The “four instruments of communion (unity)” which are widely mentioned in discussions of the Anglican Communion are:

  1. the Archbishop of Canterbury
  2. the Lambeth Conference
  3. the Anglican Consultative Council
  4. the Primates’ Meeting.

The four, in that order, were described as “the worldwide instruments of Communion” in The Virginia Report : the Report of the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission. The Virginia Report was commissioned by the 1988 Lambeth Conference, following a crisis in communion occasioned by the proposal of the Episcopal Church to consecrate a woman bishop. The Virginia Report was presented to the 1998 Lambeth Conference and has been widely discussed and commented upon since then.

The complete Virginia Report is available on line from the Anglican Communion web site. The chapter dealing with the four instruments, chapter six, is available here.

The Anglican Communion News Service did a story briefly listing the four instruments after the release of the Communique from the February 2005 Primates Meeting.

The instruments are also named in the Windsor Report. The section listing the four instruments can be found as part of the online version here.

Of the four instruments, only one, the Anglican Consultative Council, consists of more than bishops/archbishops. The Rt. Rev. Sue Moxley, Canada’s episcopal representative to the Anglican Consultative Council, commented on this feature of the instruments in a story in the Anglican Journal from 25 February 2005 entitled “Church sanctions could have been worse: primate“.

The June 2005 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in its Resolutions 2 “The Instruments of Unity (Communion)” stated that they:

“a. note with approval the suggestion of the Windsor Report that the Archbishop of Canterbury be regarded as the focus for unity and that the Primates’ Meeting, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council be regarded more appropriately as the `Instruments of Communion’. b. resolves that henceforth it will use this terminology for those bodies currently known as “the Instruments of Unity”.