Elevation of the blessed sacrament
Anglican Priest
Glossary of Titles
Bible Handbook
Thorny Issues

Being an Anglican Priest
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Ordination and titles

Gender and sexuality



Rarely asked questions! (in preparation)

  • (Since I began this FAQ page, visitors have come here with quite a number of unique questions.  Some are really interesting, and worth a careful answer; others are just plain odd.  Click here to see the list of questions.)

Ordination and titles

How do I know if I’m called to be an Anglican Priest?

One of the most famous stories in the Bible tells of the “call” of the prophet Samuel.  The young boy, sleeping in a religious shrine, hears someone calling his name.  He assumes that it is the priest, Eli, for whom he works, and he runs to see what the old fellow wants.  But it wasn’t Eli.  This happens a couple of times until Eli figures it out, and tells the boy to stay still and listen in case the voice calls again, because it is actually God’s voice, not a human one.

...  Click here to continue reading   (the above is the first paragraph of a major article on Vocation.  Continue reading.)

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How do I go about getting ordained as an Anglican priest?

The actual rules for identifying, preparing, and ordaining priests are a little bit different in various parts of the Anglican world, but in all cases you must work with (and be guided by) the diocesan bishop.  It’s also pretty safe to assume that you must be active in some Anglican congregation, and that you are known in that congregation, and respected, before you approach the bishop about becoming ordained.

Let me tell you about the practice in my own diocese (the Diocese of Rupert’s Land, in Manitoba, Canada), because I believe it is fairly typical of Anglican practice in other parts of the world.

In this diocese, potential candidates for ordination must be active in an Anglican parish, and before they are even considered for ordination, they must be recommended by a group of that parish’s active leaders.  This is only the beginning of a careful screening process.  The bishop has a team of advisers who will meet with potential candidates and explore each candidate’s spiritual journey, his or her prayer life and sense of vocation.  The question commonly put to a candidate is, “How do you know that your call is to ordination, and not just to a deeply committed Christian life as a lay person?”  The final screening level happens in the form of a weekend regional conference, 1 involving clergy and laypersons from several dioceses, who will intensively interview a large number candidates from all the participating dioceses.

That is just the screening process.  For some it ends with a recommendation that the candidate not be ordained; for others a letter of recommendation is sent to their bishop.  Note the word “recommendation:” the fact is that the last word always lies with the bishop.

If the bishop agrees to ordain you, he will also lay out what you will need by way of education and training.  Will it be a three year residential degree programme at an accredited seminary?  Will it be local night classes and individual mentorship?  The requirements vary with the candidates, and it is the bishop, working with advisors, who will lay down the requirements for you, based on your circumstances and based upon where you will end up conducting your ministry as a priest.

three deacons, with their bishop
Three deacons, and a bishop
Note the deacons’ diagonal stoles
Oddly enough – and this is true everywhere in the worldwide Anglican Church – you will receive two ordinations, usually a year apart.  One, will be as a deacon.  Deacons have a vocation to proclaim the Gospel, and to mobilize the church for ministry to people in need.  All priests must exercise these gifts, so they are ordained Deacon as a transitional step on their way to becoming priests.  Other people are simply called to be deacons throughout their whole lives, and that is the only ordination that they ever want or need.  A deacon is noticeable when wearing liturgical robes, because his or her stole (a coloured scarf in fine fabrics) is worn across the chest at a 45 degree angle.  On the street, deacons can’t be distinguished from priests because they, like priests, may wear a clergy shirt and collar with their everyday clothing.

an Anglican ordination in progress
An Anglican ordination
The ordination of a priest, when it finally arrives after years of preparation and after further months or years of functioning as a deacon, is a very grand occasion, and deeply emotional for everyone, especially the candidate.  At its centre is a moment when you, the candidate, kneel in front of the bishop, who places his hands upon your head, and prays that you will receive the appropriate gifts of God’s Holy Spirit.  Often, the whole congregation also says or sings a prayer that the Holy Spirit will come upon you.  As well, in most jurisdictions other priests also place their hands on your head at the moment of ordination.  Then your deacon’s stole is removed, and replaced in the fashion of a priest (draped around the neck, the two ends hanging vertically). 
a chasuble
A chasuble
A Bible, and the vessels of Holy Communion are symbolically given to you; and, in some places you are also robed in a “chasuble” (see image, left).

This wonderful and solemn moment of ordination is the culmination of a complex discernment process that lasts for many years.  Thus, if you are only thinking about becoming ordained, the most important first step is to become active in your parish church, and well known to your congregation’s leadership.  Then, make an appointment to see the bishop of your diocese, and may the Lord bless you in your journey.

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My friend is getting ordained.  Is a gift appropriate?

Yes, a gift is quite appropriate.  Gifts directly associated with ordination are most commonly given, but generic gifts are quite suitable as well.

Gifts directly associated with ordination:
The most common and suitable gift for an ordinand, particularly someone being ordained deacon, is a stole.  He or she will need a complete set of them (one for every colour of the church’s seasons: green, purple, white, and red; blue is also used in some regions).  Stoles can be costly, so this gift will be very much appreciated.

For the ordination of a priest, while a gift of a stole is absolutely appropriate, be careful to find out whether the recipient has acquired all his or her stoles while a deacon.  Do your homework: check with the closest family members and with the parishes involved in the person’s life before going ahead on your own.  As well, good stoles are not cheap, and you may be wise to pool together with others in the purchase.

A gift stole may be presented before the ordination if it is in the liturgical colour of the service, because the gift’s significance would be doubled were it to be used in the actual ceremony.

A chasuble is a vestment worn by priests rather than deacons, so it is a very suitable gift for a priestly ordination.  However, there are three reasons why you might want to strike this item off your list: (1) It is much more costly than a stole.  (2) Clergy in some parts of the church do not choose to use this type of vestment at all, so you have to know what you’re doing.  (3) Churches where the ordinand will serve may well have a variety of chasubles for their priests to wear – often in designs matching the decor and hangings of that particular place of worship – so it is not particularly necessary for a new priest to have one of their own at the beginning of their ministry.

