That’s a question I often ask myself, and it’s one that confuses a lot of people!
In essence the whole of England is divided into regions called dioceses and each diocese will have a bishop (and usually some assistant bishops called suffragans) and a cathedral. In Devon we have our beautiful cathedral in Exeter and the Bishop of Exeter, Rt Revd Michael Langrish. There are two suffragan bishops, the Bishop of Plymouth: Rt Revd John Ford and the Bishop of Crediton, Rt Revd Bob Evens.
Each diocese is broken down into archdeaconries which are smaller units for administration purposes overseen by an archdeacon. There are 4 archdeaconries in Exeter Diocese: Plymouth, Totnes, Barnstaple and Exeter. The Bishop of Plymouth oversees Plymouth and Totnes archdeaconries and the Bishop of Crediton oversees Barnstaple and Exeter archdeaconries.
In turn each archdeaconry is broken down into deaneries which serve a specific area. The city of Plymouth has three deaneries: Devonport (in the west), Moorside (to the north and east) and Sutton (in the middle). These deaneries are themselves broken down into individual parishes, and the idea behind the Anglican model of church is that every person in England lives in a particular parish. However over the years groups of parishes have been increasingly brought together in team or group ministries so often a vicar will be responsible for one or more churches, often as part of a larger unit within the deanery.
Out of the clergy that serve the parishes in a deanery one will be appointed as a rural dean. This is nothing to do with farmyards and countryside – even Devonport has a rural dean! In essence he or she co-ordinates the work of a deanery within the wider diocese, and it is an important additional role to undertake.
Nationally decisions are taken at General Synod which meets twice a year. There are also synods at diocesan and deanery level. Yours truly is automatically a member of Devonport Deanery Synod which is made up of both clergy and lay representatives from every parish. There is also a Deanery Chapter which is a more frequent meeting of the clergy in the areas for mutual support and encouragement. I also have been elected to Diocesan Synod which meets twice a year in Exeter to discuss policy on a county-wide basis.
At a parish level we make decisions through the Parochial Church Council. The PCCs of both churches meet about 6 or 7 times a year, and we also have 3 or 4 joint PCCs a year which discuss matters common to both churches.
It’s by no means a perfect system, but it’s one that on the whole works reasonably well.