If you are new to Anglicanism or just new to St. John’s, then you may have questions about the larger denominational structures that we are part of. In order to answer questions that you may have, I’ve adapted the following information from the congregational handbook of the ADGL (Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes), of which we are a member church. I believe that the ADGL adapted this information from a book titled Simply Anglican by Winfield Bevins.
The Local Church
For Anglicans around the world, the local church stands as the primary place of belonging and living out the Christian faith. According to the constitution and canons of the Anglican Church in North America, “The fundamental agency of the mission of the church to extend the Kingdom of God is the local congregation. The chief agents of this mission are the people of God.” By coming together as a congregation, the people of the local church form an extension of the global body of Christ. But how does this happen? Article XIX of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion reveals how this becomes a reality: “[a congregation is] a gathering where the pure Word of God is preached and the sacraments are duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance.” For Anglicans, the local church is where we grow in our faith together by hearing the Word of God preached, by partaking in the sacraments, and by being sent out in mission.
While the elements of Word and sacrament form the foundation of practice, local Anglican churches (often called “parishes”) fit within the organizational structure of the larger Anglican church by organizing and connecting to a diocese and submitting themselves under the oversight of a bishop. Local Anglican churches are presided over by a priest who provides the congregation with spiritual and sacramental leadership. In addition, each local church is governed by a local board known as the mission council or vestry, which is a group of women and men who are elected by the congregation to handle the temporal everyday affairs of the church. From the smallest parish to the largest diocese, the Anglican Church represents a diverse, but unified body of believers connected by a common faith and tradition.
In addition to the role of ordained ministry and the local church, Anglicans are a part of a larger structure that holds them together in geographic regions around the world. Each Anglican congregation holds a place of membership within a local diocese. The word “diocese” comes from the time of the Roman Empire, which was divided into twelve different administrative and governmental dioceses. As the church grew so did the need to create an organizational structure. The early church borrowed from the Roman governmental structure to organize local clusters of churches in a region.” 16
Today, a diocese is a cluster of churches in a distinct geographic region under the leadership of a bishop. Some dioceses, like the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes, are made up of churches in a broad area, while others are comprised of a larger number of churches within a city, like the Diocese of London. At times, there are also nongeographic dioceses that are more affinity-based in nature, such as Churches for the Sake of Others (C4SO), led by Bishop Todd Hunter who oversees churches across the United States.
Each diocese is a part of a national province led by an archbishop, the most senior bishop of a province. Like a diocese, the word “province” comes from the ancient Roman word “provincial,” which was the major territorial and administrative unit of the Roman Empire’s territories outside of Italy. A province is a larger geographic grouping of dioceses usually representing a nation, like the Anglican Church of Uganda. The minimum to constitute a province is usually four dioceses. Some provinces have distinct boundaries of political states, while some include multiple nations like the Anglican Church of South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay). Worldwide, Anglicanism has more than eighty million members in thirty-eight provinces.
Together, each province makes up the worldwide Anglican Communion, which is a global family of autonomous national provinces in a reciprocal relationship with one another. Perhaps the greatest strength of the Anglican Communion is the way in which each province works together for the greater good of the communion, despite significant disagreements on certain issues. Diversity is a strength.”
Belonging to the Body of Christ
In the end, Anglicanism offers a way of belonging. To be an Anglican is to belong to a large family of more than eighty million people from every continent. The Anglican tradition provides order, structure, and support to its members in order to ensure the proclamation of the gospel and the growth and expansion of Christ’s Kingdom throughout the world.