How we are governed
Bishop Sean Rowe of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern PA. Within each national church the teaching and spiritual discipline of the church is administered by the ancient hierarchy of bishops (Greek episcopoi, hence Episcopal). Bishops are the symbol of the Church’s unity and chief spiritual leaders. Bishops in the Episcopal Church are elected by laypersons and clergy for life. The vote is affirmed by representatives of the church from throughout the nation. Bishops oversee geographical areas called ‘dioceses’, and each diocese is subdivided into ‘parishes’ (congregations). A cathedral is the symbolic ‘main church’ of the diocese, the bishop’s ‘home’ church.
Priests serve under bishops as the spiritual caretakers or pastors of individual congregations. Priests are responsible for worship, music, Christian education, preparing persons for baptism and marriage, funerals and spiritual counsel and direction.
Deacons serve under bishops to assist the Church in recognizing and meeting the needs of the world around it.
‘Lay’ persons, the members of the church, play an essential role in church governance and ministry to others. The church believes in the ‘priesthood of all believers’, meaning that each of us is supposed to symbolize the presence of Christ to each other and to all those we encounter.
A standing committee of laypeople and clergy manages the business of the diocese. Business and economic aspects of individual parishes are overseen by an elected body of laypeople called a vestry. All church property is held in trust by this body for the diocese.
Matters affecting the national church are decided in a National Convention which meets every three years. Elected clergy and laypeople from each diocese serve as delegates to the National Convention.