The Church of England has many peculiarities
and understanding the jargon.
is the difference between a Rector and a Vicar?
Does a Rector always live in a Rectory?
What is a Benefice, Incumbent, Patron etc?
The difference between Rector and Vicar is largely historical.
England is divided up into ecclesiastical
parishes. A Bishop is expected
to ensure that someone is appointed to care for the spiritual needs of the
people of each parish. This spiritual care is known as the cure
of souls and originally the person given the cure was called the Curate. Today the
name Curate is usually used of someone who is a trainee clergyman but in
the 1662 Book of Common Prayer there is reference to Bishops and Curates
which means all the clergy.
A parish can have more than one Church in which case one will be the Parish
Church and the other(s) most likely will be District Churches. There can
also be places of worship which might not be thought of as Churches.
In the past each parish would have been identified with a Benefice.
A Benefice is an ecclesiastical office which, under Canon law, carries certain
duties and conditions (called the spiritualities) together with certain
revenues (called the temporalities).
The office holder is known as the Incumbent.
Today there can be many parishes linked in one Benefice.
Historically parochial benefices were of three kinds:
- Perpetual Curacies
In the days when Tithes were paid in England someone was entitled to receive
A Rectory was a benefice in which the Tithe was paid to the Incumbent. The
Incumbent was know as the Rector and the Benefice house, where he lived,
was also known as the Rectory.
Technically a Rector is an Incumbent whose 'tithes are not impropriate'.
In Medieval times many Benefices were owned by Monasteries. The Monstery was entitled to receive the temporalities (ie the Tithes etc) but they also
had to assume the spiritualities (the spiritual care of the parishes). The
Monastery would use part of the Tithe (typically a third) to pay for someone
act on their behalf (vicariously) and such a person was known as a Vicar.
Their place of residence became known as a Vicarage.
When Henry VIII dissolved the Monasteries their Benefices were often passed
to local landowners who became known as lay
In practice today, apart from the names, the only difference is that the
freehold, though not the legal possession, of the Chancel belongs to the
Rector rather than the Vicar. (The Chancel is the main part of a Church building).
There was a court case not long ago where a Lay Rector, who became such when
they bought some land, did not wish to be responsible to repairs to the chancel.
Curacies are a further complicated peculiarity but fairly rare.
Historically the Patron of a Church would have been the person on whose
land, or in whose estate, the Church was built. The Patron reserved the right
to appoint the Incumbent subject to the approval of the Bishop. Patronage is a property right and it used to be possible to buy and sell it. Every
parish has a patron, sometimes a private individual or group of individuals.
The Crown has substantial patronage, some delegated to the Lord Chancellor,
there are a number of patronage bodies, Bishops and some Cathedrals also
hold patronage and there are many other possibilities.
Today it is the duty of the Patron to find and present someone to be the
Incumbent of a Parish. However, the parish appoints two representatives who
act on their behalf and they are free to accept or decline any person presented.
The Bishop must also agree to Induct and Institute the new Incumbent. Therefore
the different parties usually work closely together through the process.
Two things mess all this up today.
1) There are now many Team
Ministries where several clergy work together
in several churches. The Team will have a Team
Rector (the boss) and one
or more Team Vicars or Team Curates. In this case the titles Rector and Vicar
do not relate to the historic offices. There is no particular reason why
a Team Rector should live in a Rectory.
2) In many instances the Benefice may be in suspension. This is done when
there are thought to be reasons why there might be changes to the Benefice.
It is not necessary to suspend it but if not the Incumbent can block any
change if they so choose. With the declining number of parish clergy in the
Church of England there are now many Benefices that are suspended as soon
as they become vacant.
The Bishop assumes the spiritualites and temporalities and appoints someone
to conduct these on his behalf whilst under suspension. The person appointed
is called a Priest-in-Charge, they are not the incumbent.
Because the Benefice is suspended the Patrons rights are also suspended and
likewise the Parish. This means that in theory a Bishop can impose a Priest-in-Charge
although they are expected to consult with both parish and patron.
Clergy houses are collectively known as parsonages but will normally be
known as The Rectory or The Vicarage usually based on the historic status
of the Benefice. It would be possible today to have a new name, perhaps The
Victory, although in many cases a more appropriate name would be the Recage.