Church Terminology

The long history of the Church has led to the accumulation of many terms that one seldom if ever otherwise hears. Some members of the church delight in using these words, but they really do not mean to confound you by doing so: many of them simply have no satisfactory substitute. The good news is that once you’ve learned a few of them, you can join in the fun as well! The following list should answer all but the most obscure questions, but if you really want to get into the most impenetrable corners with an exhaustive glossary, we recommend that you visit the Episcopal Church site.

A to G                                  H to Z

Acolyte
Altar
Altar Guild
Anglican
Anglican Communion
Anglican Consultative Council
Anglo-Catholics
Apostolic Succession
Archbishop of Canterbury
Archdeacon
Assessment, Diocesan
Assisting Clergy (Curate, Assistant, Associate)
Baptism (Holy)
Bishop
Bishop, Assistant
Bishop, Assisting
Bishop, Coadjutor
Bishop, Diocesan
Bishop, Suffragan
Book of Common Prayer
Candidate
Canon
Canon to the Ordinary
Canonical Residence
Canterbury
Catechism
Cathedral
Catholic
Celebrant
Chalice
Chancel
Chapel
Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral
Chrism
Church
Church of England
Clergy
Cleric
Clericus
Close
Collect
Colors, Liturgical
Communion, Holy
Communicant
Confirmation
Congregation
Bishop
Consecration of a
Convention, Diocesan
Council of the Diocese
Creeds
Crossing
Curate
Cure
Deacon, Vocational
Deacon, Transitional
Deacon of the Mass or Eucharist
Dean
Diaconate
Dismissal
Diocese
Diocesan Convention
Episcopal
Episcopal Church
Episcopalian
Epistle
Eucharist
Evangelicals
Evensong
General Convention
Gospel

 

Acolyte
A person, usually but not always, a youth in a simple white vestment, who lights the altar candles and assists the priest in the service.

Altar
A table, usually of wood or stone, on which the Eucharist is consecrated.

Altar Guild
A group that takes care of the maintenance and preparation of a church’s altar and its furnishings.

Anglican
A member of one of the churches descended from the Church of England. The Episcopal Church is one of these (see also Anglican Communion). As an adjective, Anglican describes traditions or teachings associated with those churches.

Anglican Communion
The 38 provinces around the world, plus extra-provincial churches, that are in communion with the See of Canterbury. Member churches are independent but share a common heritage concerning Anglican identity and a commitment to scripture, tradition, and reason as sources of authority.

Anglican Consultative Council
The most comprehensive gathering of the Anglican Communion. The purpose of the council is to provide consultation and guidance on policy issues, such as world mission and ecumenism, for the Anglican Communion. The president of the council is the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Anglo-Catholics
Episcopalians who identify with Roman Catholic teaching and liturgical practice and hold a high view of the authority of clergy and tradition. Anglo-Catholics are sometimes called "high church" because of their emphasis on the divine nature of the church as the mystical body of Christ.

Apostolic Succession
The doctrine that the authority and the mission given by Jesus to the Apostles have descended in a direct and unbroken line of bishops to the bishops of today.

Archbishop of Canterbury
The primate of the Church of England; the honorary spiritual head of the entire Anglican Communion.

Archdeacon
A clergy person appointed by the bishop to provide administrative assistance and other leadership to congregations and church organizations in the diocese.

Assessment, Diocesan
The amount that each congregation pays to the diocese to fund the diocese’s annual budget.

Assisting Clergy (Curate, Assistant, Associate)
Parish priests selected by the rector, who serve under the authority and direction of the rector.

Baptism (Holy)
Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ's Body the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble. In the Episcopal Church, anyone who has been baptized may take Communion.

Bishop
Chief pastor of a diocese and guardian of the faith of the Church.

Bishop, Assistant

A bishop appointed by the diocesan bishop to assist the diocesan and to serve under the diocesan's direction.

Bishop, Assisting
A bishop appointed by the diocesan bishop to provide short-term assistance with episcopal duties in the diocese.

Bishop, Coadjutor
A bishop elected to succeed the diocesan bishop.

Bishop, Diocesan

The primary bishop of the diocese, as described under Bishop above. Sometimes referred to as the “Diocesan”; less often as the “Ordinary” (see Canon to the Ordinary). In the Episcopal Church and some other Anglican Churches the diocesan bishop is elected by the Diocesan Council. In other Anglican Provinces, bishops are either appointed from outside, or are chosen by existing bishops.

Bishop, Suffragan
A bishop elected by the Diocesan Convention to assist the diocesan bishop and to serve under the Diocesan's direction. Unlike a Bishop Coadjutor, a Bishop Suffragan has no automatic right of succession to the diocesan bishop.

