Last updated 9th August 2017
The Church of England (C of E) is the state church of England.
The Archbishop of Canterbury (currently Justin Welby) is the most senior cleric, although the monarch is the supreme governor. The Church of England is also the mother church of the international Anglican Communion.
The roots of the Church of England go back to the time of the Roman Empire when Christianity entered the Roman province of Britain. Through the influences of St Alban, St Illtud, St Ninian, St Patrick and, later, St Augustine, St Aidan and St Cuthbert, the Church of England developed, acknowledging the authority of the Pope until the Reformation in the 16th century.
The religious settlement that eventually emerged in the reign of Elizabeth I gave the Church of England the distinctive identity that it has retained to this day. It resulted in a Church that consciously retained a large amount of continuity with the Church of the Patristic and Medieval periods in terms of its use of the catholic creeds, its pattern of ministry, its buildings and aspects of its liturgy, but which also embodied Protestant insights in its theology and in the overall shape of its liturgical practice. The way that this is often expressed is by saying that the Church of England is both 'catholic and reformed.'
The changes that have taken place in the Church of England over the centuries have been many and various. What has remained constant, however, has been the Church's commitment to the faith 'uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds,' its maintenance of the traditional three fold order of ministry, and its determination to bring the grace of God to the whole nation through word and sacrament in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Church of England is organised into two provinces; each led by an archbishop (Canterbury for the Southern Province and York for the Northern). These two provinces cover England, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, the Isles of Scilly and even a small part of Wales; not to mention continental Europe.
Each province is built from dioceses. There are 41 in England and the Diocese in Europe has clergy and congregations in the rest of Europe, Morocco, Turkey and the Asian countries of the former Soviet Union.
Each diocese (except Europe) is divided into parishes. The parish is the heart of the Church of England. 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. That includes everyone. And this explains why parish priests are so involved with the key issues and problems affecting the whole community.
Her Majesty the Queen is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and she also has a unique and special relationship with the Church of Scotland, which is a Free Church. In the Church of England she appoints archbishops, 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, making a major contribution to Parliament's work.
The Church of England is episcopally led (there are 108 bishops) and synodically governed. The General Synod is elected from the laity and clergy of each diocese and meets in London or York at least twice annually to consider legislation for the good of the Church.
The Archbishops' Council was established in 1999 to co-ordinate, promote, aid and further the mission of the Church of England. It is composed of 19 members and 7 directors whose task is to give a clear sense of direction to the Church nationally and support the Church locally.