CONSTITUTION AND BYLAWS
The Anglican Free Communion International “The Episcopal Free Church”
The Free Protestant Episcopal Church
Founded on November 2nd, 1897
Constitution and Bylaws for The Anglican Free Communion International
Approved by the Executive Council Ratified and Adopted this: August 23.2020
and as Approved by the Presiding Bishop:
We declare and establish this Constitution and these Bylaws to preserve and perpetuate the principles of our common Christian faith and to govern this body in an orderly and Christ-like manner. These Bylaws will seek to preserve the autonomy and liberties of each individual Province and the freedom of action of this Communion to accomplish its God-given purposes.
Furthermore, by these documents, we declare our divinely inspired mission to fulfill and perpetuate the original intent of our founding bishops and The Episcopal Free Church.
The legal name of this organization shall be “The Anglican Free Communion International”, and may also be styled, “The Anglican Free Communion International – The Episcopal Free Church” (hereafter referred to as The Anglican Free Communion International or simply as the AFCI). The original name of the communion was “The Free Protestant Episcopal Church” when it was founded in 1897 and then later officially recognized as a legitimate and autocephalous Christian denomination in the year 1917. This Communion shall seek appropriate authority to operate within every nation that it either has or seeks to establish its unique Christian witness.
Currently, The Anglican Free communion has developed into an international communion with member churches and ministries in many countries around the globe, including the United States, Europe, Africa, India, Pakistan, South America, Central America, Russia, Scandinavia and others.
Our structure, theology, and form of worship is commonly understood as Anglican-catholic. It is a distinct Christian tradition representing a “middle ground” between what has been perceived as extreme claims of 16th century Roman Catholicism and Lutheran/Reformed varieties of Protestantism. As such, our structure and worship has often been referred to as being the via media (or “middle way”) between “Roman” Catholic and Reformed Protestant traditions. Because Anglicans in general and our communion in particular, allow for significant freedom and diversity within the areas of Scriptural interpretation, reason and tradition, a great many variations in doctrine and practice exist within our churches, ministries, and within our various Provinces.
- To stand for a Christ-centered and morally sound expression of Christianity which comprises the faith and practice of the Apostles and early Disciples of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
- To obey the Great Commission of Christ by carrying the Good News to the entire world (Matthew 28: 19-20)
Recognizing the unity of the Church of Christ in all the world and across all the ages, and knowing that we are but one branch of Christ’s universal (catholic) people, and adhering to our particular faith and order, we extend to all believers the right hand of Christian fellowship (Galatians 2:9).
We confess the great fundamental truths to be a belief in one God (whose nature is Love), revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit. We believe that Jesus dwelt in our world in the flesh, died for the sins of all people, was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Furthermore, we confess the total and uncompromising Love of God for all peoples; of all time, places, and cultures, as well as the foundational call of God to serve all people, inviting them to partake of the sacramental life of the church without constraint or hindrance.
In the spirit of the all-encompassing love of God, we seek to serve all people alongside other faith-based organizations, to include the other major religions of the world, in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation. This Communion shall neither support nor condone any acts or attitudes of denigration towards those practicing their faith outside the Christian-world view as espoused by the AFCI.
We affirm our belief that those who hold to these fundamental truths constitute the one Universal Church, and that the several households of which, though called by different names, are in point of fact the one body of Christ, and that these members of his body are under a sacred bond to keep “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). We declare that we will cooperate in Christian fellowship and service with all who hold to these foundational truths. Nevertheless, this Communion shall not interpret this spirit of fellowship to mean that we espouse any degree of animosity towards any others who may believe otherwise.
We believe that, beyond these fundamental truths, there can be unity in diversity, and diversity in unity, with regards to other particular elements of faith and practice within the Universal body of Christ.
This jurisdiction is an ecumenical communion. We believe it to be the will of the Lord Jesus that we remain open to walk and collaborate with other Christian jurisdictions, groups, and denominations from the various and venerable Protestant, Reformed, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions, as well as other traditions of faith.
