In the Anglican Church of North America, the ordained ministry is normally seen as a life-long vocation. Careful selection, discernment, and preparation are required before ordination takes place.

Ordination is a sacramental rite of the Anglican church by which God gives authority and the grace of the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by bishops to those being made bishops, priests, and deacons [The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) 2019, p. 470}. The three distinct orders of bishops, priests, and deacons have been characteristic of Christ’s holy catholic church. 

Bishops carry on the apostolic work of leading, supervising, and uniting the church (BCP, p. 507). Presbyters (often known as priests) are associated with bishops in the ministry of church governance, along with the church’s ministry of missionary and pastoral work, in preaching of the Word of God, and in the administration of the sacraments (BCP, p. 488-489). Deacons assist bishops and priests in all of this work, and have special responsibility to minister in Christ’s name to the poor, the sick, the suffering, and the helpless (BCP, p. 477-478).

The BCP provides rites for the ordination of bishops (p.497), priests (p. 483), and deacons (p. 472). The earliest known text of ordination rites is in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (c. 215). The 1549 BCP did not include ordination rites. “The Form and Manner of Making and Consecrating of Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons” was published in 1550. Rites for ordination were included in many subsequent revisions of the Prayer Book. The "Preface to the Ordinal" of the 2019 Prayer Book notes that the church intends to maintain and continue the three orders of bishops, priests, and deacons. The ordination services are therefore appointed by the church. No person is to exercise the ordained office of bishop, priest, or deacon unless they have been first called, tried, examined and admitted to such office according to the form set forth in the 2019 Prayer Book.  

Holy Orders


The office of the deacon (a Greek word for “servant”) in the ancient church was immensely important, as they were in charge of distributing the alms of the church among the virgins, widows and poor and, in some places, being entrusted with the collection scrolls and/or codices that were the only collection of the Holy Scriptures of the local church.


The presbyter/priest was a carryover from the synagogue, and simply means ‘elder’. In the ancient church the presbyter was the Christian leader in whose home local worship was conducted, and as such he would likely have presided over the celebration of the main Christian act of worship—Holy Communion.


And then there is a specific type of priest, one who has a special vocation and calling to exercise oversight over his fellow priests: the bishop. In 1 Timothy we find that the main difference between the bishop and the deacon is that the former has the authority to teach. Teaching here means to outline, summarize, and expound on the heart of the doctrine handed from Jesus to his Apostles and then to our generation.

The bishop is a type of priest. The deacon is not. However, each of the three Orders has their own integrity. Finally, only bishops may ordain people. Within Anglicanism, three bishops are normally required for ordination to the episcopate, while one bishop is sufficient for performing ordinations to the priesthood and diaconate.