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Church of England

The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and acts as the mother and senior branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion as well as a founding member of the Porvoo Communion.


Theology and sociology

The Church of England considers itself to stand both in a Reformed (but not Protestant) church tradition and in a Catholic (but not Roman Catholic) church tradition: Reformed insofar as many of the principles of the Reformation have influenced it and insofar as it does not accept Papal authority; Catholic in that it views itself as the unbroken continuation of the early apostolic and later mediĉval Universal Church rather than as a new formation. In its practices, furthermore, the Church of England remains closer to Roman Catholicism than to the Protestant Churches. It holds many relatively conservative theological beliefs, its liturgical form of worship can feature tradition and ceremonial, and its organisation embodies a belief in Apostolic succession through the historical episcopal hierarchy of archbishops, bishops and dioceses.

In many people's eyes, however, the Church of England has as its primary distinguishing mark its breadth and open-mindedness. In addition to the traditional mainstream, the church has long included "high church" and "low church" factions with their own particular preferences. Today, practices range from those of the Anglo-Catholics, who emphasise liturgy and sacraments, to the far less ceremonial services of Evangelicals and Charismatics. But this "Broad Church" faces various contentious doctrinal questions raised by the development of modern society, such as conflicts over the ordination of women as priests (finally accepted in 1992 and begun in 1994) and the status of practising homosexuals in the church (unsettled today).

Governance and administration

The British monarch (at present, Elizabeth II), has the constitutional title of "Supreme Governor of the Church of England". In practice, however, the effective leadership falls to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The worldwide Anglican Communion of independent national or regional churches recognises the Archbishop of Canterbury as a kind of symbolic leader. Dr Rowan Douglas Williams has served as Archbishop of Canterbury since 2002.

The Church of England has a legislative body, the General Synod . However, fundamental legislation still has to pass through the UK Parliament. The church has its own judicial branch, known as the Ecclesiastical courts, which likewise form a part of the UK court system.

In addition to England proper, the jurisdiction of the Church of England extends to the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. In recent years, expatriate congregations on the continent of Europe have become the Diocese in Europe.


Main article: History of the Church of England

The Church of England traces its formal corporate history from the 597 Augustinian 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.

Christianity arrived in Britain in the first or second centuries and existed independently of the Church of Rome, as did many other Christian communities of that era. Records note British bishops as attending the Council of Arles in 314. The Pope sent Saint Augustine from Rome in the 6th Century to evangelise the Angles (597). With the help of Christians already residing in Kent, he established his church in Canterbury, the capital of Kent, and became the first in the series of archbishops of Canterbury.

Simultaneously, the Celtic Church of St.Columba continued to evangelise Scotland. The Celtic Church of North Britain submitted in some sense to the authority of Rome at the Council of Whitby in 644. Over the next few centuries, the Roman system introduced by Augustine gradually absorbed the pre-existing Celtic Christian churches.

England remained a Catholic country for a thousand years, but then separated itself from Rome in 1534 during the reign of King Henry VIII, though it briefly rejoined Rome during the reign of Queen Mary I in 1555.

Related churches

In Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland serves as the established church, but a smaller Anglican church exists, known as the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The Church in Wales underwent disestablishment in 1920 and is now an independent member of the Anglican Communion.

The Church of Ireland had official established church status in Ireland until 1871, although Ireland in practice remained mostly Roman Catholic.

The Church of England is in full communion with the other churches in the Anglican Communion and separately with the other signatories of the Porvoo Communion.

Appointment of bishops

The election of new Archbishops and Bishops involves several stages. The first stage involves the diocesan Vacancy-in-See Committee, composed of:

  • The Dean of the Cathedral
  • Two Archdeacons
  • The Diocese's representative members of the General Synod of the Church of England
  • Members of the diocesan House of Bishops
  • The Chairman and two other members of the Diocesan House of Clergy
  • The Chairman and two other members of the Diocesan House of Laity
  • Other Members approved by the Bishop's Council

The Committee produces a Statement of Needs assessing the needs of the diocese. It then sends this statement to a specially constituted Crown Nominations Commission, which consists of:

  • The Archbishops of Canterbury and York (in the event of a vacancy in either post, then the House of Bishops elects another bishop to take that Archbishop's place)
  • Three members of the General Synod's House of Clergy
  • Three members of the General Synod's House of Laity
  • Six members of the Vacancy-in-See Committee
  • An appointee of the Prime Minister (if the vacancy lies in the see of Canterbury)
  • An appointee of the Church of England Appointments Committee (if the vacancy lies in the see of York)

The Commission then forwards two names to the Prime Minister, who chooses one of them. The Prime Minister may also request additional names from the Commission. If the chosen individual accepts the office, the Prime Minister advises the Sovereign, who then formally nominates the Prime Minister's choice. Thereafter, the Diocese's College of Canons meets to elect the new Bishop.

Following the election, the new bishop must be confirmed. A provincial ceremony is held where the bishop-elect takes an oath. During the ceremony, one of the Archbishops confers the spiritualities of the see on the bishop-elect, who then takes office. At a later point, the Queen confers the temporalities of the see, which formerly included vast Church estates and the Bishop's residence, but which are now more limited. If the Bishop has never previously received consecration as a bishop, he must undergo the ceremony of consecration. Finally, a symbolic ceremony of enthronement of the new Bishop takes place.

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. As of 2005 the Church of England had estimated total outgoings of around £900 million.

Historically, the vast majority of the Church's funding was raised and spent by individual parishes, meaning that clergy pay depended on the wealth of the parish and parish advowsons (the right to appoint clergy to particular parishes) could be extremely valuable assets. 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 them 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 (as of 2003), 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 parish and diocese, which meet their requirements from donations. Direct donations to the church (not including legacies) come to around £460 million per year, while parish and diocese 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 it raises it, meaning that the resources available to parishes still vary enormously according to the level of donations they can raise.

Most parishes give a portion of their money, however, to the diocese as a 'quota'. 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 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 look after and maintain its thousands of churches nationwide — the lion's share of England's built heritage. 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 organizations such as English Heritage; but the Church Commissioners 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 (called 'palaces') for each of the Church's 114 bishops. In some cases, this name seems entirely apt; buildings such as Archbishop of Canterbury's Lambeth Palace in London and Old Palace at Canterbury have truly palatial dimensions, while the Bishop of Durham's Auckland Palace 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 bishops' 'palaces' are simply ordinary 4-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; and in recent years some dioceses have managed to put their palaces' excess space and grandeur to profitable use as conference centres. The size of the bishops' households has also shrunk dramatically and their budgets for entertaining and servants form a tiny fraction of their pre-20th-century levels.

See also

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