The Anglican Church has existed for many centuries, and many
of the concepts, objects, and rituals have not changed a
great deal since the days of the 12 Apostles. The language of our
everyday world has evolved, but the language of our church is
very old. As a result, many church words are unfamiliar to modern
people. This section of our web site is a collection of
explanations of what those words mean.
The word "Anglican"
just means "English" or "of England". It is
rarely used to describe anything besides the Anglican Church, and
there it just means that our branch of the church began in
England. In England the Anglican Church is referred to as the
Church of England.
For full detail see our page
devoted to an explanation of this term. It is a concept by
which Anglican churches are unified: a church either is, or is
not, a member of the Anglican Communion. Those that are not are
often called "continuing" churches, and sometimes
called "breakaway" churches.
The original bishops
were by legend consecrated by one of the 12 apostles, to be their
successors. These successor bishops later consecrated more
bishops, so that there would always be bishops. This chain of
consecration is called "apostolic succession." There is
documentation tracing the chain of consecration back to the early
2nd century, to people who were no doubt the successors of the
Twelve, but no scholarly proof exists to document the chain of
succession during the very earliest days of the church.
See also "BISHOP".
An Archbishop is a Bishop who has
additional responsibilities. Some archbishops have "metropolitan
authority" over other bishops, while other archbishops are
simply the chairman of the House of Bishops, with no special
powers. This term is becoming less widely used, in favor of the
term "Presiding Bishop".
The word "archdiocese"
is not used in the Anglican church. It is a Roman Catholic word.
An Anglican Archbishop is in charge of a diocese.
An autonomous church
is a church that governs itself. The Anglican
Communion consists of about 40 autonomous churches, most of
which are associated with specific countries and are therefore
often called "national
A Bishop is a
successor to one of the Twelve Apostles, who has been consecrated
by other Bishops. The unbroken chain of consecration of Bishops
reaching back to the Twelve is called Apostolic Succession. The
word "Episcopal" is derived from the Greek word for
"Bishop", which is Episcopos. The phrase "epi
skopos" in Greek means "over sight." In Latin it
became "episcopus", in Old English it was "biscop",
which came to be pronounced "bishop" and later spelled
that way too.
BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER
The Book of Common
Prayer is the primary source of worship material and liturgy in
the Anglican church. The first Book of Common Prayer was written
in 1549 by Thomas Cranmer. See http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/ for more information.
A Canon, in the
singular, is either a law or rule (see below) or a person. A
person referred to as a Canon may be a member of a chapter or
college of priests, typically the chapter of a cathedral. It is
sometimes used as an honorary title bestowed on a person who is
not a priest but who does faithful work in support of the church.
The canons of the
church are its laws or rules. See our
section on church governance for more information.
A Cathedral is a
Church that is the home church, or "see", of the bishop
of a diocese. Cathedrals are usually administered by a priest who
is referred to as the Dean of that Cathedral. In some places the
Dean of a Cathedral is known instead as its Provost.
A Cathedral is the
church that contains the official stall or seat of the diocesan
bishop. This stall is called the throne or cathedra, from which
derives the adjective "cathedral" as in "cathedral
church", which later in common usage became a noun.
The word "Communion"
has two different but related meanings here. The most common
meaning is as the name of the Christian sacramental meal,
equivalent to the Lord's Supper; often called eucharist. The
second meaning is as part of the phrase Anglican
Communion, which see. The link between these two meanings of
the word is that in order to be "in communion with"
someone you must be willing to share communion with them.
Being a deacon is the
initial level of being ordained in the Anglican Church. In some
churches Deacon is a lay order;
in the Anglican Church, deacons are ordained. Deacons often have
special clerical duties; by tradition the Gospel is read by the
deacon if one is available.
A deanery is an
organizational unit that is larger than a parish and smaller than a diocese. Not every diocese is divided into
deaneries, but some are. If a diocese has more than one bishop,
sometimes each bishop is responsible for a separate deanery.
The Diocese is the
fundamental unit of structure of the Anglican church. Every
diocese is the seat of a Bishop. In
general a diocese contains many parishes and churches, and normally dioceses are combined into larger
administrative units called Provinces and National
The Episcopal Church
is the official U.S. name for the Anglican church. It was
certainly in use as an unofficial descriptor for the kind of
church that we had, long before there was a need to have an
official name for the church.
After the 1776 war of
independence from England, and the subsequent war in 1812, any
word that reminded people of England was unpopular in the U.S.,
so the church was called "Episcopal" rather than "Church
The U.S. is once
again friendly with England and the UK, but the name "Episcopal"
has remained in preference to the more-recent "Anglican."
In Scotland the church is also called Episcopal; this is probably
based on times when the Scots noticed that they were at war with
the English, and wishing for similar reasons to avoid a word that
reminded people of England.
