Anglican Communion: Polity, the Episcopal Church & Canon Law

Instructor Information

Lawrence R. Hitt II, J.D.
Chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado
Adjunct Professor, Iliff School of Theology
Office Hours:  By Appointment, I-409, lliff Hall
Telephone: O: 303-627-9400

Course Description

Important Note to Students: In light of the fact that the number of students enrolled in the course this term is low, and therefore permits the instructor to customize and individualize the course to better fit the needs of the students, the Syllabus and this Course Description are only a general guideline of the goals and structure of this course. The Professor will consult with each student individually to assess his or her needs, interests and vocational goals.  We will then customize the course with respect to topics, reading list and assignments, project(s) and evaluation.  My hope is to reflect that individualization in a written agreement which will include my expectations of each student's commitment, work load, communication, interaction and performance, so that the goals of the course, and of the student, are achieved.

I hope to have this initial work completed within a few days and I would ask each student to send me his or her contact information no later than Thursday, March 28, 2019 by email to

Please include in your email the following information:  (i) full name, address, email and telephone contact information, (ii) your Diocese, (iii) your significant education and career experience, (iv) your experience as a volunteer, lay leader, employee or otherwise in your parish, diocese and/or The Episcopal Church, (v) your reason for taking this course, (vi) whether you are on an ordination track, and (vii) anything else that you think I should know as begin our work together.  Also, please tell me (viii) if you are planning on visiting Iliff for the Gathering Days this term, and, finally, (ix) suggest a couple of times for an initial telephone conversation which I expect would take 15 to 20 minutes or so, on Monday. Tuesday or Wednesday next week.  I very much look forward to getting to know each of you!

Description of This Course:  In a paper prepared for a 2007 conference entitled (in part) “Why Polity and Canon Law Matter,” the Rt. Rev. Stacy F. Sauls, former Bishop of Lexington and former Chief Operating Officer of The Episcopal Church, opened with the following:

I am pleased beyond measure that this conference has elected to include a consideration of polity along with that most dreaded fifth horseman of the Apocalypse, canon law.  Neither is really as mysterious, and certainly not as malevolent, as some would suggest.  Neither is arcane, nor despite the fact that they are legal, legalistic.  Both are simply applied ecclesiology, which means they are entirely theological in nature.  Both are disciplines that may well help us think through our current challenges.  Both are relationally and spiritually healthy, as they express the agreed-upon boundaries of our community life. …. Polity and canon law are the security of God’s people against the wrongful exercise of power.  
(From “The Wisdom of the Constitution,” The Rt. Rev. Stacy F. Sauls, December 5, 2007, delivered at Seabury-Western Seminary).

It goes without saying that the bishop’s reference to “current challenges” in the Anglican Communion was quite an understatement. The Anglican Communion seemingly continues on a path to what perhaps may be monumental change.  What some would call a "rival" conference of Anglican bishops from the global South has evolved.  Reports of imminent schism have come and gone and now a new and independent "Anglican" church in North America (not recognized as an official church of the Anglican Communion) is being promoted by those who have left The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.  Entire dioceses have attempted to leave The Episcopal Church and litigation about property has arisen throughout the country.

Interest in the structure and governance of the Anglican Communion has probably never been more timely.  What exactly is the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion?  What is the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury? How did the Primates acquire (seemingly) so much authority?  What are the consequences when one member church takes actions which are offensive to other member churches in the Communion?  

What are the “instruments of communion” in the Anglican Communion and how have they evolved over time?  Why does the church, at every level, need rules expressed as canon law? 

Does an Episcopal Bishop have any meaningful power and authority?  How does The Episcopal Church make decisions? The polity of the Episcopal Church is somewhat complicated, yet it arguably has served the church reasonably well for over 200 years. And, by the way, what in the world is “polity?”

Students will develop an appreciation for, and an understanding of, the polity of the Anglican Communion: how it evolved from the Church of England and grew into an international church with significant visibility and stature in the world.  We will examine the structure of the Communion and the legal ramifications of that structure.  We will identify the instruments of communion and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.  

