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The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in Englandmarker, the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion and the oldest among the communion's thirty-eight independent national and regional churches. The Church also extends to the Isle of Manmarker via the Diocese of Sodor and Manmarker, while the Channel Islands form part of the Diocese of Winchestermarker, and a number of Anglican communities in continental Europe, the former Soviet Unionmarker, Turkey and Morocco are formed into the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe.

The Church of England understands itself to be both Catholic and Reformed:
  • Catholic in that it views itself as a part of the universal church of Jesus Christ in unbroken continuity with the early apostolic and later medieval church. This is expressed in its strong emphasis on the teachings of the early Church Fathers, in particular as formalised in the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian creeds.

  • Reformed to the extent that it has been shaped by some of the doctrinal and institutional principles of the 16th century Protestant Reformation. The more Reformed character finds expression in the Thirty-Nine Articles of religion, established as part of the settlement of religion under Queen Elizabeth I. The customs and liturgy of the Church of England, as expressed in the Book of Common Prayer, are based on pre-Reformation traditions but have been influenced by Reformation liturgical and doctrinal principles.


According to tradition, Christianity arrived in Britain in the first or second century (probably via the tin trade route through Irelandmarker and Iberiamarker), and existed independently of the Church of Rome, as did many other Christian communities of that era.

The earliest unquestioned historical evidence of an organized Christian church in the area that is now called England is found in the writings of such early Christian Fathers as Tertullian and Origen in the first years of the 3rd century, although the first Christian communities probably were established some decades earlier. Three Romano-British bishops, including Restitutus, are known to have been present at the Council of Arles in 314. Others attended the Council of Sardica in 347 and that of Ariminum in 360, and a number of references to the church in Roman Britain are found in the writings of 4th-century Christian fathers. Britain was the home of Pelagius, who nearly defeated Augustine of Hippo's doctrine of original sin.

The Church of England traces its formal corporate history from the 597 Gregorian mission, stresses its continuity and identity with the primitive universal Western church, and notes the consolidation of its particular independent and national character in the post-Reformation events of Tudor England, and confirmed by the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

Christianity arrived in what is now England in the first centuries AD. Over time the indigenous Britons converted to the new faith. After the Anglo-Saxon invasion, however, Christian Britons made little progress in converting the newcomers from their native paganism. In 597 Pope Gregory I sent Saint Augustine of Canterbury from Rome to evangelise the Angles; this event is known as the Gregorian mission. With the help of Christians already residing in Kent Augustine established his church in Canterburymarker, the capital of the kingdom of Kent, and became the first in the series of Archbishops of Canterbury in 598. A later archbishop, the Greek Theodore of Tarsus, also contributed to the organisation of Christianity in England.

The English church was under papal authority for nearly a thousand years, before separating from Rome in 1534 during the reign of King Henry VIII. A theological separation had been foreshadowed by various movements within the English church such as Lollardy, but the English Reformation gained political support when Henry VIII wanted an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Under pressure from Catherine's nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Pope Clement VII refused the annulment. Eventually, Henry, although theologically a doctrinal Catholic, took the position of Supreme Head of the Church of England to ensure the annulment of his marriage. He was excommunicated by Pope Paul III.

Henry maintained a strong preference for traditional Catholic practices and, during his reign, Protestant reformers were unable to make many changes to the practices of the Church of England. Indeed, this part of Henry's reign saw the trial for heresy of Protestants as well as Roman Catholics.

Under his son, Edward VI, more Protestant-influenced forms of worship were adopted. Under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, a more radical reformation proceeded. A new pattern of worship was set out in the Book of Common Prayer (1549 and 1552). These were based on the older liturgy but influenced by Protestant principles. The confession of the new reformed church was set out in the Forty-two Articles (later revised to thirty-nine). The reformation however was cut short by the death of the king. Queen Mary I, who succeeded him, returned England again to the authority of the Pope, thereby ending the first attempt at an independent Church of England. During Mary's reign, many leaders and common people were burnt for their refusal to recant of their reformed faith. These are known as the Marian martyrs and the persecution has led to her nickname of "Bloody Mary".

