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Lambeth 2020: Anglicanism in Australasia, Latin America, and the Pacific Rim

This is the third in a series of articles exploring different parts of the Anglican Communion in the run-up to the 2020 Lambeth Conference. The first discussed growth and decline in African Anglican churches, while the second considered the growth of Anglicanism in Asia.

By David Goodhew

Where do you find the most Anglicans: in Australia or the United States? In 1970, the number of Anglicans was similar in these two countries (3.8 and 3.2 million respectively). But by 2010, whilst Australia remained steady at 3.8 million Anglicans, the number of Anglicans in the United States had shrunk to 1.9 million — and has fallen further since then.

Where are the most vigorous monastic communities in the Anglican Communion? The answer is Melanesia, a collection of island states on the western edge of the Pacific.

A final question: In which countries is Anglicanism growing fastest? You might think of parts of Africa, and this would be true. But you should also name certain Latin American states such as Peru and Chile.

Conversation about contemporary Anglicanism tends to focus on England, North America, and Africa. Where it tends not to focus is Latin America, Australasia, and the Pacific Rim. This is a mistake as the following data shows. But beyond this, the varied and complex ways in which these regions are influencing world Anglicanism mean contemporary Anglicanism cannot be understood without understanding these areas.

Numbers of those affiliated with the churches of the Anglican Communion, 1970-2010[1]

1970 2010
Africa 7,728,000 50,398,000
Asia 361,000 855,000
Europe 29,367,000 26,436,000
Latin America 775,000 915,000
Northern America 4,395,000 2,527,000
Oceania 4,781,000 4,843,000
TOTAL 47,408,000 85,973,000


Figures from religion demographers Todd Johnson and Gina Zurlo show the trajectory of Anglicanism in Latin America, Australasia, and the Pacific in comparison with other areas.[2] This data is necessarily broad-brush, but it is immediately clear from the table that Anglican churches in these regions are now a significant force within the Communion. These figures need unpacking and nuancing by study of what is happening on the ground.

Australia, Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia[3]

The Australian church is concentrated in major cities, where most of the population lives. In keeping with the size of the country, different cities and other dioceses have developed distinctive identities. Best-known is the highly conservative evangelical flavour of the Diocese of Sydney, significantly different from Anglicanism in the rest of the country. Alongside this are distinctive patterns of growth and decline; most rural dioceses have markedly declined, while urban dioceses are more robust and Sydney is the most robust of all. Sydney has registered modest growth in recent decades, which makes it distinctive not only in Australia but in much of the Global North.

Precise data on Australian Anglicanism is hard to come by. But one valuable proxy measure is the age structure of Anglican clergy. As of 2015, there were 2,366 “active clergy” in Australia, 651 of whom were in the Diocese of Sydney. Sydney is big, but accounts for only around a quarter of Australia’s active clergy. But things change dramatically when those active clergy are differentiated by age. Sydney diocese has roughly one quarter of all active clergy, but over half of active clergy under 40 and about 60 percent of active clergy under the age of 30. By contrast, of the 171 active clergy in the Diocese of Perth, only 16 are under the age of 40. Apart from Sydney, the urban Australian dioceses have a serious problem of aging clergy. The significance of Sydney within the Australian church looks set to increase in future years due to demography alone.[4]

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia has no national data, but such data as exists locally suggests that it has significantly declined in recent decades.[5] An issue of particular concern is the way most church members are of British or Maori extraction, at a time when the population is becoming much more diverse. This is illustrated by Auckland, the largest and rapidly expanding city, which contains almost one-third of the country’s population. Auckland’s population of British and Maori extraction is broadly static, but its Asian population has more than doubled since 2000 and represents about one-quarter of Auckland’s people. This diversification is little reflected among Auckland Anglicans, presenting a serious missiological challenge that has yet to be grasped.

Latin America[6]

Australia has been a major centre of Anglicanism for centuries. But within living memory, Anglicanism in many Latin American countries consisted of a handful of British migrants. When the first Anglican Bishop of Peru was appointed in 1977 he had only two congregations in Lima to oversee. By 2015, there were 40 congregations. Anglicanism in Chile has a slightly longer history, but had little presence in the major cities until recent decades. It has rapidly expanded, reflected in the recent creation of several new Chilean dioceses and plans to form Chile into a distinct province within the communion by the end of 2018.

South American Anglicanism has a distinct identity and trajectory, since it did not experience direct colonial rule from Britain in the way that much of the rest of the Communion did. Most of its people speak Spanish or Portuguese. Beyond this, it has had to carve out an identity in an ecclesial landscape of Roman Catholicism and a burgeoning Pentecostalism. Within this context, it offers a new version of the via media, which incorporates aspects of Roman Catholic and Pentecostal traditions, but in ways that are distinct from both.