A good-quality and attractively bound Book of Common Prayer – in the form regularly used in your part of the world – is a splendid gift. 2  However, you need to be very familiar with the church and its ways.  In Canada, for example, the official Book of Common Prayer, although available in costly leather-bound editions, is not always regularly used in parishes, and your ordinand may be happier to receive a presentation copy of the Canadian Book of Alternative Services.  Check with someone who knows the candidate really well before spending a lot of money.

You might want to give him or her a copy of the Bible.  Here again you must be very careful and do the homework.  For example, when I was ordained (albeit many years ago) the bishop presented me with a leather-bound Bible during the ordination ceremony itself.  A Bible is always symbolically presented to ordinands, but this one wasn’t a symbol, it was a gift for me to keep, and I value it highly.  So ask around and find out: is anyone else – including the bishop or the diocese – planning to give the ordinand a Bible?

Another problem with giving Bibles is this: clergy can have very strong preferences about which version they read.  The New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocrypha is a good choice for most Anglican clergy.  In England, it might be the Revised English Bible (again, with the Apocrypha).  However, don’t rely on my advice alone; do your homework: find out what this individual prefers. 2  Click here to see a list of the currently available published versions of the Bible.

A personal ornament, or jewelry – usually a lapel pin, or a small pendant or brooch in the shape of a cross – can be nice, though of course you would have to know the ordinand and their tastes really well.

Finally, a gift certificate to the local church-supply store (where the ordinand might buy clergy shirts, or devotional items) is certainly very suitable.

Generic gifts for someone being ordained:
Books, or gift certificates to a store that features Bibles and titles on religion and philosphy, are very nice.  The gift certificate is probably better than a book, unless you know the ordinand really well, have a good idea what is, and is not, in their library, and know what they would look forward to reading.

CDs, flowers, chocolates, concert tickets, tickets to sports events, gift certificates to good restaurants, and other such gifts that are based on your personal knowledge of the ordinand are also appropriate.

The best gift of all is not material.  Give the ordinand your emotional support and your prayers, symbolized by your attendance at their ordination.

If you have bought a gift or a card and are wondering what to write in it, see this article in the Rarely Asked Questions section of this website.  Click here to go there.

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How do I address an Anglican priest?  Do I say, “Hello, Reverend”?

This may surprise you, but saying “Hello Reverend,” or “Nice sermon, Reverend” is not always appreciated.  When someone calls me “Reverend,” I usually don’t correct them, because I know they really want to be courteous and respectful, but the fact is that “Reverend,” when used in this way, is simply bad grammar!!!

It’s an adjective, like “ugly,” or “relaxed,” or “honourable.”  You never say, “Hello, honourable!”  For example, the Member of Parliament for my part of Canada is properly called “The Honourable Jim Carr.”  He is, by virtue of his office, granted “honourable” as a title of respect.  But one would never go up to him and say, “Nice speech, Honourable!”  In the same way it is odd and ungrammatical to go up to a priest and say, “Nice sermon, Reverend.”

Let’s suppose we know a priest named Bill Jenkins.  His full name, of course, would be William Jenkins, or William Robert Jenkins.

To address a letter to him, you would write on the envelope, “the Rev’d Bill Jenkins,” or, more formally, “the Rev’d W.R. Jenkins.”  “Rev. W.R. Jenkins” is also quite correct, BUT...
...in the body of the letter, you would not say “Dear Reverend”!  Begin your written message with “Dear Mister Jenkins,” (or just “Dear Bill,” if you know him well).  Similarly, when greeting him on the street, it would be “Hello, Mr. Jenkins,” or “Good morning, Bill,” and not “Good Morning, Reverend!”

In some cases you may find that our friend’s congregation calls him “Father Jenkins,” or “Father Bill.”  Certain clergy very much prefer “Father” as a form of address, but it is not universal among Anglican clergy.  In my experience, female clergy almost never wish to be called “Mother Jenkins,” or “Mother Anne.”

Finally, you are never considered rude if you simply ask a priest, “Do you wish to be called ‘Father’?” or, “How would you like to be addressed?”

Proper forms of written and spoken address for various Anglican clergy:
Position Addressing a letter, or
compiling a guest list, or writing a public notice
relaxed greeting * formal/traditional salutation
Archbishop The Most Rev’d W.R. Jenkins Dear Archbishop Jenkins Your Grace
Bishop The Rt. Rev’d W.R. Jenkins ** Dear Bishop Jenkins My Lord/My Lady
Dean 3 The Very Rev’d W.R. Jenkins Dear Mister Dean (or Madam Dean) Mister Dean
Archdeacon The Ven. W.R. Jenkins*** Dear Archdeacon Jenkins Archdeacon
Canon 4 The Rev’d Canon W.R. Jenkins Dear Canon Jenkins Canon Jenkins
Priest The Rev’d W.R. Jenkins fully discussed in the above paragraphs Sir/Madam/Father
Deacon The Rev’d W.R. Jenkins Dear Mr./Ms./Mrs Jenkins,
      not “Deacon Jenkins”
* In the “relaxed greeting” column, I have listed the proper salutation to be used at the beginning of a written letter or email.  In a face-to-face conversation, just replace the word “Dear” with “Hello, ______,” or “Good morning, ______.” and you’ll be correct.
** “Rt. Rev’d” stands for “Right Reverend.” It means something like “Extremely Reverend,” and is similar to the usage, “Right Honorable,” for a Prime Minister.
*** “Ven.” stands for “Venerable,” which means, “Senior, and to be respected.”

Forms of address that include a spouse
Including a spouse on the cover of a letter or on a formal invitation or place setting can be a bit tricky.  “The Rev’d & Mrs. W.R. Jenkins” is the simplest form, and will serve in many circumstances, however it doesn’t work with some of the special titles in the chart above; nor does it allow for the increasingly common phenomenon of clergy married to clergy.

