradition still has the power to speak to our contemporary world with a
faith that is relevant for a new generation.
In this time, Anglicanism is multiplying in the Global South, in places like Africa, South America and Asia.
As the third largest Christian Communion in the world, Anglicanism is also growing in the US. The
Anglican Church in North America has over 1000 congregations in the US and Canada. It is here to
Amarillo and Canyon. Come and grow with us at St. Mark’s on the Plains Anglican Church.