The Vicar of . . .did you say Dibley?
- Aug 04, 2014
- Category: General
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Many of us watched the great British sit-com The Vicar of Dibley in years past. A huge success on the BBC, the series came to the United States and Episcopalians tuned in widely, long before Downton Abbey was a Masterpiece Classic. If you haven’t seen the show, look for it online. The antics of the priest serving in a small English village aren’t to be missed.
The show’s title has the word “vicar,” a word we’ll use here at Holy Innocents for one of our new priests, The Rev. Lisa Zaina. So what’s a vicar?
The word literally means “substitute;’ its root is the same as that in “vicarious.” In day-to-day management and administration, it means that the vicar is the “substitute” or “stands in the place of” the rector. For our parish, it means that the vicar will assist the rector, at a senior level, in all the administration of the parish’s business. Lisa’s call will focus on effective and efficient administration and better management of our communications. She will also work in liturgy and pastoral care, of course.
Her role will make it possible for me to spend more time visioning for the parish and working collaboratively with others in our various ministries, from interaction with our new Head of School Paul Barton to the various aspects of our entire program staff (program staff refers to personnel in adult, youth, and children formation; music; pastoral care; liturgy; building management; etc.)
If you don’t like history, you can stop reading here.
But for those who love the details, here’s the background behind the term “vicar” as well as “rector.” In England, communities were divided into parishes, similar to counties, and in each parish was a church. Parishes, including the church (note only one as it was just the Church of England), were funded through taxation. I am oversimplifying the history a bit, but a priest called a “rector” received a full tithe or full allotment from taxation for the administration of the parish church. The rector also held glebe lands and the income thereof supported the priest and his family. Believe it or not, these facts are still at play in England today. Parish churches with glebe lands have continued in perpetuity, and “chancel liability” for the care of the church proper still falls to the entire community.
A different situation existed on many royal estates. The estate was in the parish, the county if you will, and thus a rector was the parish priest for the estate as well. However, many families wanted their own chapel. They created Chapels of Ease with permission of the Crown. Usually, an endowment supported the chapel, and in some cases provided substantial income to the vicar in charge.
Over time, estate lands were sold (think of the situation on Downton Abbey) and villages arose around former manor houses on those lands. In these villages, the church, still an endowed chapel of ease, had a vicar. On the show The Vicar of Dibley, the Lord of the Manor was the comical surviving royal who ran everything and made life for the village and priest more than humorous.
Today, the terms vicar and rector are used interchangeably throughout England.
In the United States, the term vicar came to be associated with mission churches supported both by pledges from members and from income provided by the Diocese. In other words, it was an additional congregation in a “parish” or area, thus the usage of “vicar” for the priest. This usage is no longer mainstream.
So, now you know the history……and will know a real, live vicar. That’s the best part……welcoming Lisa into our parish!
Grace and peace,