Church of England for Dummies

Since my last post about our ‘vicar’ who didn’t wear a lot on a Sunday, my dear friend Hazel kindly gave me a lesson by email called Church of England for Dummies.

I love going to the church as I’m a bit vain. I enjoy being the youngest adult for a day, though I’ve noticed some strands of white hair have already started sprouting when I look at the mirror. Old ladies would speak to me adoringly, the way they speak to an oriental foreigner. “I’ve been to China, you know? I climbed the Great Wall. Oh, those pandas in Sichuan. Aren’t they gorgeous?” Some gentlemen would take me back to the glory of the British empire, their postings in the Far East, the colonial styled Raffles Hotel in Singapore and all that. (Oh, don’t forget the awful Changi Prison!)

However, though being in the church for a few years, I’m still ignorant of the structure of the church. For example, I thought a ‘READER’ is someone who reads out the Bible during the service. There used to be a speaker with a strange title as ‘Captain’. I thought most trained ministers in the church are called vicars. Apparently, I’m quite wrong.

According to Church of England for Dummies by my friend, Hazel,

“Fiona is a priest whose local title is Associate Vicar. Technically, there is one Vicar (sometimes called a Rector, especially in country districts). He or she is the incumbent, which means that he or she is in charge of the parish. All other priests work under this person and are actually assistant curates according to the Church of England regulations. However, local titles, such as Associate Vicar, can be bestowed by the Bishop.”

“Some priests, such as Lynda Bunting are Self-supporting Priests – in other words, they are fully qualified but work unpaid. Deacons are people who have been trained at theological college and are working in a parish for a year (or longer) before being consecrated as priests by the Bishop. Michael was a Deacon when he came to us. They all have the title Reverend (Rev. or Revd.)”

“In multiple benefices – groups of parishes – there is often a Team Ministry comprising several priests working together, though one of them is usually put in charge of the others.”

Ordination -- cartoon by Dave Walker

Ordination — cartoon by Dave Walker

“Michael Smith comes from an Anglo-Catholic background – what is commonly known as High Church in the Church of England. Anglo-Catholic services follow Common Worship for communion as we do, but there is much more emphasis on robes, incense, ceremony and bells etc and often a strong music tradition.”

“Worship must be a beautiful offering to God and there is an emphasis on the sacraments. As in the Roman Catholic churches, many Anglo-Catholics like to attend formal confession to a priest, particularly before important services such as Christmas and Easter mass. (Communion or Eucharist is usually referred to as Mass in these churches).”

“Ian and Fi come from the evangelical wing of the Church of England and would put more emphasis on bible teaching and preaching than on sacraments and prefer simpler, unrobed services.”

“A Reader is a lay (as opposed to clergy)  person who has undergone several years of training and is then licensed to work in a parish. Readers can preach and teach and do pastoral work and take funerals, but they cannot officiate at baptisms or consecrate the bread and wine for communion – only an ordained priest can do these things.”

“Generally, our parish is ‘middle of the road’ being neither evangelical (apart from Church@four or anglo-catholic.”

I found the above information fascinating. I’ve created this Wordle image file based on Hazel’s inspiration:  Church of England for Dummies
CoE for Dummies

CoE for Dummies

16 thoughts on “Church of England for Dummies

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      It’s very strange indeed — a Reader is almost like a ‘priest’, but he or she is unpaid — it’s strange that a Reader can conduct a funeral but not baptism.

  1. JoV

    This is the first time someone actually tells me the difference in the various terminologies of what would be described in layman’s term a “priest”. I will come back here if I ever want to remember the difference. Thanks Janet!

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      That’s why I call it Church of England for Dummies. I’m pleased to find out I’m not the only CoE dummy……

      Hazel explained so well and I would suggest she turns it into a series.

      I’m please you find the information useful.

  2. Opalla

    This is a delightful post and I can feel your sense of humour seeping through. I still go to an Anglican church in Canada (churches are so diverse here–Presbyterian, baptist, all kinds of evangelist, and Catholic of course. I am with it for over 20 years, but after attending the church for about seven years, someone mentioned to me, “You are new to the church..”

    BTW, Reader has another meaning too in academia. Do they still have it as a designation between Senior Lecturer and Professor in England? It should be the same as a Full Professor in N. America.