Mary also died childless and so it was left to the new regime of her half-sister Elizabeth to resolve the direction of the church. The settlement under Elizabeth I (from 1558), known as the Elizabethan settlement, developed the via media (middle way) character of the Church of England, a church moderately Reformed in doctrine, as expressed in the Thirty-nine Articles, but also emphasising continuity with the Catholic and Apostolic traditions of the Church Fathers. It was also an established church (constitutionally established by the state with the head of state as its supreme governor). The exact nature of the relationship between church and state would be a source of continued friction into the next century.

For the next century, through the reigns of James I, who ordered the creation of what became known as the King James Bible, and Charles I, and culminating in the English Civil War and the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, there were significant swings back and forth between two factions: the Puritans (and other radicals) who sought more far-reaching Protestant reforms, and the more conservative churchmen who aimed to keep closer to traditional beliefs and Catholic practices. The failure of political and ecclesiastical authorities to submit to Puritan demands for more extensive reform was one of the causes of open warfare. By Continental standards, the level of violence over religion was not high, but the casualties included a king, Charles I, and an Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. Under the Commonwealth and then the Protectorate of England from 1649 to 1660, the bishops were dethroned and former practices were outlawed, and in their place, Presbyterian ecclesiology was introduced in place of the episcopate. In addition, the 39 Articles were replaced with the Westminster Confession, and the Book of Common Prayer was replaced by the Directory of Public Worship. Despite this, about one quarter of English clergy refused to conform to this form of State Presbyterianism.

With the Restoration of Charles II, Parliament restored the Church of England to a form not far removed from the Elizabethan version. One difference was that the ideal of encompassing all the people of England in one religious organisation, taken for granted by the Tudors, had to be abandoned. The religious landscape of England assumed its present form, with the Anglican established church occupying the middle ground, and Roman Catholics and those Puritans and Protestants who dissented from the Anglican establishment, too strong to be suppressed altogether, having to continue their existence outside the National Church rather than controlling it. Continuing official suspicion and legal restrictions continued well into the nineteenth century.

By the Fifth Article of the Union with Ireland 1800, the Church of England and Church of Ireland were united into "one Protestant Episcopal Church, to be called, The United Church of England and Ireland". Although this union was declared "an essential and fundamental Part of the Union", nevertheless the Irish Church Act 1869 separated the Irish part of the Church again and disestablished it, the Act coming into effect on 1 January 1871.

Doctrine and practice

Church of England doctrine can be summarised in its canon law as follows:

Canon A 5 Of the doctrine of the Church of England:"The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal." [604]

As the Church of England bases its teachings on the Holy Scriptures, the ancient Catholic teachings of the Church Fathers and some of the doctrinal principles of the Protestant Reformation (as expressed in the 39 Articles, and other documents such as the Book of Homilies), Anglicanism can therefore be described as 'Reformed Catholic' in character rather than Protestant. In practice, however, it is more mixed, with Anglicans who emphasise the Catholic tradition and others the Reformed tradition. There is also a long history of more liberal or latitudinarian views. These three 'parties' in the C of E are sometimes called high church or (Anglo-Catholic), low church (or Evangelical) and broad church (or Liberal). In terms of church government, unlike many of the Protestant denominations it has retained episcopal (bishop) leadership.
teachings of Richard Hooker, the 16th century divine, summarised the Anglican position well, affirming bishops as ancient, allowable and for the wellbeing of the church.

In many people's eyes today the Church of England has, as one of its distinguishing marks, a breadth and "open-mindedness". This range of belief and practice includes those of the Anglo-Catholics, who emphasise liturgy and sacraments, to the far more preaching-centred and less ritual-based services of Evangelicals and gatherings of the Charismatics. But this "broad church" faces various contentious doctrinal and social questions.

Women's ministry

Women were appointed as deaconesses from 1861 but they could not function fully as deacons and were not considered ordained clergy. Women have been lay readers for a long time. During the First World War some women were appointed as lay readers but known as "Bishop's Messengers". However, after that no more lay readers were appointed until 1969.

