Friday 19 September 2014

A-Z Guide to Church of England Terminology

The Church of England can be hard to understand. Even for those in it. Especially if they've been on the gin.

But, thanks to my 6 months' experience in that august institution, I can help you.  Here you go..... 

Acolyte - from the Greek for "Minion with a candle".

Alpha Course - Induction into a form of Christianity that at some points shares some ideas with Anglicanism.

Anglican Use (of Liturgy) - What the Bishop don't know can't hurt him or, soon, her.

Archbishop - on the "pyramid of needs', the one who meets the need to blame someone.

Archdeacon - (1) Curate who behaves in a roguish way (2) Part-time rental agent (3) Bishop's enforcer.

Benefice - from the Latin for "it's for your own good".

Book of Common Prayer - despite what you may have heard, almost completely comprehensible and utterly beautiful.

"Called to be one" - an event that demonstrated how many phone boxes you could fit the entire Ordinariate into.

Chancel - A thing that could hypothetically be improved. As in "Are you going to do that reordering of the whole building, Father?" "Chancel be a fine thing'.

Churchwarden - Ninja usher.

Curate: Technically "Assistant Curate". One who helps cure souls while learning on the job. What souls need curing of has always been a matter of theological debate.

Deacon - Of the entire cast of "Reservoir Deacons", Tarantino's misjudged sequel,  only Revd Blue is remembered.

Deanery Synod - Gathering of people for whom PCC can't come round often enough.

Diocesan Synod - For people with absolutely no social life at all.

Evangelical - Not to be confused with Evangelism

Evangelism - Jumble sales, fêtes and coffee mornings, just as St Paul recommended.

Fête - a thing that is worse than death. An attempt to raise money for the Church by buying your own jam.

General Synod - A place where the people who have honed their decision-making skills at PCC get together to make decisions. When they fail, it's the bishops' fault.

Gradual Hymn - the one before the Gospel. So called because the altar party sneak gradually down the aisle, like weeping angels.

Harvest Festival - Raising money for the Church by buying your own beetroot.

House of Bishops - Reality TV show in which George Carey is locked in a house. There are no cameras.

HTB - Holy Terrain Bike - a form of transport that can operate across parish boundaries.

Incumbent - one who incumbs. Or, possibly, is incumbed. Someone of godlike and immense power and magnetic personality before they start their job, and after they leave, but not while they are actually doing their job.

Joshua (Book of) - a thing that has to be rationalised away or, better, never mentioned.
Nobody every worked out what happened to Fr Barnet after he forced the PCC to make that decision.

Kingdom of God - can be found in the cracks, cranks and children.

Local Licensed Minister/ Local Lay Minister / Lay Reader - a class of people who spend their time writing minutes and notices because the Vicar's doing the real work. Spend their days seething with frustration and their nights dreaming of when the Vacancy comes. Or they can arrange it.

Methodist - Half the average rural congregation.

Mothers' Union - Not necessarily mothers. Not necessarily united.

Nave - The bit of the Church building where the knaves sit.

"O" Antiphon - The prequel to "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Organ - Trendy modern musical instrument that replaced the traditional music groups.

Parish - Arbitrary parcel of land in which some of a Church community may actually live.

Parish boundary - Line drawn around a parish, across which no other C of E church may proselytise, baptise or evangelise. Unless it does so regardless.

Parish Share - Nominal amount of money that is bigger than anyone can imagine.

Parochial Church Council (PCC)- small body of people who get together for three hours every couple of months, to frustrate the vicar's latest plans, remember what life was like in previous centuries, and - most importantly - make no decisions.

Quire - Better spelling of "Choir".

Rector - Not to be confused with "Vicar".

Rowan - Saint-like bard of legend, who united the Church in its inability to know what he was on about.

Rural Dean - Often lives in a town. Rarely called Dean. An imposter. If you ever meet a Rural Dean called Dean in a village, congratulate him on his integrity.

SSM - Self-supporting Minister or Same-sex Marriage. The Church doesn't understand either very well, thinks neither is as good as the real thing,  but only actually bans one. And definitely doesn't bann one.

Suffragan Bishop - Like being the Deputy Prime Minister.  You know you won't get the Big Job.

Supreme Governor - what the monarch is. Not the "head" of the Church. That's somebody else.

TI - Terrifying Instructor - the vicar in a new curate's parish.

Unicorn - Found, with a lion, on many church walls. So you know who's really in charge.

Vicar - not to be confused with "Rector".

Women's Institute - not to be confused with Mother's Union. No. Stop confusing them, now.

X - Crosses are often used to decorate churches. Carrying them is much scarier.

Y - chromosome - no longer obligatory in pulpits or - soon - bishop's thrones.

Zzzzzz - Noise made when a PCC meeting reaches its fourth hour.


  1. Please add something about pioneer ministers & Bishops Ministers- could be added to the definition of parish boundaries?

  2. sorry Bishops *Mission Orders*

  3. ... and Faculties (not to be confused with Schools or Colleges)

  4. And Chaplains - not to be confused with Rectors or Vicars

    Licensing - Being sworn to love honour and obey the bishop, with your fingers crossed.

    Authorisation - being told to do whatever you like because the Vicar has spoken to the Bishop who has authorised it. Heresy is expected.

  5. Sending this to my daughter in Denver, a Deacon and soon to be Priest of the Episcopal (that's American for Anglican) Church.

  6. You know the sort of humourless person who posts a serious comment on a very funny post? Hmm, well...

    Just to say a) "Called To Be One" (in the sense you mean it) wasn't C of E terminology; b) if you'd been to the event I went to (oh, I wish you had - high viz robes 'n' all!) you'd have seen that we'd have needed an awful lot of telephone boxes, and that's just in our small corner.

    Yes, some gin has been partaken of this evening.

  7. Ecumenical - anything that might involve meeting Papists, Nonconformists and suchlike; anything that might suggest the reality of one church, one faith, one Lord. Another opportunity for lip-service.

  8. You forgot "O" for the shakey overhead projector complete with wobbly cross word written in the vicars handwriting as the "fun" bit during the unanimously disliked "family service"-happy childood days in the good ol' c of e (Sheffield Sarah-im not anonymous by the way-just cant work the bloody google account thingy)

  9. I would add 'Prelate' - a counseling service for Bishops.

    1. I would have thought that "prelate" ws ministry withh the dying.


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