So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
The moral to John Godfrey Saxe's poem "The Blindmen and the Elephant" -- that famous parable quoted by preachers and other middle-managers -- is a warning to those who would say too clearly just what anything as anomalous as an Anglican Communion was/is/will be. Church? Federation? Confederation? Koinonia?
Take the question of the proposed Anglican Covenant. There are those (groping in the dark and holding the trunk of the elephant) who say the Covenant will make "a 'loose-knit federation' of autonomous churches." Blogger Malcolm French says that's really no shocker, given the history.
International Anglicanism has always been a relationship among autonomous churches. While there were occasional communications among the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church in the United States in the early days, the actual relationship was largely one of (mostly benign) neglect. The English church did assist the Scottish 'Piskies to re-establish episcopacy, and the two British churches both ordained bishops for the Americans.
... neither [the English nor the Scots] ever claimed authority. In each case, the Americans discerned for themselves what advice to take and what to leave aside. They did reinstate the Nicene Creed into the eucharistic rite, as suggested by the Church of England. They did not accept the English advice to accord more power to the House of Bishops than to the House of Deputies.
French was confirmed and ordained by The Most Rev. Michael Peers, who in 2000 penned a definition of the elephant based on his actually having seen it.
[W]orldwide Anglicanism is a communion, not a church. The Anglican Church of Canada is a church. The Church in the Province of the West Indies is a church. The Episcopal Church of Sudan is a church. The Anglican Communion is a 'koinonia' of churches.
We have become that for many reasons, among which are the struggles of the sixteenth century and an intuition about the value of inculturation, rooted in the Incarnation, which has led us to locate final authority within local churches.
We are not a papal church and we are not a confessional church. We are autonomous churches held together in a fellowship of common faith dating from the creeds and councils, recognizing the presidency of a primus inter pares (the Archbishop of Canterbury), often struggling with inter-church and intra-church tension, but accepting that as the price of the liberty and autonomy that we cherish.
As I said to the members of the Council of General Synod last month, the price of this includes a certain measure of messiness.' [Power in the Church: Prelates, Confessions, Anglicans The Arnold Lecture, December 6, 2000, Halifax, Nova Scotia]