This is a communion that lives the fullness of the Anglican “ethos” while embracing the coexistence of theological, pastoral and liturgical currents, streams, and orientations. We believe that the spirit of Anglicanism is not a “unilateral” position that only emphasizes particular theological, pastoral, or liturgical streams. Instead, we respect our sister denominations, and as far as possible, join hands with them to strengthen the final goal of Anglicanism, common to all Christian witnesses, which is the propagation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As others from various jurisdictions and denominations express a desire to join with us in our common witness, we rejoice to sit at the table with them and create ways to share our common witness and the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). We embrace frank and respectful dialogue, as it is often the bridge that leads to appreciation for shared Christian heritage and unity within the Body of Christ.
This Communion accepts the meaningful validity of various Christian rites historically associated with classical Anglicanism, that is, Catholic (Old, Eastern, Orthodox and Roman), Evangelical, Charismatic, Reformed, and Liberal “streams”. These currents or streams will be respected, and their legitimate place guaranteed within this jurisdiction, believing this praxis to be just one element of the fullness of the Anglican ethos.
This Communion desires that clergy and ministers seeking to formally join this Jurisdiction are fully aware of the aforementioned stance. Furthermore, in a spirit of loving support, we believe that those who cannot envision Anglicanism practiced in this way should seek a jurisdiction that speaks more clearly to their heart. No break in loving fellowship is intended by any such pursuit.
The following Principles, while not intended to be used as a test or as a strict requirement for Christian cooperation and unity within the universal Body of Christ, are adopted as a testimony of the faith and spirit in which this Communion of Free Anglicans interpret the Holy Scriptures and apply them to their Christian duties.
Our beliefs include the following:
We believe in one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and all people in him;
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him;
We believe in the Holy Spirit, our indwelling Comforter and Guide;
We believe in liberty of conscience in all matters of faith, biblical interpretation, practice, and worship;
Our faith is founded upon the entire corpus of Sacred Scriptures (especially the Gospels), the traditions of the Apostolic Church, the historic episcopate, the first seven ecumenical councils, and the early Church Fathers;
We understand the Old and New Testaments as “containing all things necessary for salvation” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of our faith. We also accept that the Apocryphal and Deutero-canonical writings have held a venerable place within the history of Christ’s One, Holy, and Apostolic Church – these writings may be read in the churches and worship centers of this Communion;
We also uphold the Apostles’ Creed as our baptismal symbol of faith and the Nicene Creed as a sufficient statement of the Christian faith;
We celebrate the seven sacraments consistent with the historic and catholic church, with special emphasis given to the Holy Eucharist (also called Holy Communion, Holy Qurbana, the Lord’s Supper, or the Mass), as Jesus himself testified to it as a special way to remember him. The breaking and reception of the bread and wine communicates the real presence, the very body and blood of Christ, as our Lord instituted at his “Last Supper”, as the Gospel of John testifies, and as St. Paul reiterated to the early church as that which he directly received from Christ himself. It also represents an eternal sharing of the table with Christ, as we obey His command to remember Him in this way. The table of the Lord is open to all who thereby draw nigh unto Christ in faith;
We primarily use the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) which is one of the ties that bind many in the worldwide Anglican Communion together. The 1928 version of the BCP, as well as other forms of historical and liturgical worship may be used, based on the needs of each local community of faith;
We believe that all the members of the human race have been created equal, and each are lovingly created in the image of God; therefore we promote inclusivity in all our churches and ministries. Based on this belief, the Communion allows for the ordination of women to holy orders, with the same rights and duties as men (Galatians 3:28);
This Communion makes no distinction as to race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, social status, trade or profession, ability or disability, marital status or history, political belief, religious heritage, or culture of its members. All faithful are held under the same principles and standards of Christian living and holiness of conduct;
This Communion is open to ordain and allows the ordination of men and women regardless of their orientation; and lastly,
We believe that indulgence in sensual, sexual, and/or substance-use pleasures, as well as sexual promiscuity (viz., indiscriminate, casual, un-committed sexual relations and/or activities), are contrary to the spirit of the Sacred Scriptures, and celebrates all unions that are authentic and loving, between two legally mature adults, and that these relationships should be respected and blessed in our churches – so we are free to celebrate and bless all such unions.