There is a traditional and extremely formal way of written address for married couples that works in most cases:

“The Rev’d W.R. Jenkins and Mrs. Jenkins”

Or, if the priest is a woman:

“The Rev’d A.L. Jenkins and Mr. Jenkins”

This can be adapted to many of the classes of clergy in the chart above.  Here are some examples:
“The Rt. Rev’d W.R. Jenkins and Mrs. Jenkins” (a bishop)
“The Ven W.R. Jenkins and Ms. A.L. Jenkins” (an Archdeacon)
“The Very Rev’d Anne Jenkins and Mr. William Jenkins” (a Dean)
“The Rev’d W.R. Jenkins and Ms. A.L. Wilkie” (a couple who retain their surnames)
“The Rev’d W.R. Jenkins and The Rev’d A.L. Wilkie” (a clergy couple who retain their surnames)
“The Rev’d William Jenkins and The Rev’d Anne Jenkins” (a clergy couple with single surname)

Addressing clergy as “Doctor”
Some clergy have post-graduate university degrees.  Professors in Anglican seminaries do, and priests with PhDs may be found among the professors of secular universities.  Certain parish priests have also achieved their PhD.  There are even some clergy who are medical doctors.  Finally, some prominent clergy – both bishops and priests – have been granted honorary degrees, such as “Doctor of Divinity” (DD).

Clergy status and educational status can occasionally be combined in formal address.  A priest with a PhD is quite appropriately styled on an envelope or invitation as, “The Rev’d Dr. W.R. Jenkins.”  However, the actual greeting in person or in a letter should simply be “Dr. Jenkins” – or if he or she is a teacher at university or seminary, “Professor Jenkins.”

It’s fairly complicated, actually.  For a greeting or salutation for an ordinary priest or deacon, who has no other title or style within the church and where the default salutation would be “Mr.” or “Ms.,” then address them as “Doctor Jenkins.”

However, for archdeacons and bishops and canons and other clergy, their church title is not normally combined with their educational status when you address them.  “Canon Doctor Jenkins” is not recommended, for example.  The basic rule is: other than an ordinary priest or deacon, address the person in terms of their primary activity.  Are they an primarily an academic?  Call them “Dr.” or “Professor.”  Are they primarily a bishop or archdeacon or canon or dean – who just happens to have higher education or an honorary degree?  Just use “The Rt. Rev’d” or “Bishop” or “Canon” (or whatever is appropriate from the table in the previous section).

Incidentally, I have heard that in German culture, the equivalent of “Mister Doctor Professor Bishop Jenkins” is quite acceptable; and this may be the case in other cultures too.  But such combinations are not normally used in the Anglican church, whose roots are (obviously) in English culture.

It is important to say in conclusion that these are all matters of culture and custom, not faith and doctrine.  Being loving, honest, and generous is far more important in God’s eyes than naming someone correctly.  However, the above paragraphs should cover most of the cultural norms for Anglican clergy.

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What’s the difference between “minister,” and “priest” in the Anglican church?

Two generations ago, you would have heard most people refer to Anglican clergy as “ministers,” and the clergy themselves would have accepted the name completely.  However, if you had been present at the moment that they were ordained, you would have seen that in the ceremony they were officially made “priest” (or perhaps “deacon”).  This has always been so.  Anglican clergy just never used those technical words after ordination, and would settle down comfortably as “ministers.”  This habit began 400 years earlier, when considerable effort was being expended in England to differentiate between the Church of England and the Church of Rome.  Anglicans in those days did not want anyone to think that they were in lockstep with Roman Catholics (and of course Roman Catholics have never stopped publicly declaring their front-line clergy to be “priests”).

But, in the mid-20th Century, people began to realize that “minister” means “servant,” and all Christians are called to serve the poor, and to serve one another in love and forgiveness.  In effect, all are called to be “ministers,” not just the ordained.  Soon we began to see such things as signboards outside churches saying, in the place where the name of the clergy usually goes, “Ministers: all the people of this congregation.”

So now it is widely affirmed in the Anglican church that – although I am ordained – I have been a “minister” ever since I was baptized, but that once I got ordained, I became a “priest.”

Still, if someone insists on saying that I am, or have been, their “minister,” I won’t object, any more than I object when someone calls me “Reverend” (see above).  But I am a priest, and will be until the day I die.

For a much more in-depth exploration of this topic – including an examination of the fundamental role of priests in the church – please see the sermon that I gave at an ordination of priests.  It’s online, here (warning: watch for the sudden twist after the opening paragraphs!).

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Is there a difference between “Episcopal” priest and “Anglican” priest?

The Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. 5 and the Scottish Episcopal Church are both part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and as such are branches of the Anglican church.  Therefore, priests in the Episcopal Church of either country are exactly the same in function and title and office and purpose as Anglican priests in the rest of the Anglican Communion.  There is no difference.

The word “Episcopal” is from the Greek word for “bishop.”  The word “Anglican,” at its root, is the same as the word “English” (technically, “Anglish”).  The Scots have never chosen to be closely identified with the English, and following the American Revolution in 1776, the same held true for Anglicans in the United States.  They chose instead a name for their church that described its structure (ie: led by bishops, instead of presbyteries or congregations) rather than its English roots.

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What is an Anglican “Canon”?  It sounds like some kind of gun!

The word “Canon” is an honorary title.  It is granted by a diocesan bishop to clergy (and sometimes to lay persons) who have served the church faithfully for a number of years, and who are worthy of some respect.  Since the Latin word canonicus means “law” or “rule” it may be assumed that the life of the person who holds the title is a standard or rule that others would do well to copy.
cassock for an Anglican Canon
The cassock6 of a Canon

In the early history of the church Canons were priests who shared a home and followed a “rule” or pattern of daily life.  Later the word referred to clergy who were part of the life of a great cathedral.  They helped to administer the cathedral and would elect certain church officials.  Nowadays, in the Anglican church, there is still a slight connection with the local cathedral, where a Canon might be obliged to attend a meeting once a year, but primarily the title is an honorary one with little or no duties attached.

As referenced above, you might say, “Good morning, Canon Jenkins,” in a conversation, although using his or her given name is more usual.  Addressing an envelope would follow this form: “The Rev’d Canon W.R. Jenkins.”

Anglican Canons are entitled to wear a distinctive style of cassock.6  The basic black of the vestment is trimmed with red satin; there are red buttons, a red cincture, and the short upper cape has a red lining (see photo).  Wearing such a grand vestment is optional, and many Anglican canons in Canada choose not to do so.

The difference between church Canons and large weapons of war is all in the spelling: a “cannon” is a weapon; a “Canon” is a church official with an honorary title; and a “canon” is a church bylaw.

