The Church of England is organised as two provinces; each led by an archbishop (Canterbury for the Southern Province and York for the Northern). Each province comprises dioceses of which there are 43 in England.
Each diocese in England is divided into parishes. Each parish is overseen by a parish priest (usually called a vicar or rector). From ancient times through to today, they and their bishop are responsible for the ‘cure of souls’ in their parish.
Her Majesty the Queen, who is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, appoints arch bishops, bishops and deans of cathedrals on the advice of the Prime Minister. The two archbishops and 24 senior bishops sit in the House of Lords.
The Church of England is episcopally led (there are 108 bishops (including Diocesan Bishops and Assistant and Suffragan Bishops). It is governed by General Synod as its legislative and deliberative body at national level, making decisions on matters of doctrine, the holding of church services and relations with other churches. General Synod passes measures which, if accepted by Parliament, have the effect of acts of Parliament. It is made up of three groups or houses of members: the Houses of Bishops, of Clergy and of Laity, and meets in London or York at least twice annually to consider legislation for the broader good of the Church.
The three National Church Institutions
The Archbishops’ Council, the Church Commissioners and the Church of England Pensions Board are sometimes referred to as the three National Church Institutions.
The Archbishops’ Council was established in 1999 to co-ordinate, promote, aid and further the mission of the Church of England. Its task is to give a clear sense of direction to the Church nationally and support the Church locally by acting as a policy discussion forum.
The Church Commissioners manage the historic assets of the Church of England, spending most of their income on pensions for the clergy. The costs of Episcopal administration through the diocesan and suffragan bishops are met by the Church Commissioners.
The Church of England Pensions Board was established by the Church Assembly in 1926 as the Church of England’s pension’s authority and to administer the pension scheme for the clergy. Subsequently it has been given wider powers, in respect of discretionary benefits and accommodation both for those retired from stipendiary ministry and for widow(er)s of those who have served in that ministry, and to administer pension schemes for lay employees of Church organisations.
The Board, which reports to the General Synod, is trustee of a number of pension funds and charitable funds. Whilst the Church has drawn together under the Board its central responsibilities for retirement welfare, the Board works in close cooperation both with the Archbishops’ Council and with the Church Commissioners.
The cathedral is the mother church of the diocese and legally is constituted as a separate charity currently exempt from Charity Commission registration.
The Diocese – Diocesan Synod
The diocesan synod is elected with representation across the diocese with broadly equal numbers of clergy and lay people meeting together in Diocesan Synod with the diocesan bishops and archdeacons.
Its role is to:
- consider matters affecting the Church of England in the diocese;
- act as a forum for debate of Christian opinion on matters of religious or public interest;
- advise the bishop where requested;
- deal with matters referred by General Synod;
- consider, through the Bishop’s Council, the strategic budget for the Diocese, including the overall level of parish Fairer Share contributions.
Deanery Synod has two houses, laity and clergy, and its role is to:
- respond to requests from General Synod;
- give effect to the decisions made by the Diocesan Synod;
- consider matters affecting the Church of England by drawing together the views of the parishes within the deanery;
- act as a channel of communication to express the views of parishes to Diocesan Synod and thence to General Synod;
- raise with Diocesan Synod such matters as it considers appropriate; and
- elect a lay member of the Diocesan Board of Finance.
The Bishop’s Council
The Bishop’s Council has the following functions:
- To initiate proposals for action by the Synod; and
- To carry out such functions as the Synod may delegate to it.
Parochial Church Council (PCC) The PCC is the elected governing body of an individual parish which broadly is the smallest pastoral area in the Church of England. Typically each parish has one parish church. The PCC is made up of the incumbent as chair, the churchwardens and a number of elected and ex officio members. The PCC can appoint Church Officers to undertake set roles, for example, Treasurer, Verger or Fabric Steward. Each PCC is a charity, and only parishes with an income of less than £100,000 p.a. are excepted from registration with the Charity Commission. Following the passing of the Charities Act 2006 and the start of the registration process in 2008, PCCs with this level of income need to be registered with the Charity Commission. All PCC’s are bound by The Church Representation Rules 2020 and charity law.
A benefice is a parish or group of parishes served by an incumbent who typically receives a stipend and the benefit of free occupation and use of a parsonage house from the diocese for carrying out spiritual duties. A deanery is a group of parishes over which an area dean has oversight and an archdeaconry is a group of deaneries for which an archdeacon is responsible.
The diocese is then the principal pastoral and in turn financial and administrative resource of the Church of England, encompassing the various archdeaconries under the spiritual leadership of the Diocesan Bishop.
Archdeaconry Mission & Pastoral Committees (AMPCs)
The AMPCs are primarily sub-committees of the Diocesan Mission & Pastoral Committee (DMPC) in order to give consideration to matters of pastoral reorganisation, suspensions of livings etc, in greater depth than is possible at DMPC meetings. 1 clergy and 1 lay representative are elected to serve from each Deanery every six years.
Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) The DAC is a statutory committee of the diocese which considers applications by churches for work to be carried under the ‘faculty jurisdiction’. The committee consists of the archdeacons and appoints people with expertise from a number of professions, including architects, surveyors, organists, lighting specialists etc. Its primary role is to advise the Chancellor of the diocese on the merits of the applications but will engage with parishes to ensure all issues have been considered.
For more information please visit: www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/church-england-glance/history-church-england