Anglicans, like many other Christians, holds that certain members of the Church have been called to preform certain functions within it called Ministers. Some are Lay, and some are Ordained.
Opinion on what comprises a lay minister can vary greatly as it could be limited to only those in specially crafted roles of service in the Church, such as Lay Readers, or could be expanded greatly to include those in the church who serve in capacities such as Wardens, members of a Vestry, Altar Servers, Parish Administrators, Directors of Music and Choir Masters. Like all members of the laity it is the duty of Lay Ministers to take part in the worship, labours, and councils of the Church, and to help spread the kingdom of god according to the gifts of grace that God has given them. While the ministry of all who serve in these lay capacities is important, there is a differentiation from those in ordained ministry.
The chief difference between lay and ordained ministers is very apparent in their naming: ordained ministers are those who have received the rite of Ordination. Ordination is “the rite in which God gives authority and the grace of the Holy Spirit to those being made bishops, priests, and deacons, through prayer and the laying on of hands by bishops.” Ordination is much like Baptism and Confirmation in that it imparts a sacramental character, that is, a permanent ontological change upon the recipient, called the Ordinand.
The Church holds that Christ gave his Apostles the authority to spread the Gospel, to minister the Sacraments, and to look after the Church until his return. This authority continues to this day, and is given in ordination along with the grace necessary for the ordinand to carry out their work in the Church.
Ordained ministers are subdivided into three classes that are sometimes better known as orders: the Episcopate containing Bishops, the Presbyterate (or Priesthood) containing Priests, and the Diaconate contains Deacons. Each of these Orders is important to the function of the Church.
The first Order is that of the Deacons. Deacons hold the a ministry of service as Christ was a servant. They are to assist the Bishops and Priests in worship and the administration of the Word of God and of the Sacraments. A Deacon will take several vows, such as to look for Christ in those they help and serve, and to accept the pastoral leadership and direction of their Bishop.
Some Deacons are said to be transitional Deacons, that is they are presently Deacons with the intent to receive further ordination. This accounts for the majority of persons who will enter the Diaconate. The remainder are called vocational or permanent Deacons as they have a vocation for their particular ministry with no calling or desire for further ordination.
The second Order is that of the Priests or Presbyters. Priests hold a ministry to represent Christ as pastors to the people, to share with the Bishops in the oversight of the church, to proclaim the Gospel, to administer the sacraments, and to bless and declare pardon in God’s name. As primary leaders of worship in the Church they endeavour to minister the word of God and the sacraments as part of the new covenant in which, through Christ, we are reconciled to God.
Persons being ordained as Priests have first been ordained as Deacons. However, in being made Priests they have not stopped being Deacons and thus still carry with them that ministry of service. They take additional vows, such as endeavouring to minister the word of God and the sacraments of the Church, and to be a faithful pastor.
The highest Order is that of the Bishops: the Episcopate. It is the Ministry of Bishops to represent Christ as apostle, and chief pastor; to guard the faith, unity and discipline of the whole Church, and to ordain others to continue in the ministry of Christ. Bishops are also to boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel. Overall, theirs is a ministry of oversight of the Church.
Bishops continue to hold the lower two orders they were previously ordained to. They remain Priests in their proclamation of the word of God and administration of the sacraments, and remain Deacons in their ministry of service. They take additional vows such as to guard the faith, unity and discipline of the church, and to boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel.