Church Terminology H-Z

The Episcopal Faith > Episcopal Faith
Change Font Size:    A A A

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
 

High Church
Holy Orders
Holy Spirit
Host
House of Bishops
House of Deputies
Intercession
Interim Pastor
Intinction
Laity
Lambeth Conference
Lay Minister
Lay Reader
Laying on of Hands
Lectionary
Lent
Lesson
Liturgical Colors
Liturgy
Low Church
Mass

Minister
Ministry
Mission
Mission, Organized
Narthex
Nave
Offertory
Ordination to the Diaconate/Priesthood
Ordinary
Parish
Parson
Pastor
Peace, The
Postulant
Preaching Station
Presbyter
Priest
Priest-in-Charge
Presiding Bishop
Primate
Proper

Province
Reason
Rector
Rectory
Rite I 
Rite II
Sanctuary
Scripture
See
Seminary
Standing Committee
Subdeacon
Supply Clergy
Synod
Tradition
Transept
Trinity, The
Vestments
Vestry
Vicar
Warden, or Churchwarden

 

High Church
A designation of a church emphasizing theological or liturgical formality; a church with several vested assistants and many fine utensils used in the service; a church that sings or chants its service rather than reading or speaking it; a church that celebrates the Eucharist every Sunday [though most Episcopal Churches do this now]. Such churches sometimes appear to be more "catholic". See also Low Church.

Holy Orders
The sacrament of ordination, which marks the entry of the candidate into the ordained ministry. The orders of bishops, priests and deacons are termed Holy Orders.

Holy Spirit, The

The third person of the Holy Trinity, also called the Holy Ghost. Jesus promised his followers, the Apostles, that he would send the Holy Spirit after his Crucifixion and Resurrection. The Spirit came to the disciples of Jesus on Pentecost.

Host
The consecrated bread in the Eucharist. Literally, a "sacrificial victim."

House of Bishops
All the bishops of the Episcopal Church sitting as a legislative and judiciary body of the church.

House of Deputies
The lay and presbyter delegates to a general convention sitting as a legislative body.

Intercession
To ask for something on someone’s behalf. The Calendar of Intercession is a daily reminder to intercede with the Almighty on behalf of the person or entity on the list and to remember their needs in prayer.

Interim Pastor
A priest trained for interim ministry to serve either full-time or part-time while a search for a new rector is being conducted.

Intinction

A manner of receiving the Eucharist, in which the Eucharistic bread is dipped into the wine and so administered.

Laity
The baptized people or members of a church, as distinct from the clergy.

Lambeth Conference
A meeting of the bishops of the Anglican Communion once every 10 years at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and originally held at his palace at Lambeth in London. Now held at the University of Kent. Though it is one of the Communion's four "instruments of unity," it has no binding authority over any province of the Communion.

Lay Minister
A person who is not ordained, but who works closely with a church or religious program. Some lay ministers are unpaid volunteers; some are paid staff members of a church.

Lay Reader
Any non-ordained person who participates in reading part of a church service.

Laying on of Hands

That part of the ordination service in which hands are laid on the head of the ordinand to manifest the giving of the Holy Spirit and empowerment for ministry.

 

Lectionary
The appointed lessons and psalms for use at the Eucharist and Daily Offices. Available online here.

Lent
The period of fasting, sobriety and meditation following Ash Wednesday; in the past Lent was widely associated with denial.

Lesson
Also the Epistle; any reading from the Bible except the Gospels or Psalms; usually read on the opposite side of the church from where the Gospel is read; in older practice the Lesson was read from the "Epistle Side"--the right side facing the altar, while the Gospel was read from the "Gospel Side"--the left side facing the altar. Current practice in many Episcopal churches does not conform to this older pattern; also the first reading from scripture at the Eucharist; also, the scripture readings at the Daily Offices or at other liturgies.

Liturgical Colors
See Colors, Liturgical

Liturgy
The prescribed set of forms, and other activities associated with formal worship service.

Back to top


Low Church
A church that is less formal; a church that does not chant or sing its service; a church that alternates Morning Prayer with Eucharist; such churches sometimes appear to be more "protestant."

Mass
The Roman Catholic name for the Christian sacramental meal but sometimes used by Anglo-Catholics to refer to Holy Communion or Eucharist; The celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Minister
All members of the Church are ministers: Lay people, bishops, priests and deacons.

Ministry
The Christian vocation to serve.

Mission
Proclaiming and witnessing to the Kingdom of God.

Mission, Organized
A local church that is not a parish. See Congregation.

Narthex
A vestibule leading into the nave of a church.

Nave
The central part of a church from the narthex to he chancel, flanked by aisles. The congregation sits in the nave during worship services.

Offertory
In the Eucharist, the worshippers’ offering of bread, wine, and alms at the altar.

Ordination to the Diaconate/Priesthood
The liturgy in which a person is made a deacon or a priest.

Ordinary
An ancient and now bemusing term used to refer to the diocesan bishop. Survives most often in the wonderful job title Canon to the Ordinary.

Parish
A local congregation that is in union with the diocese.

Parson
Now rare in Episcopal usage. Any priest or minister; often a reference to low-church or non- Episcopal clergy. Sometimes a term of affection for an older clergyman especially of rural background.

Pastor
A full-time or part-time priest elected by the vestry with the bishop’s approval. A pastor has the full authority of a rector, except tenure. A pastor is in a contractual relationship with the vestry and the bishop. This contract cannot be broken without the consent of two out of the three parties. A pastor is eligible to become rector, pending the bishop’s assessment of the congregation’s ability to support and sustain a tenured priest.

