How Our Church Orders its Life

The "Anglican Church" is not one thing but many things, and is not organized like a pyramid, the way many businesses are.  The Anglican Church of Canada is a federation of 30 dioceses each of which serves a geographical area.  Here is a description of its rather odd structure.  

Each diocese has a synod.  But the diocesan synod is not the only place where decisions are made.  There are also synods for the four main regions of Canada (the Atlantic Provinces, Ontario, the Prairies with the North, and British Columbia).  And there is a national legislature called the 'General Synod'.  Each synod has jurisdiction and authority to decide certain kinds of questions but not others.  The national General Synod cannot overule the Provincial or Diocesan synods on matters that lie outside of its jurisdiction.  Conversely, dioceses can't overule decisions that belong to the jurisdiction of the General Synod.  If the matter isn't explicitly in the laws of the Church, then the authority to decide the questions lies with the local bishop. Our last Primate describes the national General Synod as having 30 head offices (the dioceses)! 

The Anglican Church of Canada has this structure owing to the accidents of history and the fact that most of the local church legislatures (or 'synods' as they are called) existed before the national legislature.

Now, if that isn't confusing enough, keep in mind that the constitutions of Anglican Churches vary from country to country. 

Of course the constitution of the Churches continues to evolve.  At the moment there is an international controversy as to where authority to take certain kinds of decisions lies, and how the structures of the Anglican Communion should change in the future.  (See, for example, the Windsor Report).

Even though authority in the Church can't be described as a simple hierarchy, it is still possible to lay out where we are located from 'top to bottom' here in Saskatchewan.

Here goes:

Jesus Christ

By His Word and Sacraments , Christ pours out His Spirit upon the Church and draws us with His love to the Father.

The Church

The Church holds together by her union with Christ through the Sacraments and by a shared faith revealed in the Bible, defined by the Creeds (Apostles', Nicene, Athanasius) as maintained by the undivided primitive Church in the undisputed Ecumenical Councils. The creeds and councils are a part of the rich Tradition she shares and she prays to be led into all truth.

Christians gathered around their bishop (The Diocese)
For Anglicans, as for the Early Church, this is the most important organizational part of the church, and the earthly relationship with which the Christian's identity is most closely bound up.  The Bishop is a modern successor to the Apostles.  The laity gather around an orthodox bishop who then relates them to other bishops and their communities.  They regulate their life together in many areas by passing motions at the Diocesan Synod which has its own collection of laws (called 'canons' and a diocesan constitution).

The Anglican Communion

Anglican bishops relate to other bishops and so identify their communities with that part of the catholic Church called the Anglican Communion.  Anglicans Christians around the world are held together additionally by common forms of worship (the Book of Common Prayer ) and a shared theological tradition (see the 39 Articles the writings of learned Anglican Christians). Other instruments of unity in our Communion are, locally, its bishops and, internationally, (a) the Lambeth Conference (a meeting of all the bishops in the Anglican Communion which gathers every ten years), (b) the Primates Meeting (the heads of Anglican churches in different countries, called provinces), (c) the Archbishop of Canterbury, and (d) the biannual Anglican Consultative Council (with clerical and lay representatives of all 36 provinces). These last four instruments of unity have moral but not legislative authority over individual Provinces.

In Western Canada, Anglican Bishops have divested some of their authority to three bodies - the Diocesan Synod, the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert's Land and, finally (in 1893) the General Synod.

The Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert's Land  consists of the dioceses in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the Arctic (including the Northwest Territories, Nunavut & Arctic Quebec). The Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert's Land retains a veto over the more important decisions of the General Synod,  insofar as they have legal effect in its area.

People in Northern Saskatchewan are governed in part by the Provincial Synod of the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert's Land, made up of the bishops of the dioceses and clergy and lay representatives of the dioceses (elected at Diocesan Synods).  Provincial synod meets every 3 years. The Provincial Synod has a Constitution and Canons. There is an ecclesiastical court to rule in certain matters of discipline in the province. Our Provincial Synod joined with others to create a General Synod in 1893 but major decisions of the General Synod have to be ratified by our Provincial Synod for them to come into force in this part of Western Canada.

The General Synod

The General Synod is the national meeting which has authority mainly over marriage and clergy discipline.  It also has the job of resolving disputes over Christian teaching.  It has a foundational statement called the Solemn Declaration which, in theory at least, prevents it from making up or changing Christian teaching by majority vote, and places it under the authority of the Bible.  It has its own ecclesiastical court to rule in certain matters of discipline if there is an appeal from one of courts of the Ecclesiastical Provinces.

The Parish

Is overseen at a local level by the licensed cleric or lay minister, who administers the spiritual and liturgical life of the congregation.  Parish Council and annual Parish and Congregational meetings make decisions primarily about the financial and practical life of the Parish.  Responsibilities of cleric, vestry and congregational members are laid out in the Induction Service in general terms and in some detail in the Diocesan Constitution and Canons .

The Christian

Every Christian should from time to time frame for him/herself a RULE OF LIFE in accordance with the precepts of the Gospel and the faith and order of the Church; wherein he/she may consider the following:

The regularity of his/her attendance at pubic worship and especially at the Holy Communion.

The practice of private prayer, Bible-reading, and self discipline.

Bringing the teaching and example of Christ into his/her everyday life.

The boldness of his/her spoken witness to his/her faith in Christ.

His/her personal service to the Church and the community.

The offering of money according to his/her means for the support of the work of the Church at home and abroad."

(this Rule of Life is taken out of the Canadian 1962 Book of Common Prayer on page 555)