  3. Ruby

    A self-supporting priest is also known as a Non-Stipendary Minister (NSM). Although nowadays there is litle differnece between a rector and a vicar, historicaly there was. With a rector, the “living” (of the parish?) is held by an individial – typically the lord of the manor; with a vicar it is held by the bishop. I’m a bit hazy, but think that the “living” is the person who appoints the rector/vicar.
    Rectors were paid by the parishoners in tithes (10% of all crops etc); vicars were paid by the bishop. I think vicars got some tithes – vegetables etc (small tithes), as opposed to the larger crops that the rectors got (“large tithes”). I’ve got something about this at home and will look it up later.
    The lectern in a Church of England church is often in the shape of an eagle. This is a C of E thing, but I can’t remeber why (or why it is an eagle). There used to be tradition (or rule) that the epistle was read from one side of the church and the gospel from the other, but that seems to have died out now – in most churches I’ve been to recently, the gospel is read from the centre.
    Church of England ministers have a legal duty to attend to the pastoral care of all parishoners, not just those that go to the CofE church.

    1. Ruby

      Just to clarify my comment about the living. The “living” is the position of a vicar or rector with an income or property. The patron of the living is someone who ‘owns’ the living or patronage of a church. In the past he/she had the right to appoint most church officials in their parish and most of all the actual vicar/rector, which was often a way to give younger members of their families jobs. Nowadays the position is merely a title and has no meaning but some patrons still have a say in the choosing of future vicars. I think that the patron of the living is the bishop for a vicar, and someone else (lord of the manor etc.) for a rector. However, like most things in the Church of England, there are probably numerous examples where this is not the case.

      According to Bill Bryson, vicars were stand-ins for rectors but this distinction had largely faded away by the mid-nineteenth century. A clergyman’s pay came from rents and tithes. Great tithes came from main crops like wheat and barley and went to rectors; small tithes came from vegetable gardens and other incidental crops and went to vicars. This meant that rectors were generally a lot wealthier than vicars.

      1. Janet Williams Post author

        I’m grateful to know about so much from these details, though I can’t really absorb that much — my brain hurts! Perhaps I’ll need a mind-map to understand the points and complicated structures.

        I’ve read many of Bill Bryson’s books, but I haven’t come across his view on CoE yet. I’ll check it out. This American is so British!

      2. Ruby

        It’s mentioned (as an aside) in his book “At Home”.

        I’d be interested in seeing the “Church of England for Dummies”. Despite being a member all my life there are probably things that I don’t know.

    2. Janet Williams Post author

      It’s interesting as you said “Church of England ministers have a legal duty to attend to the pastoral care of all parishoners, not just those that go to the CofE church.”

      Do you think most people would — if they’re not religious — would know that? I’m just wondering why a non religious person might seek pastoral care from a CoE minister. What does it mean by ‘pastoral care’?

      And, how big or small can a ‘parish’ be?

      1. Ruby

        Pastoral care is attending to people’s well-being, rather than the directly religious role of a minister. I don’t know how many people would know this, but the C of E church will wed, baptise, and hold funerals for anyone in the parish – my impression is that other denominations will not necessarily do this. C of E ministers do visit the sick or bereaved in the parish, irrespective of whether they are churchgoers. I mentioned this to a friend who works in a hospital once, and she said that the Anglican chaplains are more likely to talk to any patient rather than just their own denomination.
        I think there is something about the C of E being in some way part of the fabric of society in a way that you don’t get in other countries, but I may just be biased because that is my church. For example, if someone were to ask for directions to “the church” they would probably be sent to the C of E church rather than being asked “which one?”
        A parish can be any size – it’s the area that the church “looks after”. And these are ecclesiastical parishes so do not necessarily align with civil parishes. Generally it is one parish per church, but you do get amalgamations etc. (like the city centre parishes you referred to in your post) where there are more than one church. I don’t know if they are adjusted to cover a similar area, or have a similar population. I suspect that many people don’t know which parish they live in – especially in towns, where there are several parishes. For example, different parts of Eastleigh/Chandlers Ford are in the parishes of Chandlers Ford; Eastleigh; North Stoneham; Valley Park – and possibly a few others too.

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Such an honour — thank you Opalla! I’ll work harder.

      In just a year, I’ve met wonderful and interesting people through this blog, like you. To use a cliche, it’s been an incredible ‘journey’!

      Yes, I’ll write something soon.

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