Going to any church for the first time can be a challenge. Churches, like any group, have their own vocabulary that they all know and understand but which can be daunting for a visitor. We hope this page answers some of your initial questions about terminology.
BCP: The Book of Common Prayer. The “prayer book” helps to define and structure our worship, detailing the readings, prayers, Psalms and more that we use in our services.
Bishop: The Biblical term for the one who exercises pastoral care and authority over a large number of Christians. Our Bishop is the Rt. Rev. (abbreviation for Right Reverend) George Wayne Smith, Bishop of Missouri.
Collect: A type of written prayer following a particular formula. The first part of a collect addresses God followed by a phrase describing some aspect of God. Then comes a petition, or request, concluding with a doxology (an expression of praise to God, usually to the Trinity).
Diocese: The area over which a Bishop has jurisdiction. We are part of the Diocese of Missouri, a community of about 51 parishes and missions from the Mississippi River west to the cities of Jefferson City, Columbia and Kirksville.
Episcopal Church: The name of our denomination comes from the Greek New Testament word for Bishop, episcopos (literally, ‘overseer’). We are an episcopal church in that we have bishops.
Holy Eucharist: The service that includes the reading and preaching of the Word of God and the Holy Communion, or Lord’s Supper. Eucharist comes from the Greek word for “thanksgiving.”
Interim Pastor: The title for clergy who have received specialized training to assist congregations in transition.
Narthex: It’s the lobby or foyer.
Pastor: The title used in many denominations for a person exercising a ministry of pastoral care in a local congregation.
Priest: An ordained member of the clergy set apart by the Church for particular (not better) ministries and authorized to celebrate Holy Communion and pronounce God’s forgiveness in worship.
Rector: The title of the senior priest in an independent (not financially subsidized) Episcopal congregation.
Reverend, Father, Mother, Mr., Mrs., etc.: There are various terms of address for the clergy. Reverend is for clergy what Honorable is for a judge; use it on an envelope (The Rev. J. Q. Smith) but not in person (do not say “Hi, Reverend” just as you would not say “Hi, Honorable” to a judge). When addressing a Bishop, you may simply call him or her “Bishop” or, for example, “Bishop Smith.” Either way is acceptable.
Vestry/Bishop’s Committee: The lay leadership board of an Episcopal congregation, named from the “vesting” room in which the group met in colonial days. Persons are elected annually at the congregational meeting in January to three-year terms on the Vestry. The Vestry shares with the priest the spiritual leadership of the church. It also approves the budget and oversees the leadership of the parish. With the guidance of the Bishop, the Vestry has the responsibility for calling a rector for the congregation.
Vicar: The title of the senior priest in a mission congregation (financially subsidized or without enough membership to provide the resources needed to function independently).
Warden: The term for the senior lay leaders of the Vestry. The senior warden and junior warden are elected annually by the vestry. In many congregations the senior warden is chosen by the rector and junior warden is chosen by the vestry. A bishop’s committee has only one warden.
Adapted from a document produced at, and used with permission from, Christ Episcopal Church, Cape Girardeau, Mo.