Peace, The
Also known as Passing the Peace; a ritual in the Episcopal Church in which members of the congregation, including the clergy, greet one another. The priest says, "The Peace of the Lord be always with you." The congregation responds, "And also with you." Immediately after these words people shake hands or speak or sometimes embrace in the church.

Postulant
A person admitted by the bishop into the formal preparation for the ordained ministry.

Preaching Station
A local chapel or church that is not organized as a mission. Its assets are held by the  Board of Managers, it is usually unable to have an internal organizational structure (Advisory Board), and it often does not gather for worship every Sunday.

Presbyter
See "Priest." The term "priest" is a contraction of the term "presbyter.

Priest
A presbyter. A cleric in one of the three orders of ordained ministry. The ministry of a priest is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as pastor to the people; to share with the bishop the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.

Priest-in-Charge
A priest retained full-time or part-time with a contract, by annual appointment of the bishop, who is responsible for liturgy, pastoral care, and administrative tasks as negotiated with the vestry. A Priest-in-Charge is not normally eligible to become the rector unless specified in his or her contract, and serves in a parish that is not actively engaged in a search process. The precise role of the Priest-in-Charge is determined by the contract.

Presiding Bishop
The elected episcopal head of the Episcopal Church; the chief administrator and spiritual head of the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church does not refer to its head bishop as an archbishop.

Primate
The bishop with pastoral and administrative responsibility and authority for a group of dioceses that constitute a Church. A primate is sometimes called a metropolitan. The Presiding Bishop in the case of the Episcopal Church, and the Archbishop of Canterbury in the case of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

Proper
The part of the Eucharist and daily services that changes according to the festival or ecclesiastical season. The proper includes the collect, Scripture readings, and prefaces of the Communion service.

Province
An organizational and geographical unit of the Episcopal Church consisting of several dioceses. The Diocese of New York is part of Province II which also includes the Convocation of American Churches in Europe.

Reason
One of the three equal cornerstones of the Anglican Faith, the others being Scripture and Tradition. Anglicans hold that in questions of faith no one of these three holds all of the answers all of the time. The inclusion of Reason here is a distinctly Anglican feature.

Rector
A full-time priest elected by a vestry with the bishop's approval, thereby having tenure. The responsibility for the conduct of worship and the spiritual jurisdiction of the parish are vested in the rector, subject to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church and the diocese, the pastoral direction of the bishop, and the Religious Corporation Laws of the State of New York.

Rectory
The residence provided for the rector.

Rite I 
A portion of the Book of Common Prayer which contains worship services using the older, traditional language of the 1928 edition of the prayerbook.

 

Rite II
A portion of the Book of Common Prayer containing worship services which use more modern language.

Sanctuary
The part of a church around the altar.

Scripture
The Bible - one of the three equal cornerstones of the Anglican faith, the others being Tradition and Reason. Anglicans hold that in questions of faith no one of these three holds all of the answers all of the time.

See
The authority, jurisdiction, position, or official seat of a bishop.   

Seminary
A school or college for the training of ministers.

Standing Committee
A committee of clergy and laity elected by the Diocesan Convention to be a council of advice to the bishop, and to carry out canonically defined duties regarding transfers of property, approval of candidates for the ordained ministry, election of bishops, and other matters of diocesan concern.

Subdeacon
Traditionally a secondary order of deacons who assisted diocesan deacons in their duties and carried out certain functions at the altar, including reading the epistle of the day. Today the subdeacon is usually a lay person, often a licensed lay reader and chalice bearer, who reads the epistle and may lead the intercessory prayers in the absence of a deacon. The normal liturgical vestments of a subdeacon are an alb and tunicle.

Supply Clergy
A priest employed on a per diem basis to officiate at liturgies and to provide limited, specified pastoral care. A priest who serves as supply clergy during an interim period is not eligible to become the rector.

Synod
A council of church officials, lay and ordained. Some dioceses and provinces in the Anglican Communion have periodic Synods rather than Conventions.

Tradition
One of the three equal cornerstones of the Anglican Faith, the others being Scripture and Reason. Anglicans hold that in questions of faith no one of these three holds all of the answers all of the time.

Transept
The two wings of a cruciform church.

Trinity, The
A fundamental symbol of the Christian faith and a very important doctrine in catholic Christianity; refers to the oneness and essential unity of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Vestments
The distinctive clothing worn by leaders of liturgy especially priests and deacons.

Vestry
The rector, wardens and vestry members of a parish. The wardens and vestry are the official representatives of the parish in the absence of a rector. The wardens have special roles and need the firm support of their vestry colleagues.

Vicar
A priest, serving full-time or part-time, with charge and responsibility for a mission or aided parish, appointed by the bishop for a period of one year, renewable. A vicar is eligible to become rector when the mission becomes a parish, or when the parish becomes financially independent of the diocese for basic expenses. Under the bishop, a vicar has the same responsibilities as a rector, but does not have tenure.

 

Warden, or Churchwarden

Parish by-laws provide for the election of two wardens. Both wardens are members of the vestry. The wardens are generally ranked "senior" and "junior." The mode of selection and duties of the wardens are determined by state law, diocesan canon, or parish by-laws. The senior warden is usually the primary elected lay leader of the congregation. The senior warden typically presides at vestry meetings in the absence of the rector, and the junior warden presides at vestry meetings if both the rector and the senior warden are absent. In case of clerical vacancy, the senior warden may be the ecclesiastical authority of the parish for certain purposes. In some parishes, the senior warden is know as the 'priest's warden" and the junior warden is known as the "people's warden." Historically in the Church of England, one warden was named by the priest and the other chosen by the congregation.