Likewise, no cleric within this communion shall be forcibly required to perform any rite or ceremony against their personal conscience, rather, such clergy are advised to consult, in prayer, with their religious superior.
The universal Church is composed of all the members of the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ, the Laity, is the source from which the Church calls her Deacons, Priests, and Bishops.
Qualifications shall consist of persons who meet the educational, experiential, behavioral and moral characteristics required by their respective Bishop and who are in agreement with the Statement of Faith (cf., Article 4 above) and who will abide by the Constitution and Bylaws of The Anglican Free Communion International.
The Anglican Free Communion International shall have three Orders of the Clergy, namely:
Bishops, who shall have a special responsibility and authority for the preservation of truth, and of the doctrine of the Church, for the purity of its life, and the worthiness of its worship; To preserve apostolic succession and to represent the fullness of the apostolic witness; Bishops shall be consecrated by no less than three other bishops in apostolic succession. In situations of dire need, a bishop may be consecrated by just two other bishops, with the consent of either the Executive Council or the Presiding Bishop.
Priests, who in cooperation with and under the authority of their Bishop have a special responsibility for preaching the word of God, administering the Holy Sacraments, and for the curé of souls; and,
Deacons, who have a special responsibility for the care of the poor and distressed, for the instruction of the young, the poor, and those without the knowledge of God, giving assistance to their Priest, as well as for the administration of sacramental life.
Clergy of any order, seeking incardination within this Jurisdiction, shall provide evidence of their ordination or consecration from within Apostolic Succession.
This Jurisdiction shall review and consider all elements of a request for incardination. Bishops seeking incardination yet unable to provide substantive evidence of an apostolic consecration by at least three other bishops in the succession, may be required to receive consecration sub conditione.
The Anglican Free Communion International will welcome all religious orders and will be guided by the Abbott General, as appointed by the Presiding Bishop of the communion.
The Provincial Archbishops of the Communion shall be elected by the Presiding Bishop, and the Executive Council. Every Diocesan and Suffragan Bishop of this Communion shall be elected by the Provincial Archbishop in a form consistent with the spirit and procedures laid out in the Regulations made under this Constitution. Any such election will be submitted to the Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council. This notification will occur in a timely manner, and prior to the finalization of the election process.
A Bishop for any Diocese may be elected from among the Bishops or Clergy of any Province or Diocese of the Anglican Free Communion International or of any other ecclesiastical body in full communion with the Anglican Free Communion International.
The tenure of the Episcopal Office, or a Provincial Archbishop, shall be determined by the legislative and administrative organs of the Communion.
The Anglican Free Communion International is composed of provinces, dioceses, parishes (or churches), religious orders, educational institutions, chaplaincies, and ministries. Provinces are typically directed by Archbishops, dioceses by Bishops, churches and ministries by priests.
The legislative and administrative organs of the Anglican Free Communion International shall be:
The Presiding Bishop of the Communion;
The Executive Council (which shall be the highest international organ of The Anglican Free Communion International);
The Provincial Council (which shall be the administrative organ of a Province). The Provincial Council leader is the Provincial Archbishop who is autonomous and works in coordination but not under the authority of the Executive Council; and,
The Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council of Bishops as hereby constituted, shall be the Legislative body of The Anglican Free Communion International and will also serve as a consultative and advisory body to every Province, Diocese, Officer, and member thereof.
The Executive Council of Bishops will work hand in hand with the Presiding Bishop in the day-to-day administration of the Communion.
The Executive Council of Bishops shall be composed of:
The Presiding Bishop,
The Chancellor, and,
The Secretary General.
The Presiding Archbishops of each continent shall be elected by the provincial bishops of their respective continents.
The members of the Executive Council of Bishops will be elected by their continent and have an initial tenure lasting two years but may be elected to new terms as determined by the Legislative and Administrative bodies of the Communion.
The government of The Anglican Free Communion International is “episcopal” in nature and history. The main governing and regulatory body of the Communion and the principal advisory body to the Presiding Bishop is the Executive Council of Bishops.