Legislation authorising the ordination of women as deacons was passed in 1986 and they were first ordained in 1987. The ordination of women as priests was passed by the General Synod in 1992 and began in 1994. In July 2005 the synod voted to "set in train" the process of allowing the consecration of women as bishops. In February 2006 the synod voted overwhelmingly for the "further exploration" of possible arrangements for parishes that did not want to be directly under the authority of a woman bishop. On 7 July 2008 the church's governing body voted to approve the ordination of women as bishops and rejected moves for alternative episcopal oversight for those who do not accept women bishops. Actual ordinations of women to the episcopate will require further legislation which is anticipated to be considered before 2014.

Worship and liturgy

The Church of England's official book of liturgy as established in English Law is the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). The BCP remains the touchstone of all Anglican liturgy. In addition to this book the General Synod has also legislated for a modern liturgical book, Common Worship, dating from 2000, which can be used as an alternative to the BCP. Like its predecessor, the 1980 Alternative Service Book, it differs from the Book of Common Prayer in providing a range of alternative services, mostly in modern language, although it does include some BCP-based forms as well, for example Order Two for Holy Communion. (This is a revision of the BCP service, altering some words and allowing the insertion of some other liturgical texts such as the Agnus Dei before communion.) The Order One rite follows the pattern of more modern liturgical scholarship.

See also: Anglican liturgy resources and, on the history of Anglo-Catholic liturgy, English or Roman Use.


As in other Christian churches, membership in the Church of England is via baptism, although due to its status as the established church, in general anyone who lives in a given parish may request that they are married, baptised (or have their children baptised) or have their funeral in the parish church, regardless of whether they themselves are baptised or regular church goers or not.

Churchgoing in the United Kingdom, including the Church of England, has been declining steadily since around 1890. In the years 1968 to 1999, Anglican church attendances almost halved, from 3.5 per cent of the population to just 1.9 per cent. One study published in 2008 suggested that if current trends continue, Sunday attendances could fall to 350,000 in 2030 and just 87,800 in 2050. The Church of England responded by stating that the figures on which this were based overlooked the level of midweek attendance and that 1.7 million people attend Church of England parish and cathedral services each month, and argued that this figure has remained stable since 2000.


Article XIX (Of the Church) of the 39 Articles defines the church as follows:

"The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same."

Despite the complexities of the structure, the Church of England at its heart views the local parish church as the basic unit.

The British monarch, at present Queen Elizabeth II, has the constitutional title of Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The canon law of the Church of England states, "We acknowledge that the Queen’s most excellent Majesty, acting according to the laws of the realm, is the highest power under God in this kingdom, and has supreme authority over all persons in all causes, as well ecclesiastical as civil." In practice this power is often exercised through Parliamentmarker and the Prime Minister.

In addition to England proper, the current jurisdiction of the Church of England extends to the Isle of Manmarker, the Channel Islands and a few parishes in Flintshire, Monmouthshire and Radnorshiremarker in Walesmarker (the present Church in Wales was an integral part of the Church of England until 1920). Expatriate congregations on the continent of Europe have become the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe.

The church is structured as follows (from the lowest level upwards):