(There are all sorts of unusual – even weird and wonderful – titles for Anglican clergy.  In addition to canons, there are deans, incumbents, metropolitans, precentors, and many more... it’s quite a list.  Click here to see a glossary of common Anglican clergy titles.)

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Gender and sexuality

Can women be priests in the Anglican Church?

The short answer is, “Yes.... mostly.  It depends on where you live.”

The Anglican Communion is a worldwide fellowship of independent regions.7  It is organized rather like the British Commonwealth (which shouldn’t be a surprise) and in two thirds of the world’s regions, women may be ordained to the priesthood (as of 2010).  A small number of those regions also have women bishops.

The practice of ordaining women is fairly new, and began in the 1970s in Hong Kong,8  Canada, the U.S.A., and New Zealand.  In 1978 a regularly convened worldwide meeting of Anglican bishops in Lambeth, England, gave consent to the kind of tension between regions that exists to this day, wherein regions that authorize the ordination of women are permitted to do so, and regions that refuse to authorize it are not compelled to begin.

The matter has been very controversial, although in places like Canada where there have been women priests for almost forty years, the controversy has pretty much died down.9

There is a thorough and informative article about the ordination of women in the Anglican church, online, at Wikipedia
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ordination_of_women_in_the_Anglican_Communion.

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May Anglican Priests marry?


Celibacy – the requirement that clergy be single, and abstain from sexual intercourse – has not been demanded of Anglican clergy since 1559.  However, if you wish to be a monk or a nun within the Anglican Church, that’s another matter.  For these vocations, celibacy is required.10

You may apply to become a priest as a married person or as a single person.  You may be single when you get ordained, and later get married.  This is uniformly the case throughout the Anglican Communion.

However, in certain parts of the Anglican Communion, if you are a married priest, and your marriage ends in divorce, you may not be permitted to remarry.  This is not the case in Canada, or in the United States, or in several other jurisdictions, where you will likely come across several clergy who have been divorced and remarried.

Those are the regulations.  But please consider the following:

The congregations served by a priest look to that priest for guidance and inspiration.  The daily life of any ordained person thus becomes as much a “sermon” as the words that they preach in the church.  So the husband or wife of a priest, and the children too, fall under much more scrutiny than do families where work can be separate from private life.  Therefore the spouse of a priest needs to see his or her role as a “vocation,” almost as intense as that of the ordained person whom he or she has married.

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What happens if a married Anglican priest gets divorced?

dogs leaping and baying
The author remarried (1975),
surrounded by parishioners
and his children
Factual answers to this question will follow, but first, disclosure:

In 1975 I was granted a divorce by the Province of Manitoba in Canada.  Shortly thereafter, in a church full of friends and relations, I walked down the aisle with my new bride – now my wife of 35 years – having had our wedding solemnized by the Anglican Bishop of Rupert’s Land.  The children of my first marriage (a marriage that had lasted ten years) played a part in the wedding.  I continue to be an Anglican priest in good standing.  And I am a divorcé.

A feature of Anglican liturgy is that extended passages from the Bible are proclaimed at every worship service.  Now and then a passage must be read wherein Jesus himself clearly prohibits divorce and remarriage: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”11  When such a passage is read out in the liturgy, even though so many years have passed, I still find myself filled with a feeling of both sadness and discomfort.  There I am, robed in the vestments of a priest and presiding at the altar, and I am a divorcé... and Jesus says that this means that I am an adulterer.  Oh that my life could have been somehow different!  Heather, my second wife, is the one meant for me.  But at the same time my three older children are splendid human beings; I love them dearly and know that each in his or her own way is a blessing to the world around them.  Good has come out of bad.  And I proclaim the scriptures and know that a merciful God will sort it all out in due course.

Divorce and remarriage in the Anglican Communion:
(NOTE: It is very difficult to get reliable data on this topic, and I will welcome assistance if you can correct and/or add to the following information:)

The Anglican Church of Canada decided to permit divorce and remarriage in 1963.  Around the same time, the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. did something similar.  I believe that it wasn’t until the 2000s that the Church of England, and the Anglican Church of Australia began to permit remarriage after divorce.  New Zealand Anglicans have also integrated a remarriage protocol into the life of their church, as far as I know.

In all of these regions, the church continues to teach that divorce is a major tragedy, and hence it is not a simple matter to arrange for remarriage in the church.  For example, in Canada, the priest who has been asked to preside at a wedding where one (or both) of the partners are divorced, must help the couple prepare an application for permission to go ahead with the wedding.  That application is submitted to the bishop, who in turn may seek guidance from a diocesan commission that has been specially convened to consider such applications.  I am certain that such commissions or tribunals are also standard practice in the other regions of the church where remarriage is permitted.

In the rest of the Anglican world, policies and procedures are widely varied.  There are churches where remarriage after divorce is altogether prohibited (eg: in the Philippines), and some where a divorce brought on by the adultery of one partner may be followed by remarriage of the “innocent” party.  There may be some places in Africa where divorce and remarriage is permitted, but attention there has been focused upon men with several wives who might wish to become Anglican (such men are permitted to retain their wives,12 largely because the fate of a ‘discarded’ wife would be extremely unpleasant for her; but the polygamous man must not marry anyone else after becoming Christian).

So, if you are divorced, and are thinking about becoming ordained, or if you are a priest whose marriage has collapsed, just as it is in the case of the ordination of women, and the unions of homosexual persons, the policies you would encounter all depend upon where you live.

The following sections are based on my life in the Anglican Church of Canada.  I imagine it will be quite similar to the situation in the U.K., the U.S.A., Australia and in New Zealand.  Elsewhere, you’ll have to check with your local church leaders.

If you are divorced, and seek to become ordained
In Canada, being divorced is not an impediment to becoming ordained.

If you are divorced and living a single life, the people who will assist you in determining whether or not you should be ordained (see the article on getting ordained, above) will be interested in your life journey, and may wish to talk about your failed marriage as they explore your spiritual formation, but divorce, in itself, will not cause your candidacy to be rejected.

Mind you, once you have been ordained as a single person, and gain employment in the church, you need to know that a parish priest lives a very public life.13  Your personal life will be constantly observed and evaluated by the members of your congregation and by your neighbours and by anyone who knows that you’re ordained.  So, if you enter a parish as a single person, anyone that you date will need to be fully prepared to join you under that big public microscope.  One or two dates can no doubt be kept reasonably private, but don’t even count on that!  An acquaintance or a parishioner may just happen to spot you together at that restaurant, and tongues will start to wag.  So, if you are not yet ordained, and are divorced, and are dating, and would like to remarry, it may be easier on you both if the wedding happens long before the ordination.

