Church leaders and their influence
Leaders in the various churches are chosen either directly by their local congregation, or by the regional leadership through a selection committee. As priests or ministers they may be known as Father, Reverend, Vicar, Canon, etc., or in some non-conformist churches, simply by their everyday names. Most recognised leaders however will hold a considerable authority within their local parish or congregation, and quite often more generally ithin the surrounding community. In the case of priests of the Church of England, Orthodox and Catholic traditions they may wear distinctive clothing which indicates that they are professional clergy. Other church clergy will also often wear the clerical or ‘dog’ collar as a visible symbol of their position as Christian leaders.
In Britain, the authority of the Church of England is recognized through the legislative power it has. As the Established Church in England and Wales, the Queen is its Head, and Bishops sit in the House of Lords and thus hold a key to legislative influence. Prayers are said each day in Parliament and there is a Parliamentary Chaplain. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s London residence is opposite the Houses of Parliament in London and demonstrates the historic balance of power and authority between church and state. In recognizing the authority of the Church, the state also has church dignitaries present on all state occasions. Even within the media, in spite of secularization, popular television programmes such as Songs of Praise on Sunday, and the daily act of worship or Thought for the Day on national radio, are still popular with both those involved in church worship and those less committed.
The influence of the Pope as an international spokesman, and to a lesser extent the Archbishop of Canterbury and leaders of other Christian denominations, is still considerable, and many world leaders look to their church leaders for guidance on ethical, moral and spiritual, and sometimes political matters. Many priests and ministers are also significant influences for change within their local communities: their comparatively high education, experience of public speaking and willingness to express opinions on subjects with authority, means that they often become prominent spokesmen and women for their communities. A number of church leaders act as school governors, town councillors, and chairpersons for various local and national charities.
On a political level, politicians know the power, influence and authority Christian pressure groups can exert. In the USA, the ‘Bible belt’ of the southern states of America can, and often does, influence even the election of Presidents of the USA. In the UK, politicians tend to be much more sensitive about religious issues, often seeking balanced media coverage of any personal religious affiliations.