The Council on Foreign Relations originated in resolutions passed by the Church Assembly in 1927 and 1932. Its terms of reference were the “survey and promotion of the Relations of the Church of England with Foreign Churches”, that is Churches outside the Anglican Communion, and its inaugural meeting was held on 2 February 1933 with Archbishop Lang in the chair. From 1959 until 1964 its remit was enlarged to include ecumenical relations within Great Britain, such as relations with the Church of Scotland, during which time it was known as the Church of England Council on Inter-Church Relations. The Council was the church’s official organ for dealing with overseas churches until the creation, in 1970, of the General Synod with its Board for Mission and Unity. It was reconstituted as the Archbishop of Canterbury’ s Counsellors on Foreign Relations on 1 January 1972 and its work was finally wound up in 1981 when Archbishop Runcie brought ecumenical relations within the administrative structures and staffing of Lambeth Palace.
The Council functioned through a central committee and separate committees dealing with each of the churches: the Ancient Oriental, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed, and Old Catholic Churches, all of which reported ultimately to the Archbishop of Canterbury through the Chairman and Secretary. Chairmen have included A.G. Headlam, Bishop of Gloucester, and George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, and CFR’s first Secretary was Canon John Douglas. The Headlam, Bell and Douglas Papers are all held in the Library.
The CFR papers are extensive and wide-ranging. Each committee produced minutes and series of numbered information documents for internal circulation, as well as subject files arranged by country dealing with ecumenical visits, ecumenical dialogues and exchange programmes for foreign clergy. Although they deal mainly with ecclesiastical relations they also have rich political content, especially for wartime Europe, the British Mandate in Iraq, and relations with Communist Eastern Europe. The files also deal with high-level relations with the Papacy and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and there is detailed coverage of, for example, the Second Vatican Council.