If you are divorced and already remarried in the church, once again – at least in Canada – your divorce, in itself, will not cause your candidacy to be rejected.

However, if you are divorced and living common law with someone of the opposite sex, you’ve got a problem.  Your candidacy will be affected by the common law situation, not by the divorce.  The church upholds the concept of Christian marriage, and living together without having been married is too much of a challenge to standard Christian moral teaching.  If you and your partner believe that your relationship is a lifelong union to the exclusion of all others, then there is no reason not to marry.  But if you don’t wish to marry for whatever reason, you’ll find yourself ineligible to be a priest.

If you are divorced and living in a homosexual union, see the article below.

If you are an active Anglican priest, employed in parish ministry, and you become divorced
While it is nowhere near as bad as what happens to celebrities, your troubles do occur in a goldfish bowl and there is nothing you can do about it.  Some clergy run away.  They resign the parish, and find secular work until the dust settles.  I did that myself for a little while, but I found it to be a mistake, and returned to parish ministry before my first marriage finally ended (see disclosure, above).  In a healthy parish, parishioners will love you and give you space, if it is clear to them that you are working hard on your marital struggles. Indeed they will take pleasure in praying for you, and giving you moral support.

This will not be the case if you yourself are straying from the marriage, unless you turn away from the unfaithfulness, and work intensively and honestly to repair and restore your marriage.  If you insist on having an affair, it will soon be known, and you will do yourself and the church a lot of damage if you do not either seek a leave of absence or resign outright to work on your personal issues.  Stay at the altar?  Tongues will most certainly wag, the church will be diminished, and you will lose any credibility you ever had.

When a working parish priest has a permanent marriage breakdown, the respect of parishioners will be retained if he or she lives in the single state for a significant length of time following the ending of the marriage.  After about a year of visible singleness, with its implied sexual abstinence, such clergy may – at least in the regions where divorce and remarriage are acceptable to the church – begin to date and explore the possibility of remarriage.  I met my wife some time after my first marriage had completely ended.  I was Rector of a church with about 300 families.  Heather and I dated for almost two years (waiting for my divorce to come through), during which time she attended the church and became well known and loved by the members.  When our wedding day finally came, hundreds of parishioners showed up at the service just to wish us well.  This is a happy memory for both of us.

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I’m homosexual, and I’m married to a person of my own gender.  May I be an Anglican priest?

This question is part of the most vexing issue facing the worldwide Anglican Communion at the present time.14  In a small number of regions, openly gay or lesbian individuals who are in committed same-sex relationships, or who are in legally-sanctioned same-sex marriages, are functioning as priests in good standing.  However these developments – and they are comparatively recent – have caused grave concern throughout the church.  There have been countless meetings, conferences and discussions on this topic – many of them extremely heated – and a lot of ink has been spilled.  There are threats of schism (ie: congregations and even whole regions threatening to split away from the rest of the Anglican church).  There are parts of the worldwide church where being in a sexually active same-sex relationship is taught to be sinful.  There are parts of the world where simply being homosexual is against the law of the land.  But if you are homosexual, you already know that.

The long and short of it is: if you are in a homosexual marriage, be prepared for controversy when you seek ordination.  The first thing to do is find out what policies are being followed in your local diocese.  As I mention in the ordination section above, anyone who wishes to be ordained needs to belong to a church and needs to get in touch with their local bishop in order to launch the ordination process.  That is also the best way of finding out what the status is for married same-sex couples in your region.  Your diocese will have a policy.  In today’s church, it cannot not have a policy!

If you wish to remain anonymous for now, you might even find that policy on your diocese’s website, but if you are thinking of ordination, sooner or later you will have to come out somehow, somewhere.  I suggest beginning with the parish priest in the congregation where you attend worship.  If you are safe and comfortable worshipping in that congregation, you will probably be safe discussing the matter with the priest.

Finally, for all married persons (heterosexual or homosexual) who are considering ordination, the most important person to consult is: your spouse.  He or she will be enormously affected should you become a priest, and he or she needs to be positive and supportive, and ready for the attention that will inevitably come.

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Do Anglican priests get paid?

The short answer?  No, not unless he or she has been hired for a particular job.

A priest has a specific function within the church: he or she presides at the ceremonial meal called the “Holy Communion” or the “Eucharist” (sometimes it’s also called the “Mass”).  A congregation may pay a priest for doing this, but the priest might also do it voluntarily, for free.  Being a priest does not in itself come with a salary.

The most common paid employment of an Anglican priest

The most typical full-time job for a priest is that of leading a congregation.  There are lots of names for such a job, like “Parish Priest,” “Vicar,” “Rector,” and “Incumbent.”  “Pastor” is also used as a title, but it is not widespread in the Anglican Communion.  However, these titles all mean the same thing: that a particular priest has the primary responsibility for leading a church congregation in its worship and in its daily life.

Some large churches might employ more than one priest, in which case the job title of the second position might be “Priest Associate,” or “Curate,” or “Assistant Priest.” 15

All such full-time jobs come with some sort of salary, but the Anglican Communion has churches in almost every part of the world, and these salaries will vary widely depending on the wealth or poverty of the country, and the comparative affluence of the congregation members.

In Canada, parish clergy tend to be paid a wage that is about the same as that of a government clerk or a small office manager.  In some places the priest gets a salary that is much lower than that, but a residence comes with the job.  The practice of giving a free residence (most often called a “rectory”) is less and less common now – at least in the Canadian Anglican church – because it has often caused clergy to be without a place to live when they retire.  A full salary allows a person to own their own home, which they may live in following retirement (or use the equity to buy another one).

In Canada, too, most priests in full-time parish employment must contribute to a pension fund, to which the employing congregation is also required to contribute.  And in most Canadian regions clergy participate in, and contribute to, a group insurance plan (life, vision, dental, and pharmacy [not health-care, in Canada health-care is free]).

