The Episcopal Church has a traditional set of beliefs as expressed in the creeds and the 39 Articles, but we know that whenever three or four Episcopalians gather together there will be a least five opinions on any topic.
- We do not expect everyone in our church to hold the exact same beliefs
- We do not demand that others agree with us.
- We acknowledge that what we hold to be true, may not be true or may not be the whole truth.
What holds Episcopalians together as a Christian family of God is WORSHIP rather than belief. We gather toether, whether conservative or liberal, rich or poor, male or female, gay or straight, sure of ourselves or doubtful, old or young, in order to praise God, to sing, to pray, to hear the Scripture, and to receive the refreshment of bread and wine. Our most important moments of worship are Eucharist and Baptism.
This church does not offer easy answers to life’s most pressing problems. We ask questions more often than we provide answers. We explore the paradoxes and contradictions found in the Scripture using all the resources at hand, current scholarship, reason, and our own experiences in life. We honor the tradition handed down to us from 2000 years of church history, but we also believe that the Holy Spirit is still active in our midst and may still lead us to new understandings of God’s will for the world.
The Episcopal Church is a liturgical church, which means our worship is formalized. The worship leaders usually wear vestments; we use candles, art, music, prayer, and sometimes incense to enhance the worship ecperience. We use different colors for different seasons of the church year. We often do things in much the same way over and over — that is, our main worship service has a given form, but within that form great variety is possible.
The Episcopal Church is a descendant of the Roman Catholic Church via the Church of England. We are still a member of the world-wide Anglican communion, a linking of Anglican (English) churches all over the world. The Anglican communion is led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but unlike the Roman Catholic Pope, he has influence, but no authority in any province of the Communion except England.
The Episcopal Church claims to be part of the Apostolic Tradition, meaning that our Bishops can trace their consecrations back to the original apostles through the Anglican Church in England and before that through the Roman Catholic Church. We have four orders of ministers in our church, the laity, deacons, priests, and bishops.
The Episcopal Church in the United States is led by a Presiding Bishop, currently Katharine Jefferts Schori. The governing body of the church is the General Convention, which meets every three years. The Executive Council carries out the orders of General Convention and makes decisions between meetings. General convention is split into two houses, much like the English Parliament; the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. The House of Deputies consists of four clergy and four lay people elected from each diocese in the church. To be accepted, any resolution must pass both houses. The Presiding Bishop is elected by the House of Bishops with the House of Deputies concurring.
Selected quotes from, 101 Reasons to be Episcopalian, by Louie Crew
“We don’t quiz you on your beliefs before worshiping with you.”
“The Prayer Book bids us to come to God’s table for strength and renewal, not for solace and pardon only.”
“When asked if he was saved, an archbishop replied, “I have been saved, I am being saved, and I hope to be saved.’ That understanding of faith, hope, and humility reinforces me as an Episcopalian.”
“Where a woman’s place is in the House of Bishops”
“Asking questions about our faith is expected. In the Episcopal Church, God doesn’t get upset if I wonder why some things are as they are. And God doesn’t get upset if I suggest that some things should not continue as they are.”
“Ours is the perfect church for people who are not perfect”
“I love the fact that I can have stimulating conversation and yet disagree with the priest, or even the Bishop, and not get kicked because it is all right to use your mind and not be a rubber stamp for anyone. Christ died to save us from our sins, not our minds.”
“We don’t have all the answers, and we welcome others who love the questions.”
“We leave neither our minds, nor our hearts, nor our bodies at the church door.”
“We find our unity in shared worship, not in enforced agreement.”
“God loves you, and there’s not a thing you can do to change that”
“Being an intelligent, strong woman is not a drawback in the Episcopal Church.”
“Where God’s unconditional love for all of us is celebrated every day”
“In the Episcopal Church doubt is so okay that we name some parishes “St. Thomas.”
“We welcome the faithful, the seeker, and the doubter.”
