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Church Terminology

The Anglican Church has a long history, so some of the words we use go back a long way and may be unfamiliar. This glossary may help you find your way around in your day-to-day dealings with all aspects of the Anglican Church. This list isn’t exhaustive, so let us know if you have suggestions of words we might add.


The table on which the Eucharist is celebrated. It’s placed in a central position in the church as the focus of worship.

Altar guild

A group of people who make sure everything is cleaned and made ready for the celebration of the Eucharist. (sometimes called a Chancel Guild).


As a noun, it refers to members of churches descended from the Church of England, such as the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Anglican Church of Canada and others. As an adjective, it describes traditions or teachings associated with those churches.

Anglican Communion

Those churches around the world, including the Anglican Church of Canada, that are in communion with the Church of England and that hold the same faith, order and worship.

Anglican Consultative Council

A body of bishops, priests and lay representatives of the Province of the Anglican Communion. They meet every three years in different parts of the Communion to discuss matters of common concern.


Anglicans who identify with Catholic teaching and liturgical practice and hold a high view of the authority of clergy and tradition. Anglo-Catholics are sometimes called “high church” because of their emphasis on the divine nature of the Church as the mystical body of Christ.

Apostolic succession

The doctrine that the authority and the mission given by Jesus to the Apostles have descended in a direct and unbroken line of bishops to the bishops of today.


A title given to Metropolitan bishops and the Primate.


A clergy person appointed by the bishop to provide administrative assistance and other leadership as assigned by the bishop to congregations and church organizations in the diocese.


A geographical subdivision of a diocese under the oversight of an archdeacon.


The 39 Articles of Religion were adopted in 1559 as a balanced statement of the Anglican position on a number of disputed topics. They can be found in the Book of Common Prayer.

Assessment, diocesan

The amount charged to the congregations to fund the annual unified budget of diocesan expenditures.

Assistant curate

Similar to an associate priest, the assistant curate assists the incumbent (see definition). However, an assistant curate is a cleric in the first two years of ordained ministry who is in training before an incumbency or appointment as priest-in-charge.

Associate priest

A cleric appointed by the bishop to assist the incumbent (see definition).

Baptism (or Holy Baptism)

Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church. The bond that God establishes in baptism is indissoluble.


A priest chosen by the diocese to be ordained as bishop and to have authority and pastoral care of the diocese. In the House of Bishops, all Canadian bishops meet to discuss issues and concerns, and to formulate guidelines governing the life of the Church. A coadjutor bishop is one who will become the next diocesan bishop upon the retirement of the present bishop. Suffragan, assistant and area bishops assist the diocesan bishop and may have responsibility for a particular area of the diocese, but don’t automatically become the next diocesan bishop.

Book of Alternative Services (BAS)

The Book of Alternative Services is the primary worship text used for Sunday services and other major celebrations in most parishes of the Anglican Church of Canada. It uses modern language.

Book of Common Prayer (BCP)

The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is the traditional prayer book used in many Anglican churches throughout the world, with local variations. The original book was published in England in 1549 and has been revised many times. The BCP used in Canada was originally compiled in 1962. Many Anglican churches in the Diocese have adopted the Book of Alternative Services (BAS), but some still use the BCP.

  1. An honorary title granted to a senior priest or outstanding lay person. To be named a Canon of the Cathedral is an honour bestowed by the bishop to recognize exemplary service to the wider Church.
  2. A law of the Church, governing its life and discipline. There are diocesan, provincial and national canons. Canon Law is the term given to the legal interpretation of the canons.

The church where the bishop’s chair or cathedra is located. The cathedra is the symbol of the bishop’s role as chief pastor in the diocese. The cathedral is often the setting for special diocesan services and is in some sense the mother church of the diocese.


The large, stemmed cup or other vessel in which the communion wine is consecrated at the Eucharist.


In traditional architecture, the chancel is the part of the church where the choir is located.


A lawyer or judge and the senior lay officer of Synod who advises the bishop and Synod on canon and civil law.


Senior lay officers of a congregation. In some dioceses, one warden is elected by the congregation and is called the People’s Warden; the other is appointed by the incumbent and is often called the Rector’s Warden. In other dioceses, the members of the congregation elect both wardens.


The ordained members of the Church (bishops, priests and deacons).


Any member of the clergy.


Any baptized person who has been admitted to the Eucharist and normally attends worship in an Anglican church.

Companion diocese

Dioceses in different parts of the Anglican world that covenant together in a special relationship of mutual interest and support, like the twinning of cities. Many Canadian dioceses have a companion diocese relationship with dioceses in other parts of the world.


The opportunity for those baptized at an early age to make a mature public affirmation of their faith, to commit to the responsibilities of their baptism, and to receive the laying on of hands by the bishop.


Members of a local Christian community. A parish may be made up of one or more congregations.

Consecration of a bishop

The liturgy in which a priest becomes a bishop.

Deacon, or vocational deacon

A person ordained to a ministry of service, both in the church and in the world. A deacon assists at the Eucharist but doesn’t preside. Some people are ordained deacons for life (vocational deacons); others are ordained to the diaconate before later being ordained a priest. Liturgically, a deacon reads the Gospel, sets the table, leads the Prayers of the People and dismisses the congregation.


