Who’s who in Church of England cathedrals and churches – a quick guide

Many people’s first experience of church is visiting a cathedral on a day out. Anglican cathedrals are like swans! On the surface they give the impression of gliding along calmly - but out of sight, there’s a lot of work going on.

A cathedral is the major church at the heart of a diocese. Each cathedral in the Church of England is run by a body known as a Chapter. The staff includes Clergy and others with specialist expertise. There are also volunteers who help with various roles.

A vicar in a red alb stands in front of kneeling parishoners during a church service.

Some key roles in a cathedral are:

  • Dean - leads the Chapter
  • Canons – assist the dean in running the cathedral. Some are ordained; some are lay canons
  • Precentor – Canon responsible for the worship
  • Canon Pastor/Missioner – Canon responsible for care of staff, congregation and visitors
  • Verger – lay person with responsibilities for the practical management of services and many other activities.  Also found in some parish churches.

Some key roles in the wider Church include:

  • Archbishop – senior bishop. There are only two in the Church of England - at Canterbury and York
  • Bishop – senior clergyperson in the diocese. Responsibilities include oversight of the clergy
  • Archdeacon – senior clergy who support the work of the bishop

Parish churches

In the Church of England, the main clergy person in a parish church is the vicar or rector. The words priest and minister are more generic and can apply to Church of England clergy and to other denominations.

A vicar in a white robe stands by children during a church service.

If the church is in a large parish, there may be a team of clergy with various responsibilities. A parish church or cathedral may also have Readers, trained lay people whose roles include leading church services and preaching. In other denominations, such as Methodists and Baptists, lay preachers also play a key role.