  • Parish, this is the most local level, often consisting of one church building and community, although nowadays many parishes are joining forces in a variety of ways for financial reasons. The parish will be looked after by a parish priest who for various historical or legal reasons may also be called by one of the following offices: vicar, rector, priest in charge, team rector, team vicar. The first, second, and fourth of these may also be known as the 'incumbent'. The running of the parish is the joint responsibility of the incumbent and the Parochial Church Council (PCC), which consists of the parish clergy and elected representatives from the congregation. The Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe is not formally divided into parishes.
  • There are also a number of local churches which do not have a parish. In urban areas there are a number of proprietary chapels (mostly built in the 19th century to cope with urbanisation and growth in population). Also in more recent years there are increasingly church plants and Fresh expressions of church, whereby new congregations are planted in a variety of locations (such as schools or pubs) in order to spread the Gospel of Christ in fresh and non-traditional ways.
A map showing the diocese of Gibraltar in Europe.
The seven archdeaconries are colour-coded.
  • Deanery, e.g., Lewisham, or Runnymede. This is the area for which a rural dean is responsible. It will consist of a number of parishes in a particular district. The rural dean will usually be the incumbent of one of the constituent parishes. The parishes each elect lay (that is non-ordained) representatives to the deanery synod. Deanery synod members each have a vote in the election of representatives to the diocesan synod.
  • Archdeaconry, e.g., the seven in the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe. This is the area under the jurisdiction of an archdeacon. It will consist of a number of deaneries.
  • Diocese, e.g., Diocese of Durhammarker, Diocese of Guildfordmarker, Diocese of St Albansmarker. This is the area under the jurisdiction of a diocesan bishop, e.g., the Bishops of Durham, Guildford and St Albans, and will have a cathedral. There may also be one or more assisting bishops, usually called suffragan bishop, within the diocese who assist the diocesan bishop in his ministry, e.g., in Guildford diocese, the Bishop of Dorking. In some very large dioceses a legal measure has been enacted to create "episcopal areas", in which case the diocesan bishop will run one such area himself and will appoint an "area bishop" to run each of the other areas as mini-dioceses; in such cases, the diocesan bishop legally delegates many of his powers to the area bishops. Dioceses with episcopal areas include Londonmarker, Southwarkmarker, Chichestermarker and Lichfieldmarker. The bishops will work with an elected body of lay and ordained representatives, known as the diocesan synod, to run the diocese. A diocese is subdivided into a number of archdeaconries.
  • Province, i.e., York or Canterbury (these are the only two in the Church of England). This is the area under the jurisdiction of an archbishop, i.e. the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. Decision making within the province is the responsibility of the General Synod (see also above). A province is subdivided into dioceses.
  • Primacy, i.e., Church of England. In addition to his specific authority in his own province, each archbishop is "Primate of All England" (Canterbury) or "Primate of England" (York) and has certain powers that extend over the whole country—for example his license to marry without the banns (marriage licence).
  • Royal Peculiar, a small number of churches are more closely associated with the Crown, and a very few with the law and are outside the usual church hierarchy though conforming to the rite. These are outside episcopal jurisdiction.

All rectors and vicars are appointed by patrons, who may be private individuals, corporate bodies such as cathedrals, colleges or trusts, or by the bishop or even appointed directly by the Crown. No clergy can be instituted and inducted into a parish without swearing the Oath of Allegiance to Her Majesty, and taking the Oath of Canonical Obedience "in all things lawful and honest" to the bishop. Usually they are instituted to the benefice by the bishop and then inducted by the archdeacon into the actual possession of the benefice property—church and parsonage. Curates are appointed by rectors and vicars, but if priests-in-charge then by the bishop after consultations with the patron. Cathedral clergy (normally a dean and a varying number of residentiary canons who constitute the cathedral chapter) are appointed either by the Crown, the bishop, or by the dean and chapter themselves. Clergy officiate in a diocese either because they hold office as beneficed clergy or are licensed by the bishop when appointed (e.g. curates), or simply with permission.


The most senior bishop of the Church of England is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the archbishop of the southern province of England, the Province of Canterbury. He also has the status of Primate of All England and Metropolitan. He is also the focus of unity for the worldwide Anglican Communion of independent national or regional churches. The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Rowan Williams has served as Archbishop of Canterbury since 2002.

The second most senior bishop is the Archbishop of York, who is the archbishop of the northern province of England, the Province of York. For historical reasons (relating to the time of York's control by the Danesmarker) he is referred to as the Primate of England. The Most Reverend and Right Honourable John Sentamu has served as the Archbishop of York since 2005. The Bishop of London, the Bishop of Durham and the Bishop of Winchester are ranked in the next three positions.

Diocesan bishops

The process of appointing diocesan bishops is complex and is handled by a body called the Crown Nominations Committee which submits names to the Prime Minister (acting on behalf of the Crown) for consideration.

Representative bodies

The Church of England has a legislative body, the General Synod. Synod can create two types of legislation, measures and canon. Measures have to be approved but cannot be amended by the UK Parliamentmarker before receiving the Royal Assent and becoming part of the law of England. Canons require Royal Licence and Royal Assent, but form the law of the church, rather than the law of the land.

Another assembly is the Convocation of the English Clergy (older than the General Synod and its predecessor the Church Assembly). There are also diocesan synods and deanery synod.

