Anglicans Online
Worldwide Anglicanism Anglican Dioceses and Parishes
Noted Recently News Archives Start Here The Anglican Communion Africa Australia BIPS Canada
Search, Archives Official Publications Anglicans Believe... In Full Communion England Europe Hong Kong Ireland
Resource directory   The Prayer Book Not in the Communion Japan New Zealand Nigeria Scotland
    The Bible B South Africa USA Wales WorldB
This page last updated 16 November 2014  


THIS SECTION is a listing of frequently used terms in the Anglican Communion. To submit an additional term and definition for our consideration, use this link.



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".


See "Deanery".


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 churches."



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.


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 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.


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.


A curate is an assistant to the person in charge of a parish, which person is normally a vicar or rector or priest-in-charge.



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 Churches.



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, the US got its first bishop, but he was consecrated in Scotland for various reasons. The Scottish church was at that time generally known as Episcopalian, and any word that reminded people of England was unpopular in the U.S., so the church was called "Episcopal" after the Scottish usage. The Scottish church did not evolve from the Church of England; it evolved in parallel from the mediaeval Christian 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."


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 Offering."

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 governance process.



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.






Also "Laity". 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 holy orders.



A "mission" is a church in some location that is administratively part of a church in another location. In former centuries it was common to refer to the staff of a mission as "missionaries", but that term is no longer in common use. A large urban parish church might open a mission church in an impoverished section of its city, knowing that a church there would not be self supporting. In recent years there have been several cases of Anglican churches in one country opening a mission in another country because they believe that the Anglicans there are Godless heathens. This is one reason why the Archbishop of Canterbury has less hair now than he did when he was first enthroned.



Technically a 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.



To "ordain" 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.


"Priest" is 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.


A "Province" 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.

A transnational province is one that spans more than one country.




A rector is a priest who is the leader of a self-supporting parish. If the parish is not self supporting, its leader is usually referred to as a vicar.




See "province."




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.


"Vicar" has 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


A "Vicarage" 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.




This web site is independent. It is not official in any way. Our editorial staff is private and unaffiliated. Please contact about information on this page. ©1997-2024 Society of Archbishop Justus