Usually the rector of a cathedral parish. The dean may also be given diocesan responsibilities by the bishop.


A region within an archdeaconry within which the clergy and laity consult on matters affecting church life in their area. Meetings are convened by the Regional Dean.


A special ministry of servanthood of deacons directly under the Bishop. In the name of Jesus Christ, the diaconate are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the sick and the lonely.


All congregations within a given geographical area, overseen by a bishop and organized in accordance with the canons of the Church.


An adjective meaning of or pertaining to bishops. From the Greek word episcopoi (overseers). The Anglican Church in the United States is known as The Episcopal Church (or TEC).

Eucharist, the

Also known as the Holy Eucharist or Holy Communion. The principal service of worship, which reenacts the Lord’s Supper. From the Greek word meaning Thanksgiving.


Anglicans who identify with the teachings of Protestantism and the Reformed tradition, emphasizing Scripture and the importance of individual conscience. Evangelicals are sometimes called low church because they believe Christ allows great freedom in organizing the church and its liturgical practices.

Holy Orders

The sacrament of ordination, which marks the entry of the candidate into the ordained ministry. The orders of bishops, priests and deacons are termed Holy Orders.


A cleric to whom the Bishop has designated the care of a parish. Incumbents are appointed by the Bishop on the recommendation of a Parish Selection Committee.


The root of the word for intercession is intercede, which means to plead or ask on someone’s behalf. The term intercessions is used for a selection of prayers which remember the needs of and intercede for others.

Interim priest

A priest who is retained for a specific period of time while a search for a new priest/incumbent is being conducted, with a written contract specifying responsibilities and compensation. An Interim Priest is not usually eligible to become the new incumbent.

Lay person (pl. laity)

Baptized members of the Church, as distinct from the clergy, i.e., those who are not ordained bishop, priest or deacon.


A stand that holds the Bible and from which the lessons of the day are read. Sometimes it’s in the shape of an eagle.


The manner, ritual and ceremonies by which we worship.


All the baptized members of the Church who are carrying out their ministry to worship God and to serve others. Some people have special ministries: wardens, church school teachers, choir members, assistants in worship. Certain ministries in the Church require that a person be ordained.


The main body of the church where pews or chairs are located on which the congregation sits during worship services. The word means ship, describing the church as it carries its members on their pilgrimage.


A cleric who does not receive a salary.


A person called, tested and approved by the Church and set apart or ordained by a bishop for special ministry as a bishop, priest or deacon.

Ordination to the Priesthood

The liturgy in which a person is made a priest.


A geographical area in which a priest, deacon or lay person is licensed to serve the church. A parish may be made up of one or more congregations.

Parish Council

The decision-making body in a parish. In some parishes it is known as Vestry.


A baptized person who worships in a parish.


The plate on which the bread rests during Holy Communion.


A person admitted by the bishop into the formal preparation for the ordained ministry.


Presbyter See Priest. The term priest is a contraction of the term presbyter.

Presider or presiding celebrant

The priest or bishop who presides at a celebration of the Holy Communion.


A person ordained by a bishop for the ministry of Word and Sacrament. The ministry of a priest is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as pastor to the people; to share with the bishop the overseeing of the Church; to administer the sacraments; and to proclaim the Gospel.


A priest-in-charge of a parish exercises the functions of an Incumbent (see definition) for the period of his/her appointment. A priest-in-charge is appointed by the bishop for a specific period of time or for the completion of a particular objective.


The chief or presiding bishop of a national church.


1. Grouping of dioceses. 2. A national church which is part of the Anglican Communion.


The place (in a church) from which the sermon is preached – traditionally meant to replicate the bow of a ship.


A priest to whom the bishop has designated the care of a parish. Rector has the same meaning as incumbent (see definition), but incumbent is the preferred term in a Canadian Anglican context.


The residence provided for the rector.

Regional dean

A priest appointed by the bishop as chair of a Regional Deanery, with administrative and leadership responsibilities.


The part of a church building where the altar is located.


A school or college for the training of clergy.


Traditionally a secondary order of deacons who assisted diocesan deacons in their duties and carried out certain functions at the altar, including reading the epistle of the day. Today the subdeacon is usually a lay person, often a licensed lay reader and chalice bearer, who reads the epistle and may lead the intercessory prayers in the absence of a deacon.


The governing body of a diocese made up of all the licensed clergy, lay representatives of all the parishes, ex officio members and the bishop. It meets at designated intervals to conduct the business of the diocese.

Synod Council

The body representative of clergy and laity, elected at diocesan synod to oversee the affairs of the diocese between synods.


The distinctive clothing reserved for use in the liturgy, worn by the clergy and those serving at the altar. Variations in style and colour denote the office of the wearer and the season or festival being celebrated.

  1. The room where clergy put on their vestments. 2. The decision-making body of a congregation, elected from the lay members. 3. In some parts of Canada, the annual meeting of parishioners.

A vicar is appointed by the bishop to assist the dean (see definition) of the cathedral.