Book of Common Prayer

The collection of prayers, readings, psalms, devotions, and services that together make up the official liturgy of the Episcopal Church. Nearly all services in any Episcopal Church are printed in this book. In a church in which there is a wide range of interpretation of doctrine and of liturgical style, the Book of Common Prayer provides a unifying glue that places it at the heart of who we are both as Episcopalians and as part of the wider Anglican Communion. The first English Book of Common Prayer was published in 1549; the classic version, which remained in use in England with minimal changes until well into the 20th century, was completed in 1662.. The Episcopal Church revised its version of the Book of Common Prayer in 1928, and then essentially rewrote it, amid considerable controversy, in 1979. Some services from the 1928 prayer book have been retained in the current prayer book as "Rite I" services. Although each province of the Anglican Communion now has its own Book of Common Prayer, the similarities between them are far greater than their differences.

Candidate
The next step beyond postulancy for a person who has been recommended by the Bishop and accepted by the Standing Committee as a Candidate for Holy Orders.

Canon
1.    An ecclesiastical rule or law adopted by General Convention or by Diocesan Convention.
2.    A member of the clergy, or less often a lay person, on the staff of a cathedral or of a bishop

Canon to the Ordinary
A canon who is specific to the Bishop's office; a staff officer who performs tasks as assigned by the Ordinary, or Diocesan Bishop.

Canonical Residence

The connection with a diocese that a member of the clergy acquires by ordination in and for that diocese or by transfer to the diocese and acceptance by its bishop.

Canterbury
Refers to the see of Canterbury, England and to the Archbishop of Canterbury (see above).

Catechism
A commentary on the creeds, printed in the Book of Common Prayer and intended for use by parish priests, deacons, and lay catechists as an outline for instruction. Not meant to be a complete statement of belief and practice, but a point of departure for the teacher. The Catechism also provides a brief summary of the Church's teaching for an inquiring stranger.

Cathedral
The church that contains the bishop’s throne (cathedra) – the seat of the bishop.

Catholic
Literally, "universal" or "found everywhere." Usually a reference to the Roman Catholic Church, although the term also includes Anglican, Syrian, Greek, Coptic, Russian and other churches. The Episcopal Church is a catholic church with a small “c.” Catholic churches generally accept the teachings of tradition as well as scripture, and usually accept the validity of one or more ancient creeds as the summary of the Christian faith.

Celebrant
The bishop or presbyter (priest) who presides at the Eucharist.

Chalice
The stemmed cup or other vessel used to hold the Communion wine.

Chancel
The part of a church that is around the altar and between the altar and the nave.

Chapel
A house of worship, often small in size, owned by a diocese or by a parish, and removed from the main church. Also, a room or recess in a church for meditation, prayer, and small religious services.

Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral
A four-point articulation of Anglican identity, that also describes the Anglican Communion’s ecumenical principles. The four points are:
1.    The Holy Scriptures, as containing all things necessary to salvation;
2.    The Creeds (specifically, the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds), as the sufficient statement of Christian faith;
3.    The Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion;
4.    The historic episcopate, locally adapted.

Chrism

Consecrated oil used in the administration of Baptism, confirmation, ordination, etc.

Church
This word may designate a building or a place of Christian worship, the membership of a particular denomination, or all Christians considered together.

Church of England
The church that resulted from the split of the English Church from Rome in the 16th Century; also known as the Anglican Church. The formal head of the Church of England is the reigning monarch; its spiritual head is the Archbishop of Canterbury. All other member churches of the Anglican Communion trace their origins to the Church of England. (see also Book of Common Prayer)

Clergy
All individuals in Holy Orders.

Cleric
Any member of the clergy (see above).

Clericus
A local gathering of clergy.

Close
Thegrounds of a cathedral.

Collect
A short form of prayer in three parts- an address to God, a petition (special request), and a conclusion- and associated with specific occasions and liturgical seasons.

Colors, Liturgical
By tradition, various colors are used for the vestments and altar hangings for the different seasons and feasts of the Church Year. In western use the tradition is:
•    Red - on Pentecost, Feasts of Martyrs, and during Holy Week.
•    White - on Feasts of our Lord, Feasts of Saints who were not martyrs, Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in some places at the Burial of the Dead.
•    Green - on the Sundays and Ordinary days of the Year after Epiphany and Pentecost.
•    Blue -in some places used during Advent.
•    Purple or Violet – for penitential occasions, during Lent, at Requiems or the Burial of the Dead, and Advent.
•    Black - in some places for the Burial of the Dead and Requiems.
•    Lenten Array - in some places used during Lent in place of purple (see Lenten Array).

Communion, Holy
See Eucharist

Communicant
Anyone, baptized or confirmed, who has communicated (i.e., received Communion) at least three times during the preceding year.

