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Definition: Church of England from Collins English Dictionary


1 the reformed established state Church in England, Catholic in order and basic doctrine, with the Sovereign as its temporal head

Summary Article: Church of England
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Established form of Christianity in England, a member of the Anglican communion. It was dissociated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 under Henry VIII; the British monarch is still the supreme head of the Church of England today. The service book until November 2000 was the Book of Common Prayer. It is now Common Worship.

The Church of England suffered its largest annual decline in Sunday service attendance for 20 years in 1995, according to the annual Church Statistics report. The average attendance was 1,045,000 – a drop of 36,000 from 1994. In November 1992, the General Synod of the Church of England and the Anglican Church in Australia voted in favour of the ordination of women, and the first women priests were ordained in England in 1994. By 1998 there were some 860 stipendiary women clergy.

Organization The Church of England is divided into two main provinces, Canterbury and York, each headed by an archbishop. The provinces are subdivided into bishoprics, each of which covers a geographical area known as a diocese. The bishop in charge of the diocese is based at its cathedral. A diocese is subdivided into parishes, each with a church that is looked after by a parish priest, sometimes known as a rector or vicar.

The Church Assembly (established in 1919) was replaced in 1970 by a General Synod with three houses (bishops, other clergy, and laity) to regulate church matters, subject to Parliament and the royal assent. A Lambeth Conference (first held in 1867), attended by bishops from all parts of the Anglican communion, is held every ten years and presided over in London by the archbishop of Canterbury. It is not legislative but its decisions are often put into practice. The Church Commissioners for England (dating from 1948) manage the assets of the church and endowment of livings.

Main groups The main parties, all products of the 19th century, are: the Evangelical or Low Church, which maintains the church's Protestant character; the Anglo-Catholic or High Church, which stresses continuity with the pre-Reformation church, emphasizes aspects of Christianity usually associated with Roman Catholics, such as ceremony and hierarchy, and is marked by ritualistic practices, the use of confession, and maintenance of religious communities of both sexes; and the liberal or modernist movement, concerned with the reconciliation of the church with modern thought. There is also the Pentecostal charismatic movement, emphasizing spontaneity and speaking in tongues (glossolalia).

The Church of England has churches all over the world. It considers itself part of the catholic (universal) church referred to in the creeds; catholic in this sense is not Roman Catholic. The Church of England has much in common with Roman Catholicism and has a close relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, although some of its parties are more similar to the Protestant denominations. It has, therefore, been described as a bridge between the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.

Practices and worship The diversity of its parties make it difficult to summarize the religious position of the Church of England. It has kept many of the traditional beliefs of the Christian church, and has much in common with both the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches. In 1920 the Lambeth Conference emphasized four essential elements: the Holy Scriptures contain everything necessary for salvation; the Nicene Creed and Apostles' Creed express the faith; the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion (the Eucharist) are celebrated; and the historic episcopate (line of bishops in succession) is maintained. All members of the clergy are allowed to marry, and women may be ordained. The Church of England plays an active part in tackling social problems and issues, and has organizations to help the poor, needy, and underprivileged.

Church of England buildings are usually built in the same cruciform (cross-shaped) design as Roman Catholic churches. Smaller traditional churches are sometimes rectangular, while newer churches are sometimes built to other designs – a circular shape, for example. The internal layout of an Anglican church is similar to the Roman Catholic church. The altar is the focal point because it represents the table of the Last Supper, remembered during Holy Communion. The service of Holy Communion is similar to Roman Catholic ritual, except that incense and bells are not commonly used.

Establishment of the Church of England The Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church, for political and doctrinal reasons, to become the established church in England. During the Reformation in Europe Protestant churches had already challenged the position of the pope, and some Christians in England also felt uneasy with Roman Catholicism. At the same time, the king of England, Henry VIII, wanted to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn; he hoped that she would provide him with a male heir to secure a strong and stable succession. The pope refused to allow a divorce or annulment, so Henry took steps to separate the church in England from the rest of the Roman Catholic Church. The authority of the pope was rejected and the English monarch became the supreme head of the Church of England, with the power to appoint archbishops and bishops.


Ordination of Women Priests


Henry VIII: Act of Supremacy

Parliament: Act of Uniformity: 1549

Elizabeth I: Act of Uniformity: 1558

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