“Because it’s one religion where laughing at our own absurdities is a basic spiritual discipline and we’re invited to rejoice in how much we have still to learn of God instead of how much we know.”
The Episcopal Church taught me that Jesus came to challenge, not just comfort: to overturn, not maintain: to love, not judge: to include, not cast aside.”
“Episcopalians try to love with the heart of Christ, think with the mind of Christ, and act as if we were the body of Christ.”
What is the Episcopal Church About?
The Episcopal Church is made up of between two and three million worshipers in about 7500 congregations across the United States and related dioceses outside the US .
An Outline of Faith
Commonly called the Catechism from the Book of Common Prayer, page 844 – 862
Concerning the Catechism
This catechism is primarily intended for use by parish priests, deacons and lay catechists, to give an outline for instruction. It is a commentary on the creeds, but is not meant to be a complete statement of belief and practice; rather, it is a point of departure for the teacher, and it is cast in the traditional question and answer form for ease of reference.
The second use of this catechism is to provide a brief summary of the Church’s teaching for an inquiring stranger who picks up a Prayer Book.
It may also be used to form a simple service; since the matter is arranged under headings, it is suitable for selective use, and the leader may introduce prayers and hymns as needed.
|Human Nature||God the Father||The Old Covenant||The Ten Commandments|
|Sin and Redemption||God the Son||The New Covenant||The Creeds|
|The Holy Spirit||The Holy Scriptures||The Church||The Ministry|
|Prayer and Worship||The Sacraments||Holy Baptism||The Holy Eucharist|
|Other Sacramental Rites||The Christian Hope|
What makes us Anglican?
Hallmarks of the Episcopal Church
The Episcopal Church, having its roots in the Church of England, is also an Anglican Church. Like all Anglican churches, the Episcopal Church is distinguished by the following characteristics:
Protestant, Yet Catholic: Anglicanism stands squarely in the Reformed tradition, yet considers itself just as directly descended from the Early Church as the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches. Episcopalians celebrate the “Mass” in ways similar to the Roman Catholic tradition; yet do not recognize a single authority, such as the Pope of Rome.
Worship in one’s first language: Episcopalians believe that Christians should be able to worship God and read the Bible in their first language, which for most Episcopalians, is English, rather than Latin or Greek, the two earlier, “official” languages of Christianity. Yet the Book of Common Prayer has been translated into many languages, so that those Episcopalians who do not speak English can still worship God in their native tongue.
The Book of Common Prayer: Unique to Anglicanism, though, is the Book of Common Prayer, the collection of worship services that all worshipers in an Anglican church follow. It’s called “common prayer” because we all pray it together, around the world. The first Book of Common Prayer was compiled in English by Thomas Cranmer in the 16th Century, and since then has undergone many revisions for different times and places. But its original purpose has remained the same: To provide in one place the core of the instructions and rites for Anglican Christians to worship together.
The present prayer book in the Episcopal Church was published in 1979. Many other worship resources and prayers exist to enrich our worship, but the Book of Common Prayer is the authority that governs our worship. The prayer book explains Christianity, describes the main beliefs of the Church, outlines the requirements for the sacraments, and in general serves as the main guidelines of the Episcopal life.
Scripture, Tradition, and Reason: The Anglican approach to reading and interpreting the Bible was first articulated by Richard Hooker, also in the 16th Century. While Christians universally acknowledge the Bible (or the Holy Scriptures) as the Word of God and completely sufficient to our reconciliation to God, what the Bible says must always speak to us in our own time and place.
The Church, as a worshiping body of faithful people, has for two thousand years amassed experience of God and of loving Jesus, and what they have said to us through the centuries about the Bible is critical to our understanding it in our own context. The traditions of the Church in interpreting Scripture connect all generations of believers together and give us a starting point for our own understanding.
