|Individual Anglican or Episcopal churches
form parishes. Parishes
are a subdivision of dioceses.
Dioceses, which are the fundamental unit of church administration and
governance, combine administratively to form provinces,
though church members are rarely aware of administrative divisions
between their diocese and their national church.
Sometimes these provinces are autonomous and sometimes they combine to form national churches which are autonomous. What it means for a province or national church to be "autonomous" is that there is no larger administrative unit that supervises it: no pope, no cardinals, no patriarch. Many parishes have only one parish church; some have more than one. There are many historical variations to this basic administrative scheme. Sometimes a diocese is divided into deaneries, or archdeaconries, and sometimes it is divided into archdeaconries which are in turn divided into deaneries. These divisions are not very important.
At the very center of the Anglican church are its bishops. Every Anglican bishop has been consecrated by other bishops, who were in turn consecrated by other bishops. This process forms a chain that, according to legend, leads back to the 12 apostles, who were the first bishops. There is no historical proof of this, nor does our faith depend on it. Historians have traced the succession of bishops back to the early 2nd century AD.
The bishops are the spiritual successors of the Apostles, and the chain of consecration is called Apostolic Succession. The Greek word for Bishop is episkopos, which is the origin of the word "Episcopal", and, for that matter, of the word "bishop": in Latin it became "episcopus", in Old English it was "biscop", which came to be pronounced "bishop" and later spelled that way, too.
Worldwide there are some 900 living Anglican bishops.
The primary unit of organization and governance of the Anglican church is the diocese. Presiding over each diocese is a bishop, who is called the diocesan bishop. Some dioceses have, in addition, other bishops, with titles such as Suffragan, Coadjutor, or Assistant Bishop.
When dioceses are combined into provinces or national churches, there is another administrative layer. This next level is administered typically by an Archbishop or Presiding Bishop. New Zealand in 1998 changed the title of its primate from Archbishop to Presiding Bishop; perhaps this is a trend in the former colonies. However, the important point is not the name, but whether the presiding bishop has metropolitan powers, i.e. some jurisdictional rights over the bishops in his province and their dioceses, or whether he is only the chairman of meetings of bishops. Another recent and controversial trend has been for presiding bishops not to have any diocese of their own.
Each province or national church has a periodic meeting of its bishops, which event has a name like "General Synod" or "General Convention". At these events the church forms its rules, elects its officials, and unifies its doctrines. The details of those rules and how they are applied are discussed on the Church governance page.