Confirmation
The opportunity for those baptized at an early age to make a mature public affirmation of their faith, to commit to the responsibilities of their Baptism, and to receive the laying on of hands by the bishop. The Book of Common Prayer states: “Those baptized at an early age are expected, when they are ready and have been duly prepared, to make a mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of the Baptism and to receive the laying on of hands by the Bishop.” (BCP p. 412)

Congregation
A parish or a mission. A parish is headed by a rector;  a mission differs from a parish: it is normally headed by a vicar or priest-in-charge who is appointed by the Bishop, and has an advisory board called the bishop’s committee instead of a vestry.

Consecration of a Bishop
The liturgy in which a priest becomes a bishop.

Council, Diocesan

The decision making body of the Diocese. Normally meeting once a year in November, its voting members comprise clergy who are canonically resident and ministering within the Diocese, together with between one and five lay delegates from each congregation, depending on the number of each congregation’s communicants-in-good-standing.

Creeds
Ancient and universal statements of Christian faith. Those ordained for use in the Book of Common Prayer are the Apostles Creed (spoken by the congregation in Morning and Evening Prayer) and the Nicene Creed (spoken by the congregation in the Holy Eucharist).  Many Anglican churches also include the Athanasian Creed among their statements of faith.

Crossing
In church architecture, the main intersection of aisles at the front of the church; if viewed from above, these aisles form a large cross. Sometimes the altar is located at the crossing. In a service, crossing refers to a hand gesture of making a cross pattern on one's body; also a gesture made by a priest or bishop over a congregation or upon a person at death or baptism.

Curate
A deacon or other person not fully ordained who receives a fee for working in a small parish; the parish a curate works with is his "cure;" often a curate is the newest assistant to a senior minister at a large parish. Curates generally work under the supervision of a senior minister and do not have full responsibility for their parish.

Cure
The spiritual charge of a parish, or the parish itself, formerly called the Cure of Souls.

Deacon, Transitional

A postulant to the priesthood who is ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons as part of the process of progressing to ordination as a priest.

Deacon, Vocational

A cleric ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons or Diaconate, one of the three Holy Orders. Deacons are called to fulfill a vocation, as well as a ministry, in the world under the direction of the bishop. While in the world, a deacon interprets the needs of the world, and then communicates such needs to the bishop and the greater church at large. In turn, a deacon ministers to the world as directed by the bishop. Liturgically, a deacon reads the Gospel, sets the table, leads the Prayers of the People and dismisses the congregation.

Deacon of the Mass or Eucharist  

Either a deacon or priest performing the liturgical function of deacon at a Eucharist.

Dean
The rector of the cathedral, the leader of a seminary, or a designated leader of a group of clergy, such as a clericus.

Diaconate
See Deacon, Vocational

Dismissal
The words said or sung by the deacon (or celebrant) at the conclusion of the Eucharist (see BCP, 339 or 366). The response to the dismissal is "Thanks be to God" (during the Fifty Days of Easter, "Thanks be to God, alleluia, alleluia.").

Diocese
A territorial unit of administration, consisting of a number of individual parishes, under the pastoral oversight of a bishop.

Episcopal
An adjective meaning "of or pertaining to bishops." From the Greek word "episcopos" (overseer). The "Episcopate" is the office of a bishop, the period of time during which he or she holds the office, or bishops as a group.

Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church (TEC), of which the Diocese of Tennessee is part, is the Anglican province in the United States. It has more than one hundred dioceses, and is divided into nine geographical provinces.

Episcopalian
A noun referring to members of the Episcopal Church or to Christians who believe in an episcopal form of church government.

Epistle
The lesson at the Eucharist preceding the Gospel taken from one of the Letters of the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles, or the Book of Revelation; also any reading from the Bible other than the Gospels or Psalms.

Eucharist
The central act of Christian worship and commemoration of the central events of Christian faith - also known as The Lord’s Supper, Communion, The Great Thanksgiving, and the Mass - in which bread and wine are consecrated by the celebrant and distributed to the people as the body and blood of Christ.

Evangelicals
Episcopalians who identify with the teachings of Protestantism and the reformed tradition, emphasizing Scripture and the importance of individual conscience. Evangelicals are sometimes called "low church" because they believe Christ allows great freedom in organizing the church and its liturgical practices. Within Anglicanism, the term does not have the same meaning it has within American Protestantism, where the term usually refers to Christians who emphasize salvation and conversion.

Evensong

Sung Evening Prayer (BCP, 6]ff. or 1]5ff.); an evening worship service; evening prayer; and evening prayer service featuring a choir.

General Convention

The national triennial meeting of the Episcopal Church; dioceses send "deputies" or official representatives to General Convention.

Gospel
The final lesson in The Word of God taken from one of the four Gospels in the New Testament. It is normally read by a deacon or priest, and as a sign of reverence, the people and assisting ministers stand when the Gospel is proclaimed (see BCP, 326 or 357).