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Worship: Leaders


Jewish communal worship is usually led by a rabbi, who also advises the community on matters of faith and everyday life. Unlike the Christian priest or minister, a rabbi is not seen as an intermediary with God, but as a wise and learned religious teacher. Any well-regarded member of the congregation over the age of 13 can conduct a synagogue service.

In Orthodox Judaism the service leader must be male, but in non-orthodox Jewish movements women have equal participation in services and may also act as service leaders. Only non-orthodox strands of Judaism allow women rabbis.



The authority of the major Christian churches is organised through a hierarchy of priests and ministers. Church worship is led by a trained priest or minister, who is a mediator between God and the congregation. In Catholic and Orthodox churches the priest must be a man; a Catholic priest must also be unmarried. In the Anglican church, the local equivalent of the priest is usually called a vicar (essentially, 'a deputy') who may be male or female, and married. The Pope is the head of the Catholic church, who has divine authority in his capacity as Bishop of Rome. The Orthodox church has no overall head, but a system of patriarchs. The head of the Anglican church is the Archbishop of Canterbury.



There is no system of clergy for Muslims. However, after the death of the Prophet a succession of leaders of the Muslim community (caliphs) was instituted. The Caliphate continued through history and was inherited by the Ottoman sultans until its abolition in 1924 by Kemal Ataturk. There is no one spiritual leader for all Muslims today.

Most mosques have a resident imam, who conducts communal prayer. The term has different connotations for Shi'a and Sunni Muslims.

Rabbi, North Western Reform Synagogue, London

Church of England priest, St Mary the Virgin, London

Imam, London Central Mosque, Regent’s Park