Finally, since it is expected that parish priests will visit parishioners in hospital, or in their homes, they may be paid a mileage allowance for using a car.  The per-kilometre rate is usually set by the diocese.

Some smaller congregations offer only part-time employment to priests, who must therefore have some other source of income.  Part time salaries are invariably calculated as a percentage of what the full-time rate might be in a particular diocese (three-quarters, half, or one quarter of the diocesan salary scale).

A congregation that has no full-time clergy may simply pay someone to come to the church on a Sunday, preside at the Eucharist, and preach the sermon.  In my part of the world this is called “clergy supply,” and the per-service and mileage rates are set by the diocese.

Full and part-time paid clergy are expected to preside and preach at all church services, and they are expected to visit the sick, give spiritual direction and counselling, teach the faith, organize programmes of outreach, and much much more.  It is only the “clergy supply” priests of whom it might be said that “they only work one hour a week” – and even then that phrase is mostly a joke.

Do you really want to know what clergy are paid in your part of the world?  Go to your parish church and ask to see the most recent annual financial report.  It is a public document, and it is usually scrutinized by the congregation each year at an annual general meeting.  This document will tell you what the income of the clergy is, because that clergy salary is a congregational “expense.”

In my experience as a parish priest, it just “comes with the job” that everyone in your congregation will know – and discuss – what your salary is.  Those who serve in a diocese with a fixed universal clergy salary are fortunate, at least in this respect: they don’t have to argue with the congregation about what their income is going to be for next year.

Fees for baptisms, weddings and funerals (sometimes called “Stole Fees”)

Basically I believe there should be no fee for a baptism.  In fact, I believe that such fees are wrong, and are rightly called “simony.” 16

Here is a mental exercise: Although Anglicans most commonly baptize new-born infants, let’s suppose that you are planning to be baptized yourself, as an adult.  To do so, you would enter into quite a long-term and intense relationship with the parish priest.  There would be personal interviews, prayers, spiritual reading, and conversation.  Perhaps you will have attended several sessions of a preparatory course, usually led by the same priest.  In all of this you are entering into a relationship – a relationship with the priest, with the whole people of God, and through them with Jesus Christ Himself.  And, just as you wouldn’t pay your friends to be your friends, or your lover to be your lover, you wouldn’t pay the people of God for joining themselves to you in the fellowship of Christ Jesus.  Nor would you pay them for joining themselves to your child – if in fact it is a child that you are presenting for baptism.  Payment for baptism is just wrong.  That’s my opinion.  Forget the fee.  Enter into a relationship with the people of God; be a committed and contributing member of Christ’s church.

Weddings and funerals
There are no fixed rules about fees for weddings and funerals.  Unlike baptism, these ceremonies don’t change your relationship with Christ and His church.  Rather, they are services rendered to you and to your loved ones, so they are more eligible to have fees associated with them.

Some clergy publish a list of fees, particularly for weddings.  Such fees might go to the organist, to the caretaker, and to the general maintenance of the church building, as well as to the priest.  Clergy who publish such a fee schedule usually make it very clear.  On the other hand, some clergy refuse a fee altogether, pointing out that they recieve a salary.  I myself have sometimes said, “The congregation pays my salary.  Attend this church, put money in the offering, and you will have participated in my payment.  Presiding at your wedding/funeral is my duty as pastor of this congregation.”

Not a lot of clergy take this position, however, and most expect some sort of fee.  So, if they don’t publish a fee schedule, you should not be shy to ask them directly: “Do you charge a fee for this?”  They are pretty used to the question, and will have their answer ready.

In the case of funerals, you have a way of enquiring without directly approaching the priest: ask the undertaker/funeral director how much the clergy in your part of the world tend to get at funerals.  They know.  But I still recommend the direct approach.

If you wish to give a priest a gift because they were particularly kind, or visited you when you were sick, or anything like that, my first suggestion is: don’t.  This is what they are supposed to do.  This is their calling.  And in many cases this is their job, and the congregation pays their salary to do what they just did for you.  It’s expected of them.  If, after reading all this, you still want to give them a gift, see the following:

Giving other gifts to priests
In my opinion, gifts are gifts.  If you wish to give a gift to a friend, how do you go about it?  Don’t you do so on the basis of personal acquaintance, your knowledge of their interests, their likes and dislikes?  No one gives a bottle of whiskey to a friend who they know abstains from alcohol.  No one gives a CD of country music to a friend who only listens to Classical!  Gifts to clergy are gifts and operate entirely the same as gifts do when given to any sort of relative or acquaintance.  If you don’t know the priest personally, then I expect you’re really thinking about a fee for some sort of service, and I think you should be reading the previous entry.

Gifts for a person being ordained
This is a different matter altogether.  See the article under Ordination, above)

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What is it like to be an Anglican parish priest?

(Many visitors come to this website asking questions like, “What does an Anglican priest do?” or “What is a typical day in the life of a parish priest?”  The article that begins below is my response to such questions.)

First, let’s get the jokes over with:

“Great job!” says the friendly humorist, “You priests only have to work one day a week!”


The parish priest – indeed any ordained person – is most visible at the weekly Sunday service.  There he or she stands before a crowd of people and performs a ritual, or says a lot of words, for about an hour.  This is followed by a few minutes at the church door shaking hands.  But is that really the sum total of a priest’s working week?  Of course not.

There is another, and somewhat kinder stereotype of the clergy that you may have heard: “You guys are on call 24/7!”  This conjures up an image of a priest sitting quietly by the telephone day and night, and when the phone rings, going out to pray with someone who is dying, or to calm down a family dispute, or to hold someone’s hand while they identify a body in a morgue.

I don’t suppose there are many priests who have not been called out in the middle of the night, but such dramatic moments only happen occasionally.  The picture is inadequate simply because a priest doesn’t do a lot of sitting around when the emergencies are not happening.

So what is a parish priest’s life really like?

It depends.

...  Click here to continue reading   (the full article opens in a new page)

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Our church is interviewing a priest for a job as our pastor.  What interview questions should we be asking?