One of the roles of the Executive Council of Bishops is to ensure that the Statement of Faith, the Covenant of Conduct and the general principles of the Christian faith are adhered to. Their responsibilities include overseeing and regulating issues related to the administrative, legislative, ministerial, evangelistic, educational, missionary, benevolent and other interests of The Anglican Free Communion International.
The General Synod
Although the Provinces are autonomous in their functioning, this constitution creates the General Synod of the Communion which is a consultative body charged with the duty of making some of the decisions that may affect the Communion as a whole. The General Synod will exert its function when requested by the Presiding Bishop or the Executive Council of Bishops.
Most of the decisions of the Communion will be in the hands of the Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council of Bishops.
The General Synod shall be composed of:
The Presiding Bishop;
The Executive Council of Bishops;
Legal Counsel; and,
The House of Provincial Bishops.
The General Synod will hold meetings every three years that will be presided over by the Presiding Bishop or their designee. Other Bishops and members of the Communion may also attend these meetings if needed or desired.
Charged with the day-to-day operation of the Communion, the Executive Council of Bishops will consult the General Synod when some decision affecting the entire communion must be made.
A Diocesan Council may also be established, if required, within each Diocese and shall have authority over the internal affairs of the Diocese and will be under the supervision of the Diocesan Bishop and the Provincial Archbishop.
The location of the Headquarters of the Anglican Free Communion International may change from time-to-time, depending on the location of the Presiding Bishop or the needs of the Communion.
The Provincial Archbishops are Superintendents of their assigned State or Provincial area. The duties and responsibilities of the Provincial Archbishops are to assist, encourage, elder, support and mentor the Dioceses, Churches, Orders, and Ministries under their care. It is the duty of the Archbishop to ensure that each local diocese, priest, deacon, ministry, minister, congregation and other affiliates of The Anglican Free Communion International adhere to the Statement of Faith, the Code of Conduct and the Principles of the Christian Faith as expressed within this Constitution.
The Provincial Archbishop may establish a Provincial Council which shall be the administrative organ of the Province. The members of these Provincial Councils will be chosen by the Provincial Archbishop. The Council leader is the Provincial Archbishop who is autonomous and works in coordination with, but not under the authority of, the Executive Council of Bishops.
Bishops, priests, ministries, congregations and other affiliates report any problems or concerns directly to the Provincial Archbishop.
Provincial Archbishops are encouraged to resolve any problems or concerns at the most local level feasible before contacting the Executive Council of Bishops.
Each Province of The Anglican Free Communion International is autonomous and possesses all the freedom to run, operate and administer their province as they prayerfully deem appropriate. Each Province shall use the name for their churches and the ecclesiastic rites for their services (or mass) which they consider adequate for their community. A considerable degree of liturgical freedom is permitted; our churches can be either High or Low Church, and worship styles may range from the very simple to the elaborate.
The head of this Communion shall be the Presiding Bishop, who shall serve as the Titular Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Anglican Free Communion International. The Presiding Bishop shall be elected to this office by the Executive Council of Bishops and the Provincial Archbishops for a term of five years. One more additional term of five years may be granted to the Presiding Bishop, upon election by the Executive Council of Bishops and Provincial Archbishops of the Communion. In no case may any individual who is or has held the office of Presiding Bishop for the Communion, serve in this office for more than ten years total.
The Presiding Bishop shall hold office under, and have privileges, powers, authority and duties as are defined by the Constitution, Canons and Regulations made by or under the authority of the Executive Council of Bishops and shall exercise all the rights and perform all the duties of the office of a Metropolitan Archbishop.
The Presiding Bishop shall summon and preside over meetings of the General Synod, and is the Principal Minister of the Anglican Free Communion International.
The Presiding Bishop or their designee shall be an ex-officio member of all Committees, Boards, Commissions and Councils that may be appointed under any provision of this Constitution or of any Canon enacted by the Executive Council of Bishops.
In addition to their functions as Metropolitan Archbishop, the Presiding Bishop shall have the following functions:
To have general supervision over the whole of the Anglican Free Communion International in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution and the Canons of this Communion.
To confirm the appointment of any person duly elected as Bishop in the Communion and to arrange for their consecration if they are not already consecrated.
