Council on Foreign Relations

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 109 CFR
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      about 250 boxes

Scope and Content

Records of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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 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.

A few documents and photographs pre-date the formation of CFR.

Administrative / Biographical History

Secondary sources on CFR include:

'A brief history of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Department of Ecumenical Affairs: produced on the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the Council on Foreign Relations' [1993] (ref: Lambeth Palace Library H5025.A7)

'Exhibition for the 60th anniversary of the Church of England Council on Foreign Relations, 1933-1993' [1993] (ref: Lambeth Palace Library H5025.A7)

Earlier historical overview on eastern churches is available in Athelstan Riley, A synopsis of oriental Christianity' (occasional paper of the Eastern Church Association; various copies 1898-1910 in Lambeth Palace Library printed book collection).


CFR and G (general files)

AC (Anglican Communion)

AOC (Ancient Oriental Churches)

CFC (Churches in Full Communion)

LR/LRC (Lutheran and Reformed Churches)

OC (Orthodox Churches)

RC (Roman Catholic)

Within each section, there are the following subsections:

Minute books

Numbered documents



Photographs largely comprise loose material, but there are some albums.

It became apparent during cataloguing that the original arrangement of CFR files had been extensively altered post-1981 before the collection was transferred from Lambeth Palace to the Library.

Access Information


Other Finding Aids

Cataloguing in progress. Consult archivists regarding access to uncatalogued sections.

Custodial History

Some photographs re-numbered, but previous references are recorded in CustodialHistory.

The archive was discussed in C J Kitching's 'The central records of the Church of England: a report and survey presented to the Pilgrim and Radcliffe Trustees' (CIO Publishing, 1976), p. 34.

Related Material

Bell, Douglas and Headlam papers, including photographs.

Some photographs from the Runcie and Carey eras were stored with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) archive but since that body was dissolved early in the Runcie archiepiscopate, photographs up to and including 1981 remain with CFR, and the photographs from 1982 and onwards (where dates were clear) belong with the main Runcie and Carey archives.


Grass, Tim, The Lord's work (Eugene, 2017) [Lambeth Palace Library H6565.G7]S. Parker and T. Lawson ed. 'God and war: the Church Of England and armed conflict in the twentieth century' (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013) [Lambeth Palace Library H5157.G6]Robbins, Keith, and Fisher, John, 'Religion and Diplomacy: Religion and British Foreign Policy 1815 to 1941' (St, Louis, Dordrecht, 2010) [Lambeth Palace Library A65.I7R6]