House of Lords

Of the forty-four diocesan archbishops and bishops in the Church of England, only twenty-six are permitted to sit in the House of Lordsmarker. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York automatically have seats, as do the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester. The remaining twenty-one seats are filled in order of seniority by consecration. It may take a diocesan bishop a number of years to reach the House of Lords, at which point he becomes a Lord Spiritual. The Bishop of Sodor and Man and the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe are not eligible to sit in the House of Lords as their Dioceses lie outside of the United Kingdom.

Financial situation

The Church of England, although an established church, does not receive any direct government support. Donations comprise its largest source of income, though it also relies heavily on the income from its various historic endowments. , the Church of England had estimated total outgoings of around £900 million.

Historically, individual parishes both raised and spent the vast majority of the Church's funding, meaning that clergy pay depended on the wealth of the parish. The parish advowsons (the right to appoint clergy to particular parishes) could, therefore, become valuable gifts. Individual dioceses also held considerable assets: the Diocese of Durham possessed such vast wealth and temporal power that its bishop became known as the 'Prince-Bishop'. Since the mid-19th century, however, the Church has made various moves to 'equalise' the situation and clergy within each diocese now receive standard stipends paid from diocesan funds. Meanwhile, the Church moved the majority of its income-generating assets (which in the past included a great deal of land, but today mostly take the form of financial stocks and bonds) out of the hands of individual clergy and bishops to the care of a body called the Church Commissioners, which uses these funds to pay a range of non-parish expenses, including clergy pensions and the expenses of cathedrals and bishops' houses. These funds amount to around £3.9 billion and generate income of around £164 million each year ( ), around a fifth of the Church's overall income.

The Church Commissioners give some of this money as 'grants' to local parishes; but the majority of the financial burden of church upkeep and the work of local parishes still rests with individual parishes and dioceses, which meet their requirements from donations. Direct donations to the church (not including legacies) come to around £460 million per year, while parish and diocesan reserve funds generate another £100 million. Funds raised in individual parishes account for almost all of this money and the majority of it remains in the parish which raises it, meaning that the resources available to parishes still vary enormously according to the level of donations they can raise.

Most parishes, however, give a portion of their money to the diocese as a 'quota' or 'parish share'. While this is not a compulsory payment, dioceses strongly encourage and rely on it being paid; it is usually only withheld by parishes either if they are unable to find the funds or as a specific act of protest. As well as paying central diocesan expenses such as the running of diocesan offices, these diocesan funds also provide clergy pay and housing expenses (which total around £260 million per year across all dioceses), meaning that clergy living conditions no longer depend on parish-specific fundraising.

Although asset-rich, the Church of England has to maintain its thousands of churches nationwide. As current congregation numbers stand at relatively low levels and as maintenance bills increase as the buildings grow older, many of these churches cannot maintain economic self-sufficiency but their historical and architectural importance make it difficult to sell them. In recent years, cathedrals and other famous churches have met some of their maintenance costs with grants from organisations such as English Heritage; but the church congregations and local fundraisers must foot the bill entirely in the case of most small parish churches. (The government, however, does provide some assistance in the form of tax breaks, for example a 100% VAT refund for renovations to religious buildings.)

In addition to consecrated buildings, the Church also controls numerous ancillary buildings attached to or associated with churches, including a good deal of clergy housing. As well as vicarages and rectories, this housing includes residences (often called 'palaces') for each of the Church's 114 bishops. In some cases, this name seems entirely apt; buildings such as the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lambeth Palacemarker in London and the Old Palace at Canterburymarker have truly palatial dimensions, while the Bishop of Durham's Auckland Castlemarker has 50 rooms, a banqueting hall and 30 acres (120,000 m²) of parkland. However, many bishops have found the older palaces inappropriate for today's lifestyles and some 'palaces' are ordinary four bedroomed houses. Many dioceses which have retained large palaces now employ part of the space as administrative offices, while the bishops and their families live in a small apartment within the palace. In recent years some dioceses have managed to put their palaces' excess space and grandeur to profitable use as conference centres. All three of the more grand bishop's palaces mentioned above — Lambeth Palace, the Old Palace and Auckland Castle — serve as offices for church administration and conference venues and only in a lesser degree as the personal residence of a bishop. The size of the bishops' households has shrunk dramatically and their budgets for entertaining and staff form a tiny fraction of the levels before the 20th century.

See also


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