The Diocese of British Columbia was created by Royal Letters Patent in 1859 issued by the Crown by the Colonial Office of the United Kingdom, upon the request of Sir James Douglas, the Governor of the Colonies of Vancouver Island, at the behest of the Anglican residents of the islands. The Royal Letters Patent erected a “bishopric” which covered the territory of the two colonies i.e. both Vancouver Island and the mainland of what is now British Columbia. The first bishop, George Hills, was constituted a “corporation sole” and as such could own and sell property, sue and be sued, and function within society to accomplish the aims of the church. Hills was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and until the creation of the General Synod of the Anglican Church in 1893, the bishop considered himself to be under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The purpose of being a corporation sole is to have perpetual succession, which means that when one bishop takes over from another all the powers and property transfers over directly.
The diocese did not have a synod, or a legislative body, until 1875, although there were some officers, such as the chancellor. After some preparatory meetings, Bishop Hills called a synod in 1875. The Colenso Decision of the Privy Council in 1865 had determined that the Anglican Church in the colonies was not an established church, and thus neither the local legislature nor the parliament in Westminster could coerce any support for it beyond what the local members wanted to give. Recognising the voluntary nature of the diocese, Bishop Hills felt it necessary to organise a basis for support through a legislative body of clergy and lay delegates, or a synod.
While synods or synod-like bodies had existed in other parts of the Anglican Communion, such as the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Ecclesiastical Province of Canada (i.e. Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime provinces), it was unknown in the Church of England. (They did not organize diocesan synods until the 20th century.) The church in British Columbia was still very colonial, and as synods were not held in England there was some resistance to this and not all parishes sent delegates, and not all clergy attended. However, enough did attend, and in 1879 the synod divided the diocese into three: two dioceses were separated from the Diocese of British Columbia in 1879, namely the Diocese of Caledonia in the north mainland and the Diocese of New Westminster in the south mainland. Subsequently, the Diocese of Kootenay (1899) and Cariboo (1914) were created out of the eastern part of New Westminster.
While the legislature of the Province of British Columbia had no say in the affairs as such of the Anglican dioceses, it was felt important that the Anglican bishops should have a recognized legal status as corporations sole. This was accomplished by the Anglican Bishops' Corporation Act of 1881, a private act of the BC legislature. The text of the wording already recognized the role of the synods in governance, but at the request of the bishop and synod in 1889 the synod itself was incorporated. All property in the diocese was transferred to the incorporated Anglican Synod of the Diocese of British Columbia. Thus, it is a corporation, but it is not governed by the Societies Act or other similar legislation by virtue that it has its own legislation.
A synod consists of the bishop, active clergy licensed to ministry or serving in interim ministry, lay delegates from the parishes, youth delegates from the regions, and diocesan officers. The bishop’s consent is required to put synodical decisions into effect, but if a bishop declines to give consent a subsequent synod can override that decision. Lay delegates are elected at the annual general meeting of the parishes.
The diocesan synod has a constitution, canons, and regulations which govern its organization. Between meetings of the synod, a diocesan council meets (about ten times a year in this diocese). There is a committee structure and a variety of programs which report to Diocesan Council or the bishop. There are a number of officers of synod, as well as synod office staff.
Parishes in the Diocese of British Columbia are not corporations and therefore have no legal existence apart from the diocese. Parishes can be created, merged, and disestablished by the synod or the Diocesan Council. While in other parts of Canada parishes are sometimes incorporated, and in some provinces the wardens and rector form a corporation, that is not the case in the Diocese of British Columbia. Clergy in the Diocese of British Columbia do not hold an office, but are employees of the diocese.