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Religion Library: Anglican/Episcopalian

Community Organization

Written by: Russell P. Dawn

Anglican community is experienced at its most basic level in the parish.  Long before the Church of England's independence from Rome, the Roman Catholic Church in England (and elsewhere) was divided into geographical dioceses and parishes.  After the break from Rome, this system was retained.  Each parish consisted of a geographical area that was, in most cases, contiguous with the local township (a town and the surrounding countryside).  Within the geographical area of the parish, all residents were entitled to the pastoral care of the parish clergy, who represented and were under the authority of the diocesan bishop. Within the geographical area of the parish, all residents were entitled to the pastoral care of the parish clergy.  

The parish system in England is still basically the same today, yet modern transportation networks allow many English Anglicans to choose to attend a church other than their local parish church.  A particular church's worship style or theological bent is likely to be the basis of one's choice to attend that church, especially in the cities.

In most areas outside England, the parochial system is not civically defined.  Of course there is an effort to disperse churches geographically, and there are administrative functions that are tied to geography (i.e., the diocese), but there is no civic connection between a church and its locality, and Anglicans are not viewed as part of a given parish for the mere reason of living close to the church.  "Parish" in these contexts refers not to the area around a church, but to a church and its members, wherever they might reside.

A collection of parishes within a defined geographical area constitutes a diocese, the fundamental ecclesiastical and administrative unit of Anglican organization.  A diocese is governed by a bishop, under whose authority the parish clergy minister to parishioners.  The bishop's official seat is known as the episcopal see, and is normally in the cathedral of the diocese.  The term "see" also refers to the geographical location of the cathedral or diocese--for example the see of Winchester.

A group of contiguous dioceses constitutes a province.  This can be a term of some confusion.  In The Episcopal Church (TEC, also known as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America or PECUSA, and often informally dropping the "P" for "Protestant"), for example, there are nine geographical subdivisions known as provinces, within each of which are a number of dioceses.  Simultaneously, TEC is a province of the Anglican Communion.  The latter usage is the more salient.  A province of the Anglican Communion is a group of dioceses having a head bishop (for example, the Presiding Bishop of TEC) or archbishop (like the Archbishop of York).  An archbishop's see is known as an archiepiscopal see, such as the see of York.  The head bishop or archbishop of a province is also called the primate of the province.


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