In some dioceses the Bishop merely appoints clergy to parish positions.  In other dioceses, however, the congregation is charged with interviewing candidates and making the selection themselves.  If you are on such a committee you might find some of the following interview questions helpful:

(All congregations should have a clear understanding, or “vision,” of what they are called to do as a Christian church.  Serve the poor?  Prepare and present exquisite worship?  Run a church school?  There are countless approaches to being a living and vital Christian organization.  The specific vision of your parish church should strongly influence the type of questions you will be asking.  The first set of questions that follow are general in nature, and ought to be part of any interview with a prospective clergy candidate; the second set is merely to give some illustrations of vision-based questions – it is styled for a large fictional inner city church with declining membership, top-notch choral music, and a meal program for homeless people)

General questions to be asked of any candidate

1. How active do you think the people of this parish should be in the matter of homosexual inclusion in the life of the church?  And how active in the controversy will you be, as our ordained leader?

– If you believe the church should be active, what position do you think it should take?
(NOTE TO THE READER: As you probably know, there is a whole range of possible answers here: actively promote same sex marriage; actively promote same sex unions but decline to call them ‘marriage’; actively promote homosexual celibacy; actively seek the healing of homosexual inclinations, and numerous variations of these.  It is essential that an incoming pastoral leader make his or her position very clear on this matter at the outset.)

– If you believe that you or the people of this church should not be active in the controversy, we would still like to know what approach you would take if you were to find homosexual couples in this congregation.

2. How familiar are you with the older Book of Common Prayer (pick the one for your region), and have you presided at worship according to its usage?17

– the 1962 Book of Common Prayer (Canada)

– the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (U.S.A.)

– the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (U.K.)

– other regions’ prayer books that directly descend from the work of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1549 and 1552

3. Do you insist on using one of the official liturgy books of the Anglican/Episcopal Church in this country? or do you prefer to use forms that are from other parts of the church, or even your own creations?

4. Do you favour the use of projection monitors to convey the words or music of the liturgy on a screen or wall?

5. What is your approach to pastoral care?
– do you make general friendly home visits?
– do you have a regular pattern of hospital visits?
– do you have a specific approach to the care of the sick and shut-in?
– do you involve lay people in parish pastoral care?

6. What emphasis in your ministry do you place upon adult Christian education and enrichment?
– do you do some teaching of parishioners yourself?
– do you call upon external resources?
– do you encourage the development of study groups?

7. What are some of the techniques you recommend for involving new members, who have never before experienced a liturgical church?

8. Tell us a little about your approach to financial Stewardship.
– Do you speak about financial offerings in your sermons and/or public messages?
– Do you commend the Tithe as a standard of giving?
– Are you willing tell us about your own giving practice?

9. Tell us about your own stewardship of time: what might we expect to be the pattern of your weeks?
– What time off do you think is necessary for your own health and wellness?
– What office hours might you expect to keep?
– How many evenings a week do you think you will devote to your work at our parish?
– Are you a morning person or a night person?

10. Describe your style with respect to parish administration and parish meetings?  What we are interested in is:
– do you act on your own or do you prefer to work with committees?
– do you prefer informality at meetings or strict “Robert’s Rules”?
– do you like to chair, or do you prefer to have others in the chair?
– what is your leadership style? (give examples from your past experience)

11.  Can you tell us a little about your personal prayer life?
– are you an associate of any religious order?
– do you have a daily time of prayer?
– how often do you go on a retreat?
– do you have a spiritual director?
– do you follow any particular school of spiritual formation?

12.  To what extent will you encourage our parish to focus upon prayer, intercession, and prayer groups?

Questions specific to St. Swithun’s, a fictional inner-city church

a. What approaches would you consider trying, in order to increase the number of active members in our congregation?

b. What type of music do you listen to at home?
(NOTE TO THE READER: In a parish with a fine music tradition, this question is very important, because if the candidate does not enjoy listening to the type of music that is heard in your parish, sooner or later there will be disagreement and unhappiness over music selection.  If he or she listens to music that is vastly different from what you have in your parish, that may be all right, but it is essential that they also listen to and enjoy the type that your church represents.)

c. Do you prefer to select the congregational hymns for Sunday worship yourself? or would you delegate this task to the director of music?

d. Can you sing the liturgy and hold a tune?

e. Would you personally attend our Homestyle Soup program, lend a hand, and get to know the volunteers and the guests?

f. St. Swithun’s survives by renting the church hall to various outside groups.  How do you see yourself relating to our tenants?

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Are Anglican priests required to say certain daily prayers?

Yes... in a way.

Although it is partly canon law, and partly tradition, there is a deep-seated expectation that Anglican priests and deacons say the “Daily Office” from the day of their ordination until the day they die.  (In Anglicanism, the phrase “Daily Office” generally refers to the formal rites of Morning Prayer, and Evening Prayer, or some equivalent that includes the systematic daily reading of scripture, psalms and canticles.)

At the very beginning of distinctive Anglicanism, when the Reformation in England was rushing headlong towards its most tumultuous phase, the second edition of the Book of Common Prayer was published containing this injunction:
..all Priestes and Deacons shalbe bounde to say dayly the Mornynge and Evenyng prayer, either privatly or openly, excepte they be letted by preaching, studeing of divinityie, or by some other urgent cause.18

As you may know, the Reformation in England was largely a work of the national government.  Every version of the Book of Common Prayer, as it came out, was enforced by an Act of Parliament.  As a result, the instructions contained within the book had the force of law – both canon law (church law) and the law of the land.  The simple injunction quoted above became part of the very fabric of Anglicanism: clergy are “bound,” – committed, obligated – to say the Daily Office, unless prevented (letted) for some legitimate reason.  The obligation was repeated in the Prayer Book of 1559, and again in 1662.

The 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer is exceedingly important in the development of the Anglican Communion,19 because it travelled with British sailors, explorers and traders into every corner of the world, and was used in all the English churches that sprang up in the spreading Empire.  Even when those outposts of Englishness became politically independent, the 1662 Prayer Book was the foundation for all the regional books of Common Prayer that eventually came into existence: first in Scotland, then in the U.S.A., in Ireland, in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and finally (in translation) in numerous countries where English is not the national language.

In my country (Canada) the 1662 book was quite thoroughly revised in 1962 and became Common Prayer, Canada.  Although the location of the instruction that clergy say the Daily Office was changed from where it had been in 1662, the injunction itself was retained. 20  And, because Common Prayer, Canada is still the authoritative source of doctrine and discipline in the Canadian church,21 the requirement to say the Daily Office continues to be, to all intents and purposes, canon law for clergy of the Anglican Church of Canada.

