The Church of England, a Protestant Episcopal denomination, is the state church and the nominal church of nearly three-fifths of the population. The denomination next in importance is the Roman Catholic church, which has about 6 million members in England. Among the numerous Protestant denominations are the Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist, Unitarian, and Society of Friends. England also has about 600,000 Muslims and 350,000 Jews. Large communities of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs have immigrated to England since the 1950s.
The Church of England
Henry VIII. broke away from the Roman Catholic church in the year 1534 when he made himself head of the Church of England.
Henry’s son, Edward VI., who reigned from 1547 to 1553, formulated “The Book of Common Prayer”. This was a prayer book for Protestants so that they would not have to use the catholic one.
The head of the Church is still the monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II., and after her comes the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. George Carey and then the other Archbishops, Bishops, Priests and Deacons.
The Church of England is very broad and there are generally two kinds of people within. Those who like to have a service similar to the Catholics are called high Church, they even recognise the importance of the eucharist – they receive the Body and the Blood of Christ. People with the opposite attitude are called low Church, they do not stress the eucharist, but the gospel – the preaching of the word of God.
A major debate in England at present is whether the Church of England should be established the official religion in Britain. Some people think it should represent Britain and its history, but the others, especially people of other religions say it should not be established, because it obviously does not represent them.
Though the Queen is Head, the Prime Minister appoints the Archbishop of Canterbury. This would not happen if the Church was not established, so it would not be connected with the state. Many people think the Prime Minister should not appoint the Archbishop as he may choose someone politically friendly to himself, not regarding his spiritual qualities.
Another public topic is whether the Queen should be the Head of the Church. Many say it is not necessary because she has not been elected and she also is not an Archbishop, she does not have the right to decide about religious problems when she does not have the proper education. They think the Head should be the Archbishop of Canterbury. The debate has become worse because Prince Charles had an affair while married and people do not think he should be the Head of the Church.
There is also a debate about one of the most obvious differences of the Church of England from the Catholic one, the ordination of women to the priesthood. Those who think women should not be ordained are mainly assistant provincial bishops, who organise against female priests.
Today, many people in Britain are atheists, they do not believe in God. They are called secular society. The number of them is still rising.
Since the last century there has been a growth in the number of Non-Conformists, those who do not conform to the Church of England. This includes for example Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals and many others. They are not part of the Church and they are regarded as being very low church.. However, in the last 50 years they have been loosing their numbers.
There is also the Anglican Church of Wales, which has been separated since the early 1920’s. their head is not the Queen, but the Archbishop of Wales. And there are Anglican Churches in Canada, America, Australia and various other countries.