We will develop a similar understanding of, and familiarity with, The Episcopal Church, with a brief overview of its development and history, but with special attention to its governance and structure. This will include examination of the governance of dioceses and of parishes, as well.  

It will be important to become familiar with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, as well as the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Colorado.  If any student intends to be ordained in another diocese, please advise Professor Hitt.

Course Goals

  1. To understand the polity of the Anglican Communion, assess the efficacy of the instruments of communion and identify the  basic legal relationships among the churches in communion with Canterbury 
  2. To understand how The Episcopal Church is governed at all levels, from the parish to the diocese to the General Convention.
  3. To develop an appreciation for the role of canon law in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

Text Books

  1. The Episcopalians, David Hein and Gardiner Shattuck (2004, Church Publishing, New York) 
  2. The Study of Anglicanism, Stephen Sykes, John Booty, Jonathon Knight (London,1988, revised 1998)
  3. A History of The Episcopal Church, Robert W. Prichard, (1999) or Revised Version (2014).   
  4. “Shared Governance -  Polity of The Episcopal Church” (Church Publishing Inc., 2012)
  5. Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, (2012, Church Publishing,  New York)

Available online, at Iliff library (although it apparently no longer puts books on reserve) or through Professor Hitt:

  1. Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Colorado (2012 as amended)
  2. Canon Law in the Anglican Communion, Norman Doe (Oxford, 1998)
  3. Wiley-Blackwell Companion to the Anglican Communion, Ian Markham et al (2013)

Students will be expected to complete all the assigned readings.

Course Requirements and Evaluation

Canon law and church polity are best explored through in-depth readings, research, group discussion and debate.  Accordingly, ongoing participation in substantive discussion is an important component of a student’s grade.  Each student will be expected to (i) lead a discussion topic (Tuesday and Thursday) for a week and (ii) prepare and deliver a Final Exam or Paper, which may include a power point presentation at the end of the term.

Evaluation of student performance will be based on the following: 

Online Discussion 35%
Lead Discussion Topic 15%
Final Exam or Project 50%

Course Expectations

Incompletes:  If incompletes are allowed in this course, see the Master's Student Handbook for Policies and Procedures.

Pass/Fail:  Masters students wishing to take the class pass/fail should discuss this with the instructor by the second class session.

Academic Integrity and Community Covenant:  All students are expected to abide by Iliff’s statement on Academic Integrity, as published in the Masters Student Handbook, or the Joint PhD Statement on Academic Honesty, as published in the Joint PhD Student Handbook, as appropriate.  All participants in this class are expected to be familiar with Iliff’s Community Covenant.

Accommodations:  Iliff engages in a collaborative effort with students with disabilities to reasonably accommodate student needs.   Students are encouraged to contact their assigned advisor to initiate the process of requesting accommodations.  The advising center can be contacted at or by phone at 303-765-1146. 

Writing Lab:  Grammar and organization are important for all written assignments.  Additional help is available from the Iliff Writing Lab, which is available for students of any level who need help beginning an assignment, organizing thoughts, or reviewing a final draft. 

Inclusive Language:  It is expected that all course participants will use inclusive language in speaking and writing, and will use terms that do not create barriers to classroom community. 

Mar 28, 2019ThuIntroduce Yourselfdue by 05:59AM
Apr 10, 2019WedEpiscopal Church: Basic Characteristics and Developmentdue by 05:59AM
Apr 17, 2019WedEpiscopal Church Polity: General Conventiondue by 05:59AM
Apr 24, 2019WedEpiscopal Church Polity: Diocesan and Parish Governancedue by 05:59AM
May 01, 2019WedOptional Independent Study One: Crisis in the Episcopal Church: Property and Break-Away Disputesdue by 05:59AM
May 08, 2019WedOptional Independent Study Two: Title IV and Clergy Disciplinedue by 05:59AM
May 15, 2019WedOptional Independent Study Unit Three: To Be Agreed Upon by Prof. Hitt and Each Studentdue by 05:59AM
May 29, 2019WedFinal Projectdue by 11:00PM
Jun 01, 2019SatParticipationdue by 05:59AM