To preside when so required by Regulations pertaining thereto at the hearing of appeals in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution concerning the trial of Bishops, Clergy, or Laity, and also on other occasions when the Executive Council of Bishops sits as a court.
To represent the Anglican Free Communion International in its relationship with the rest of the Anglican World and other Churches in communion with it and on its behalf to correspond with other Prelates.
To perform such other functions prescribed by this Constitution or as may from time to time be entrusted to them by the General Synod or the Executive Council of Bishops.
During a vacancy in the Office of the Presiding Bishop, or during illness or other incapacity of the Presiding Bishop, the Chancellor of the Anglican Free Communion International shall have authority to perform all the duties of the Presiding Bishop and shall be styled, Acting Presiding Bishop.
In the absence of the Presiding Bishop from any meeting of the General Synod or any Committee, Council, Board or Commission, constituted under the Constitution or any Canon of the synod, unless otherwise provided, the Chancellor or their designee of the Communion shall preside.
The office of the Presiding Bishop may become vacant after –
- She or he dies;
- Has held office for a term not to exceed five years from the date of their presentation or reached a total of ten years of tenure, or when attaining the age of eighty years, whichever first occurs;
- Having given notice of their intention to resign or retire, and the Chancellor has, in consultation with the Executive Council of Bishops, accepted their resignation;
- The Presiding Bishop may be required to retire or resign by a resolution supported by a majority (not less than two-thirds) of the Executive Council of Bishops; or,
- Upon representation made to the Chancellor by at least two Archbishops of the Communion, that his/her appointment as Presiding Bishop should be terminated for cause.
In all cases, the current Presiding Bishop shall be provided an equitable opportunity to defend himself/herself against any charges that may have been brought against them when a retirement or resignation of any kind was not found to be mutually agreeable. Such defense proceedings shall be attended to by the current Chancellor, and not less than two-thirds of either the Executive Council of Bishops or the Provincial Archbishops, as may be requested by the defendant to assure a fair hearing. Each attendee in these proceedings shall retain one vote, as may be pertaining to any outcome of these proceedings. A majority vote shall be required to establish any decision arrived at. All things shall be done orderly in the Church of Christ (I Corinthians 14:40).
The fundamental principles of The Anglican Free Communion International are based upon the Holy Scriptures. Therefore all clergy are expected to live according to its teachings and avoid and refrain from that which is destructive to the Christian life and hence dishonorable to God.
All clergy are earnestly admonished to:
Maintain high ethical and moral values in all their dealings, ecclesiastically, personally and professionally;
Respect one another’s differences in religious beliefs, including differences in doctrine, style of worship, as well as the personalities of other Christians, as all seek to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit for themselves;
Only speak in edifying ways with regards to others, including Christian ministers, ministries, and the Body of Christ at large; and,
Treat all with whom they come into contact as they would like to be treated.
Clergy of the communion must pledge to work alongside their brothers and sisters in the ministry of the Church, performing their duties to the best of their abilities within the Church and for the glory of Almighty God and the Lord Jesus Christ. They must respect the determinations of their ecclesiastical authority, be it their Provincial Archbishop, the Presiding Bishop and/or the Executive Council of Bishops.
The Anglican Free Communion International does not provide any economic remuneration for work as a clergy, and members are not employees of this Communion. This does not exclude the possibility that, at times, one of the churches of the Communion or one of its members may make a contribution for a specific ministerial need.
All persons accepted or ordained as clergy in the Anglican Free Communion International will receive the authority to exercise their priestly ministry but must know they are personally and solely accountable for their actions to both ecclesiastic and civil authorities.
All persons ordained by, or incardinated into, The Anglican Free Communion International are independent ministers in the daily functions of their respective ministries. That is, neither the minister nor the Communion is or can be an agent for or of the other and each minister is fully and individually responsible for their actions, legal issues, financial needs, and/or contractual obligations.
