The diocese is complex, but not incomprehensible (really). Simply put, it has two parallel structures which inter-relate. The two structures are:
The first structure is that of the bishop and the parishes. It’s the original structure of a diocese—from Apostolic times to the 1840s, the bishop and the parishes (along with assorted archdeacons and rural deans) were all that made up a diocese.
The bishop has oversight of the parish and licenses clergy to the parish. The clergy have certain responsibilities within the parish, as do the wardens and parish council. To assist the bishop in his or her oversight, there are the offices of archdeacons and regional deans. The forty-five parishes in our diocese are organized into five regions and five archdeaconries.
The second structure is that of synod (pronounced "sinod"). Diocesan synods only made their appearance in the middle of the 19th century, so they are relatively recent church structures. Each parish or mission sends at least one delegate to Synod. All licensed clergy are members of Synod, as are a few officers of synod who are elected or appointed by the bishop or Synod. The bishop is in a unique situation, being both part of Synod and apart from it, this resulting from the historical fact that in the 19th century the bishops were usually responsible for the creation of the synods.
If Synod is a creation of the bishop, then Diocesan Council is a creation of Synod, as are the various committees that report to Diocesan Council, which acts as the synod between synods. To support the work of Synod, Diocesan Council and the bishop have staff.
If you are new to the Anglican Church, you may be wondering about all this talk of ‘the diocese’ (pronounced "die-o-seas"). For some, “the diocese” may seem like an external entity, but a diocese is actually a geographical area under the jurisdiction of a bishop, as noted above. ‘The diocese’ finds its expression in the local communities in which it serves, in the form of parishes and special ministries. In other words, we are one church not a confederation of individual parishes and ministries. As such, we are governed by a diocesan synod.
Unlike the United Church, a local Anglican church is not an independent congregation. 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.
Our clergy are not employees of the parish, but of the diocese and licensed by and to the bishop, who is the incumbent of all parishes, and whose ministry is shared by the clergy. A part of the work of the clergy therefore, is always to serve the wider church as well as the local expression of the diocese.
Parishes (otherwise called churches) are care-takers commissioned with the sacred duty of stewarding the local expression of the diocese, as long as it is able, with the knowledge that others will come after them to do the same or different ministry in that place on behalf of the whole church.
Each year, a portion of every parish budget goes to support the church as a whole. Together, we enable the ministry of the diocese and the global church. The parish tithe towards this common work of the Anglican church and the diocese, as it is expressed elsewhere, is the diocesan assessment.
Our parishes directly benefit from the common purse this tithe contributes to, and are supported to do their own work through access to expert administrative, communication and legal advice and support, as well as pastoral leadership and care, interim ministry coverage, lay and clergy formation, and sometimes even by receiving funds back from the common purse. All of this work is administered at the synod office (similar to a head office of a large organization).