A different and difficult question relates to Anglicanism in Brazil. While most Anglican churches throughout Latin America are theologically conservative, the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil has stood closer to the Episcopal Church (USA). It has seen markedly less expansion than the Anglican churches in Chile, Peru, or Argentina, and it is facing ecclesial divisions like those in the United States. The Diocese of Recife separated from the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, and GAFCON’s leaders (but not leaders of the Anglican Communion) recently declared it a new and separate Anglican province with its own primate (“the Anglican Church in Brazil”). Here is a reminder that the differing ecclesial trajectories often seen as Western are developing outside the West too.

The Pacific Rim

In recent decades, key centres of Anglo-Catholicism in the Global South such as Ghana and South Africa have lost momentum and have lacked the vigour that this tradition showed earlier in the 20th century. But on the Pacific Rim this is not the case.

The Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea are among the most vibrant Anglo-Catholic centres in Anglicanism. The most striking sign of Anglo-Catholic strength is the Melanesian Brotherhood, founded in 1925 by Ini Kopuria. It has a strong claim to being the most vigorous expression of the religious life in the Communion and is expanding across the Pacific with new work in Fiji and the Philippines. Such vigour is visible in the Melanesian church overall, with the number of Anglicans there more than trebling between 1970 and 2010, from 126,000 to 409,000, making it one of the largest centres of Anglo-Catholicism in the Communion.[7] A separate and complicating issue is gender, since highly conservative attitudes are influential in both Melanesian societies and churches.

Lambeth 2020 and the Anglicans of Australasia, Latin America, and the Pacific Rim

Anglicans from Australasia, Latin America, and the Pacific Rim deserve much more consideration than they often receive. Sydney diocese stimulates condemnation and commendation, depending on who is speaking. But what deserves greater attention is how it calls into question the notion that urbanisation and secularisation necessarily go together. Along with London and Singapore, Sydney shows that major global cities may be centres of Christian faith in future decades. Beyond this, Australian Anglicanism, whilst facing significant secularisation, has proved less vulnerable to decline than comparable provinces, such as Canada and New Zealand.

South American Anglicanism offers striking evidence that significant growth can happen in countries that have never been colonies of Britain and are not English-speaking.

Melanesia is, arguably, the most vigorous centre of Anglo-Catholicism in the Communion and deserves greater prominence in discussions of that tradition.

A study of Anglicanism in Latin America, Australasia and the Pacific Rim shows how the Communion has proliferated and decentralised in the last 50 years. The notion that Anglicanism is rooted in England or English culture has long since ceased to be true. But even when that reality is recognised, it often leads to the assumption that the main change is the dramatic growth of African Anglicanism.

No one can understand contemporary Anglicanism without understanding Africa, but to say this can mean a failure to recognize growth happening elsewhere in the Global South. The study of Latin America and Melanesia demonstrates an Anglican capacity for dynamism in surprising places and in surprising ways. The imminent prospect of Chile as an Anglican province is a wake-up call for Anglicans in the Global North, who all too often minimise or misunderstand the nature of Anglicanism outside of North America and Britain.


[1] This data comes from T. Johnson and G. Zurlo, “The Changing Demographics of Global Anglicanism, 1970-2010,” in David Goodhew (ed.), Growth and Decline in the Anglican Communion, 1980 to the Present(Routledge, 2017), p. 50. Affiliated Anglicansis a broad-brush measure. Within England it includes all who were baptised as Anglicans, even though the vast majority do not regularly attend worship. The Anglican Communion includes churches in communion with Canterbury as of 2010, with the exception of churches such as those of South and North India that are in communion with a range of denominations. For more discussion of data issues, see: Goodhew, “Growth and Decline in the Anglican Communion,” in ibid., pp. 5-9.

[2] Johnson and Zurlo, “Changing Demographics,” in ibid., p. 50.

[3] A key source of data for Australian Anglicanism is Ruth Powell, “Australia,” in Goodhew, (ed.),Growth and Decline.I am grateful to Colin Reilly for his insights regarding Australian Anglican data.

[4] Of the 472 Australian clergy under the age of 40, 249 were from Sydney. Of the 71 clergy under 30, 43 were from Sydney. See Colin Reilly, “A little compendium of Australian Anglican Statistics: Numbers from the Ecclesia Anglicana Australis database,” Bishop Perry Institute (2017), pp. 24-25. These figures are given for clergy where their age is known; 5 percent are “age unknown.”

[5] See an analysis of the Diocese of Christchurch in the last 25 years by the Rev. Bosco Peters, “Anglican Growth and Decline,” Liturgy, accessed Aug. 8, 2017.

[6] This section is based on J. Corrie and M. Sinclair, “The Anglican Province of South America,” in ibid.

[7] Johnson and Zurlo, “Changing Demographics,” p. 50.



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