What is a Primate?

The use of the title Primate in the context of meetings of the Anglican Communion denotes the chief archbishop or bishop of a province of the Anglican Episcopal family of churches.

The “chief” designation is of importance here as in some provinces, such as Ireland and England, there are actually two archbishops holding the title “primate” So the chief archbishop of these two provinces becomes the “Primate of All” Ireland and the “Primate of All England”.

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia is unique in having three archbishops - one for each of its tikangas, or cultural streams (Maori, Pakeha and Pasefika) - who share the primacy.

The normative style for a primate is “the Most Reverend” but this can vary from time to time and occasionally “the Right Reverend” is used. The whole style and title of a primate can vary: in the USA for example further designations are added: “the Most Reverend [x], the Presiding Bishop, Primate and Chief Pastor”, is the official legal title of the holder of the primatial office.

In certain provinces the primate is also called Archbishop and/or Metropolitan, while in others for historical reasons, the term Presiding Bishop, or - as in Scotland - Primus, is preferred. In some provinces the term is translated to their own language such as Obispo Primado, in the Anglican Church of South America.

In the united churches of south Asia, it is the Moderators of the churches who are invited to the Primates' Meetings by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Upon retirement archbishops properly revert to the status of bishop, but may be given the style of an archbishop as a courtesy.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is recognised as the primus inter pares, the first among equals, of the college of primates, and attendance at a Primates' Meeting is by invitation from him.