What is a diocese? What is a synod? Why do we have a Cathedral and why does that matter? Just what is Anglican polity?
The Anglican Church is an episcopal church, meaning that the basic unit of the church is not the congregation (as in churches with congregational polity, such as most Baptist and other Evangelical churches), or the presbytery (as in churches with a presbyterian style of polity, such as the United Church, Reformed, and Presbyterian churches), but a diocese with a diocesan bishop as the leader. In the Anglican world we like to say that we are "episcopally led and synodically governed," which is to say that while our bishop leads the diocese, we all have a role to play in the courts of the church as we share in the governance of the church through our diocesan synod. Our diocese is the Diocese of Niagara, and Hamilton is the see city of the diocese (meaning our cathedral is located in Hamilton). The Bishop of the Diocese of Niagara is the Right Reverend Susan. J.A. Bell.
Every parish across the diocese elects members who are part of the Diocesan Synod, which generally meets once a year for one or two days, to discuss the missional needs of the diocese, look after the routine business matters of the church, such as budgets and annual reports, and to encourage and pray for one another across our diocesan family.
In Anglican polity, dioceses work together in ecclesiatical provinces (different than the civil provinces we have in Canada). The Diocese of Niagara is part of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario (which includes all of the territory in the civil province of Ontario, plus some small parts of Quebec. Each province is led by a metropolitan bishop who is also the archbishop of their own diocese. The Metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario is the Most Reverend Ann Germond, Archbishop of Algoma. Each diocese elects members of a provincial synod which meets to manage the affairs of the province.
National Churches are also sometimes referred to as Provinces in the Anglican Communion and in the case of large countries like Canada, will be comprised of a number of small provinces. The General Synod of Anglican Church of Canada elects its own national bishop, or Primate, from among the diocesan bishops across the country. Upon election, the diocesan bishop resigns as diocesan bishop to take up the heavy responsibilities of the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. The current Primate of All Canada is The Most Reverend Fred Hiltz.
The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada meets every three years, and is meeting this summer, July 10 to 16, 2019, in Vancouver. Our rector, The Venerable Dr. David Anderson is a member of General Synod and will be attending this meeting. Among the importan topics being discussed are:
- the Second Reading and adoption of amendments to the Anglican Church of Canada's canon (church law) on marriage;
- matters related to the self-determination of an Indigenous Anglican Church in Canada; and
- the election of a new Primate.
The worldwide Anglican Communion is comprised of all the national churches around the world who are in full communion with the see of Canterbury. The Archbishop of Canterbury is one of the instruments of communion and is seen among the bishops of the communion, as the "first among equals" or Primus inter pares. The current Archbishop of Canterbury is the Most Reverend Justin Welby. Other instruments of communion include the decennial Lambeth Conference of bishops, the triennial meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primate's Meetings.
Every diocese carries out its ministry in local settings through parishes and various missions. The Church of Saint John the Evangelist is a parish within the Diocese of Niagara. The bishop licenses clergy to care for and provide leadership in each parish. Often the priest licensed to lead the parish will be styled as "the rector" (an old-fashioned word, meaning ruler). The rector or priest-in-charge, will share leadership with the churchwardens (literally meaning those who hold the keys to the church), who are advised by a larger group known as the Parish Council. While there is no such thing as formal membership in the Anglican Church, all baptized and regular communicants and financial supporters are eligible to vote at meetings of the parish Vestry. Vestry meets at least once a year for the annual meeting of the parish, but also occasionally to discuss other important matters. Vestry elects churchwardens and members of the Parish Council. The rector is entitled to appoint the same number of persons as Vestry elects.
At the Church of Saint John the Evangelist we have a few standing committees that carry on and specialize on some important matters. The Parish Council has two standing committees: the Stewarship Committee, and the Greening Committee. A Property Committee reports to the churchwardens and rector ("Corporation," for short).
All of this may seem confusing to newcomers. It is confusing for long-time Anglicans as well. We always need to remember that the church exists, not for the sake of structures. Structures exist to serve the church. The church exists to worship and serve Christ, and to join Christ in God's mission in our world.