Anglicans often use
the word Eucharist instead of the words Mass or Communion. The
prayer book says "The Holy Eucharist is the sacrament
commanded by Christ for the continual remembrance of his life,
death, and resurrection, until his coming again.... The Holy
Eucharist is also called the Lord's Supper, and Holy Communion;
it is also known as the Divine Liturgy, the Mass, and the Great
One will often see a
church bulletin that says something like "9:00: Morning
Prayer; 11:00: Holy Eucharist." This means that the church
will offer a 9:00 service that follows the "Morning Prayer"
section of the prayer book, followed by an 11:00 service that
follows the "Holy Eucharist" section of the prayer book.
Included in the "Holy Eucharist" section of the prayer
book is the receiving of communion, which is the Eucharist itself.
Each of the member
churches of the Anglican
Communion has some process by which it governs itself. In the
United States, the Episcopal Church holds a General Convention
every 3 years, at which the canons of
the church are updated.
A General Synod is
the same kind of event as a General Convention, but in different
countries. For example, England, Canada, Australia, and New
Zealand hold periodic General Synods as part of their church
The term "holy
orders" is a way of referring to ordination: an ordained
person such as a priest or deacon is spoken of as "being in holy orders," meaning that
the person has made priestly vows, received the laying-on of
hands, and has been admitted (by a bishop)
into one of the levels of ordination.
Opposite of "Clergy." This word means "not
ordained". A lay person, or layman, is one who is not a
priest or deacon. A lay society is one whose members do not take
National Church is a Province, but in the Anglican church the word "Province" has a
meaning that is both unusual and ambiguous. The Anglican
Communion consists of about 40 Autonomous Churches, most of
which are associated with a particular country. In conversation
that requires one to speak about this concept, most people use
the phrase "national church" to describe an independent (autonomous) member of the Anglican Communion. Many national churches are
subdivided into provinces, but those provinces are not autonomous (they are part of, and
governed by, a national church). Some national churches are not
divided into provinces, with the result that the church in its
entirety is often referred to as a province.
a person means to have that person participate in a special
ceremony in which someone with the correct authority gives them
new status. The ordination must follow the requirements set down
in the church canons.
In our church, the ceremony in which a person is ordained is
called an "ordination," and it is performed by a bishop,
by prayer for the Holy Spirit and by the laying of hands upon the
candidate. Until a person is ordained, that person is called "lay," or
a member of the "laity".
A parish is the
smallest unit of administration within the Anglican church. Most
parishes have just one church, called the parish church. Some
parishes have more than one church; this instance is usually
found in areas with sparse or declining population, so that only
the clergy need travel far. Parishes combine into dioceses.
a special term for the minister of a Roman Catholic, Anglican, or
Orthodox church. Historically, the term meant someone who
performed a sacrifice; later the term referred to those who said
Mass. A person becomes a priest by being ordained by a bishop.
Most bishops require special training for this, which is
typically obtained in a theological college or seminary.
is an administrative division of the church that is bigger than a
diocese and smaller than the whole world. Many national churches
are divided into provinces; for example, Canada is divided into
four administrative provinces and Australia into five. And
Australia has one diocese that is not in any Province; it is
called "extra-provincial". In general no one cares
about these provinces except church employees. The word "province"
does not appear anywhere in the web site of the Anglican Church
of Canada except in the minutes of the General Synod.
In some parts of the
world, typically those that were never English colonies, the
number of Anglicans is small enough that there are not individual
national churches. The Province of Central America has several
countries, as does the Province of Central Africa.
province is one that spans more than one country.
A rector is a priest who is
the leader of a parish.
The word vestry has
two meanings that are more or less unrelated, though they have a
common origin. A vestry is a room in which people put on
vestments, or robes. A changing room. Since people typically do
not take off their street clothes to put on vestments, a vestry
room is not a private place but often rather more of an alcove.
A vestry can also be
like a board of directors for a parish. In many provinces of the
Anglican Communion, including those in North America, the
business affairs of a parish are managed by a vestry that
consists of members elected from the congregation.
meaning similar to "rector." The difference between "vicar" and "rector"
has to do with money. A vicar is the priest in charge of a parish
or mission that is supported financially from the outside, while
a rector is the priest in charge of a self-supporting church. In
England most churches are supported by their diocese, so most of
the priests in charge of English churches are vicars. In many
other countries, notably the USA, most churches are self-supporting,
so most of the priests in charge of them are rectors.
is normally a house occupied by a clergyperson who usually (but
not always) turns out to be a Vicar rather than a Rector.
A church warden is an
appointed administrative position in a parish church. Usually one
finds two wardens, called Junior Warden and Senior Warden, or
perhaps People's Warden and Rector's Warden. They have specific
duties pertaining to the earthly operation of the parish.