Coming to church can sometimes feel like you need a glossary of terms to get you through a Sunday morning. We are working on ways to keep the mystery where it belongs—in the sacraments. But, in the meantime, here are a few of the most common words or phrases we confound visitors with. We know you will run into more. If this is the case, please talk to someone who goes to the church you are visiting. Don't be afraid to ask. You can also find a helpful glossary of terms on the national Anglican Church website.

Book of Alternative Services (BAS)
The primary worship text used for Sunday services and other major celebrations in most parishes of the Anglican Church of Canada. It uses contemporary, inclusive language.

Book of Common Prayer (BCP)
The traditional prayer book used, with local variations, in many Anglican churches throughout the world. The original book was published in England in 1549 and has been revised many times. The BCP used in Canada was originally compiled in 1962. Many Anglican churches in the diocese have adopted the Book of Alternative Services (BAS), but some still use the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) as well.

Canon (nope - not the deadly weapon kind)
An honourary title granted to a senior priest or an outstanding lay person. To be named a canon of the cathedral is an honour bestowed by the bishop to recognize exemplary service to the wider church.

Churchwarden (or just warden - nope, not the kind in a jail)
Senior lay (not ordained) officers of a congregation. In some dioceses, one warden is elected by the congregation and is called the people’s warden; the other is appointed by the incumbent and is often called the rector’s warden. In other dioceses, the members of the congregation elect both wardens.

The principal service of worship, which reenacts the Lord's Supper (the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples before his crucifixion). From the Latin word meaning “thanksgiving”, it's also called Communion or Holy Communion.

A cleric (ordained person) to whom the bishop has designated the care of a parish. Incumbents are appointed by the bishop on the recommendation of a parish selection committee.

Layperson (pl. Laity)
Members of the church who are not ordained bishop, priest or deacon.

A stand which holds the Bible and from which the lessons of the day are read. Sometimes it's in the shape of an eagle, which is the symbol used to depict John the Apostle.

The main space of the church where pews or chairs are located on which the congregation sits during worship services. The word means a ship, describing the church as it carries its members on their pilgrimage (that's why so many of the insides of churches look like ships turned upside down).

The plate on which the bread rests during Holy Communion.

A person admitted by the bishop into the formal preparation for the ordained ministry.

It's pronounced more like primit than like the monkey). The current bishop of a national church.

A priest to whom the bishop has designated the care of a parish. Rector has the same meaning as incumbent.

The part of a church building where the main altar is located.

The distinctive clothing reserved for use in the liturgy, worn by the clergy and those serving at the altar. Variations in style and colour denote the office of the wearer and the church season or festival being celebrated.


  1. The room where clergy put on their vestments (see vestments above).
  2. The decision-making body of a congregation, elected from the lay (see lay above) members. Also called the parish council.

There are lots more. If you think of any you come across all the time and you think it would be helpful to de-code for others, let us know.