Last week, I wrote a brief post about the ecclesial (church) structures of Anglicanism and included a long quotation about the relationship between the local church, the diocese, and the province. Today I want to focus on the local church and explain a bit about the way that authority works within Anglicanism. I’m going to use a long quotation from a book by Thomas McKenzie titled, The Anglican Way. This excerpt is from pgs. 206-207. I highly recommend this book if you are new to Anglicanism. I’ll post some quotations and then add my own comments. McKenzie writes that….
Most people experience the church at the local level through their congregation [St. John’s for those reading this], which is often called a “parish.” That’s a great place to start looking at church governance. In most Anglican churches, there’s a pastor called a rector or vicar [click the link for an explanation of these titles]. This person is an ordained priest, similar to an elder in the New Testament. The rector is responsible to teach the Word of God and celebrate the sacraments. The rector oversees worship, discipleship, pastoral care, and all other spiritual matters of the local congregation. He or she is the leader most responsible for setting and keeping the vision of the parish.
Some Anglican churches have more than one priest on staff. The priests may be full-time, part-time, or even volunteers. In any case, there is one rector. The main exception would be the case in which the rector has not yet been hired, or one has left. In that case, the vestry [defined below] would be responsible for every aspect of the congregation’s day-to-day life until a new rector is found.
Each local congregation has a team of lay leaders. This team is variously called the vestry, the parish council, the leadership team, the mission committee, or some other name [mission council in our diocese]. This group is usually elected by the members of the congregation, though they may be appointed.
At St. John’s, our mission council has been appointed by the rector, which is standard practice for a church plant and is consistent with canon law [the policies we follow as a diocese]. Until a congregation can hire a full-time and fully-supported rector, that congregation is technically called a “mission.” Thus, St. John’s is a mission and is under the direct authority of our bishop, as explained in the Congregational Handbook for our diocese, which says…
“The Bishop shall be the governing authority of a mission, except as he may delegate such authority. [As planting priest, authority at St. John’s has been delegated to Fr. Bryan by our bishop]. A mission may have a mission council to assist in the administration of its affairs approved by the Bishop. The vicar of a mission, appointed as such by the Bishop, shall be in charge of the mission, subject to the authority of the Bishop, and shall preside over all meetings of the mission council.” (ADGL Canons, Title II, Canon 19, Section 2.)
McKenzie continues, describing what authority in a local church looks like, once it has moved from “mission” to a self-sustaining congregation.
The vestry [or mission council] should share with the rector in the leadership of the congregation. One of the ways they do this is to oversee the finances and physical property of the church. They should also serve in ministry, making sure that God’s work is being done. Generally, the vestry has officers: a senior warden, a junior warden, a secretary, and a treasurer. These are normally selected by the rector, or by the rest of the vestry. In some parishes, the senior warden chairs the vestry meetings. In other places, the rector does.
Most Anglican churches have occasional meetings to share information within the congregation. These may be held once a year [twice a year at St. John’s thus far]. At such annual meetings, budgets are presented, reports are given, and [vestry] elections are held. If you are a member of an Anglican church and would like more information about the specifics of how your parish is governed, you should ask to see your congregation’s by-laws [We don’t have these yet, which is common for a mission church, but we do have the Congregational Handbook from our diocese].
When members of our congregations have concerns, they are encouraged to voice their thoughts to the rector or to a member of the vestry. If they don’t feel that they are being heard, they have the right to communicate directly with the bishop.
Since St. John’s is still a mission, our mission council has not been elected and has not exercised governing authority. However, we are beginning the process of developing a more formal mission council that will exercise real temporal authority, which includes financial and property-related decisions. We will discuss this development at our February business meeting and then begin to form our new council at a business meeting in the summer of 2020.