The Communion does not assume any legal responsibility for its ministers or associated ministers. All clergy are independent ministers and responsible for their own actions, including but not limited to, any and all financial and fiscal responsibilities, contracts or liabilities and the commission or omission of any action. However, each clergy member is answerable for ecclesiastical matters to the Communion and comes under the Episcopal oversight of their Bishop, Provincial Archbishop, the Presiding Bishop or the Executive Council of Bishops. If an investigation finds that a serious violation of Christian ethics, morals or values has indeed been committed, certain sanctions of this Constitution and By-Laws may be applied, up to and including removal, revocation, and/or nullification of the clergy member’s faculties within this Communion. Clergy membership and ministerial standing in The Anglican Free Communion International may be revoked or suspended upon proven behaviors unbecoming Christians or Ministers (I Corinthians 2:15; 5:12).
This Jurisdiction is not a member of the Anglican Communion based in Canterbury and York, England. The Anglican Free Communion International, also known as The Episcopal Free Church during its initial inception, has become a worldwide fellowship of free and autonomous Anglican Provinces that are in full communion with the AFCI Presiding Bishop, who acts as “primus inter pares” – first among equals.
This communion of Anglican Free churches was founded on November 2, 1897, in England, by Bishops Leon Checkemian, James Martin and Andrew A. MacLaglen. Although the Anglican Free Communion International has no official ties with the Church of England and therefore has no official links with the Archbishop of Canterbury, it shows great respect for that venerable office and considers it as a symbol of unity for all Anglicans, whether in full communion with Canterbury or not. Nonetheless, most, if not all bishops in the AFCI do retain lines of Apostolic Succession to several historic Anglican Prelates.
The Anglican Free Communion International welcomes the affiliation of other jurisdictions, churches, denominations or communions as full members, partners, or affiliates, seeking either communion or full intercommunion status.
The Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council of Bishops shall have exclusive power to approve provisions with regard to Discipline. In particular: to prescribe and define offences for which a Bishop, Priest or Deacon or any member of the Laity of this Communion may be tried; and, to determine the constitution and rules of procedure of Diocesan, Provincial and final appellate Tribunals for the exercise of Ecclesiastical discipline and the establishment of a final Court of Appeal for those purpose.
A Bishop, Priest or Deacon of a Diocese of this Communion, against whom a charge is brought that may lead to excardination or removal of faculties within this Communion, shall be tried in accordance with the accepted provisions of Ecclesiastical Discipline. All such investigations and deliberations on these matters, though carried out at the Diocesan or Provincial level, shall be overseen by the Executive Council of Bishops.
The Anglican Free Communion International recognizes that God calls all members of the Body of Christ to be ministers and witnesses to the Gospel in their lives and in society (I Peter 2:9).
This Communion, as a part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, recognizes that God calls some to be apostles (bishops), prophets, missionaries, evangelists, shepherds, chaplains, overseers, pastors (priests), deacons, and teachers. Such servants are called to prepare all God’s people for service to others and for the building up of the Body of Christ.
Ordination by the Anglican Free Communion International is the rite whereby one so called is recognized and authorized to perform their ministerial duties under the auspices of The Anglican Free Communion International and under the spiritual oversight of their bishop.
Clergy of other Christian backgrounds wanting to join The Anglican Free Communion International may be considered for incardination, given proper education and experience, and with the approval of their local Ordinary, Provincial Archbishop or the Executive Council of Bishops.
Ordinations performed by other jurisdictions or religious institutions will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, not so as to exclude aspirants to ordained ministry, rather to ensure uniformity and consistency with ministerial standards and the grace of Apostolic Succession as espoused by this jurisdiction. In all cases, opportunities for inclusion and ecclesiastical recognition shall be given the utmost respect and opportunity to the fullest extent possible within this Constitution.
Clergy of The Anglican Free Communion International – The Free Episcopal Church – may propose amendments to this Constitution and Bylaws. Such proposed amendments shall be submitted in writing to the Executive Council of Bishops. They shall first be reviewed and sent through their respective Provincial Archbishop.
The Presiding Bishop, with the assistance of the Executive Council of Bishops, will prayerfully vote to modify the Constitution for the Communion. Individuals submitting proposals of this nature, have the right to receive an explanation for a denial of their requested modification.
Humbly submitted to this Communion, and for the edification of the Body of Christ,The Presiding Bishop and Executive Council of Bishops of the Anglican Free Communion International
//Bishop Raul E. Toro Jr., Secretary General//