In countries such as Scotland, Ireland, and the U.S.A., however, when revisions of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer were produced, the Daily Office injunction was omitted.  Personally I think its disappearance was due to resentment of any hint of English parliamentary authority, but whatever the reason, in these countries, the obligation for clergy to say the Daily Office was no longer to be found in the Prayer Book, and those who believed that the duty still remained, had to argue that it was inferred in the foundation documents of those churches.  For example, the emerging Prayer Books of those countries describe the Order of Morning Prayer as something that happens “daily.”  And, in the 1789 preface to the American BCP, these words appear: “that this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship....”  It is arguable, isn’t it, that the word “discipline” includes the time-honoured obligation to say the Daily Office? 22

But the point must be argued.  In such countries the obligation is not set down in black and white.

Thus it is that in some parts of the Anglican world the requirement for clergy to say the Daily Office has the force of canon law, but in other places it is more like a very strongly supported tradition.

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1  The committee organizing this conference is called, “The Accreditation Committee for Postulants for Ordination,” or “ACPO,” for short.
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2  Some people are unsure what to write in such a gift.  Try this: “Wishing you every blessing on the day of your ordination as a     priest/deacon     in the Body of Christ” followed by your name.  You can also write a Bible verse on the presentation page; my favourite for the ordination of priests is: “Let your priests, Lord God, be clothed with salvation...” – 2 Chronicles 6:41.
There is a more complete discussion about what to write in cards and gifts for clergy, in the Rarely Asked Questions section of this website.  Click here to see it.
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3  In the Anglican church, the “Dean” is a priest who presides at the Cathedral  He or she is also one of the chief advisers to the Bishop, and is often appointed to act in the bishop’s behalf when the bishop is away.
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4  See also the article on “Canon,” elsewhere in this document.
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5  You can visit the website of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. by clicking here.  The actual URL (Internet locator) of that branch of the Anglican church demonstrates the connection:  http://ecusa.anglican.org/
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6  A “cassock” is a floor-length ecclesiastical garment.  It is usually black in colour, but there are also white cassocks (often used by clergy in the tropics), red ones (often worn by altar servers), purple ones (worn by bishops) and blue ones (often preferred by church choirs).
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7  The correct name for things can be a problem in the Anglican church.  This article speaks of Anglican “regions,” but they are most often referred to as “Provinces” within the church, or sometimes simply as “Churches.”  Usually, an Anglican region corresponds to a secular nation, such as in Canada, where the Anglican Church of Canada constitutes a “Province” of the Anglican Communion.  Sometimes, however, an Anglican region comprises several secular nations, as, for example, the “Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America” (the Anglican Church of Central America).
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8  One woman was ordained priest in the Anglican church prior to the 1970s.  Florence Li-Tim Oi, was ordained in Hong Kong in 1944 in the chaos of World War II, but her ordination was not officially ratified until 1971.
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9  In May, 2010, 29% of Anglican clergy in Canada were women.
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10  Perhaps you did not know that there are communities of monks and nuns in the Anglican Church.  Members of such communities vow to live a life of “poverty, chastity, and obedience” – in other words, they agree to not own anything (‘poverty’), to be single and abstain from sexual intercourse (‘chastity’), and to submit their daily lives to the rule of the community and to the decisions of the community’s leaders (‘obedience’).  For a list of Anglican Religious Orders, go to Anglicans Online.
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11  Mark 10:11-12. A similar statement by Jesus is found in Luke 16:18, and in Matthew 5:32. Matthew seems to say, however, that one legitimate excuse for divorce is the act of adultery , but in Mark and Luke this exception is not available.
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12  This was the decision of the Lambeth Conference in 1988 (Resolution 1988-26).  The Lambeth Conference is a meeting of all currently active Anglican bishops in the world. It takes place once every ten years, at the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, in Lambeth, England.
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13  I’m considering writing an article for this website on my experience living in the parish goldfish bowl. Do please contact me if you think such an article would be helpful.
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14  For extensive coverage of this difficult topic, see the Wikipedia article, “Homosexuality and Anglicanism.”
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15  For a fairly extensive glossary of clergy titles in the Anglican Communion, click here.
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16  Strictly speaking, “simony” is the attempt to purchase spiritual or ecclesiastical “power.”  For example, donating a stack of money and being made a bishop in return, that sort of thing.  But baptism, being the primary entry rite into the Christian family, is something that cannot in any way be bought and sold, and clergy who accept fees for baptism (there are some) run the risk of giving the impression that this gift of God’s grace is available for purchase. I admit that this is my own personal opinion.  But I am happy that, at least in Canada, few clergy are known to accept fees for performing baptisms.
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17  Some regions of the Anglican Church have re-worked the Eucharistic liturgy from the 450 year old Book of Common Prayer, keeping the Elizabethan English, and have offered it as an alternative liturgy in their current liturgy books.  If the candidate has never presided at worship according to the actual historic work, it may be that they have presided according to one of these adaptations.  All this explores how comfortable the person might be with historic Anglicanism, and whether they may be able to pronounce Elizabethan English fluently.
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18  This instruction, which can be traced back to the eleventh century Canons of Aelfric, is found in the Preface to the 1552 Book of Common Prayer.  You can read that entire Preface here.
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19  For a brief description of the Anglican Communion, see the second paragraph under “Can women be priests in the Anglican Church?
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20  If you have a copy of the Canadian book handy, it is on the prefatory page lvi, under the headline, “GENERAL RUBRICS.”  The only way to view the instruction online that I have found is to download the complete Canadian Book of Common Prayer in PDF form.
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21  In Canada, as is the case everywhere in Anglicanism, the use of new forms of worship is widespread.  There is even an officially sanctioned book, that looks for all the world like a Book of Common Prayer, but its name, The Book of Alternative Services declares its status: these are “alternatives” to the official book, where the instruction on page lvi that clergy must say the Daily Office remains in full force and effect.
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22  There is a 1930 article entitled “The Obligation of the Clergy to Recite the Divine Office” that specifically addresses the situation in the U.S.A. (American Church Quarterly, volume 27, 1930, pp 119-124).  The article may be accessed here.
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