Episcopalians believe that every Christian must build an understanding and relationship with God’s Word in the Bible, and to do that, God has given us intelligence and our own experience, which we refer to as “Reason.” Based on the text of the Bible itself, and what Christians have taught us about it through the ages, we then must sort out our own understanding of it as it relates to our own lives.
What to Expect When You Visit
Worship in the Episcopal Church
Sunday is traditionally when Episcopalians gather for worship. The principal weekly worship service is the Holy Eucharist, also known as: the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, or Mass. In most Episcopal churches, worship is accompanied by the singing of hymns, and in some churches, much of the service is sung.
Episcopalians worship in many different styles, ranging from very formal, ancient, and multi-sensory rites with lots of singing, music, fancy clothes (called vestments), and incense, to informal services with contemporary music. Yet all worship in the Episcopal Church is based in the Book of Common Prayer, which gives worship a familiar feel, no matter where you go.
Liturgy and Ritual
Worship in the Episcopal Church is said to be “liturgical”, meaning that the congregation follows service forms and prays from texts that don’t change greatly from week to week during a season of the year. This sameness from week to week gives worship a rhythm that becomes comforting and familiar to the worshipers.
For the first-time visitor, liturgy may be exhilarating…or confusing. Services may involve standing, sitting, kneeling, sung or spoken responses, and other participatory elements that may provide a challenge for the first-time visitor. However, liturgical worship can be compared with a dance: once you learn the steps, you come to appreciate the rhythm, and it becomes satisfying to dance, again and again, as the music changes.
The Holy Eucharist
In spite of the diversity of worship styles in the Episcopal Church, Holy Eucharist always has the same components and the same shape.
The Liturgy of the Word
We begin by praising God through song and prayer, and then listen to as many as four readings from the Bible. Usually one from the Old Testament, a Psalm, something from the Epistles, and (always) a reading from the Gospels. The psalm is usually sung or recited by the congregation.
Next, a sermon interpreting the readings appointed for the day is preached.
The congregation then recites the Nicene Creed written in the Fourth Century and the Church’s statement of what we believe ever since.
Next, the congregation prays together–for the Church the World, and those in need. We pray for the sick, thank God for all the good things in our lives, and finally, we pray for the dead. The presider (e.g. priest, bishop, lay minister) concludes with a prayer that gathers the petitions into a communal offering of intercession.
In certain seasons of the Church year, the congregation formally confesses their sins before God and one another. This is a corporate statement of what we have done and what we have left undone, followed by a pronouncement of absolution. In pronouncing absolution, the presider assures the congregation that God is always ready to forgive our sins.
The congregation then greets one another with a sign of “peace”.
The Liturgy of the Table
Next, the priest stands at the table, which has been set with a cup of wine and a plate of bread or wafers, raises his or her hands, and greets the congregation again, saying “The Lord be With You.” Now begins the Eucharistic Prayer in which the presider tells the story of our faith, from the beginning of Creation, through the choosing of Israel to be God’s people, through our continual turning away from God, and God’s calling us to return. Finally, the presider tells the story of the coming of Jesus Christ, and about the night before his death, on which he instituted the Eucharistic meal (communion) as a continual remembrance of him.
The presider blesses the bread and wine, and the congregation recites the Lord’s Prayer. Finally, the presider breaks the bread and offers it to the congregation, as the “gifts of God for the People of God.”
The congregation then shares the consecrated bread and the wine. Sometimes the people all come forward to receive the bread and wine; sometimes they pass the elements around in other ways.
All Are Welcome
All baptized Christians, no matter age or denomination, are welcome to “receive communion.” Episcopalians invite all baptized people to receive, not because we take the Eucharist lightly, but because we take our baptism so seriously.
Visitors who are not baptized Christians are welcome to come forward during the Communion to receive a blessing from the presider.
At the end of the Eucharist, the congregation prays once more in thanksgiving, and then is dismissed to continue the life of service to God and to the World.
Episcopal Church Governance
“Episcopal” means “bishop” in Greek, and the Episcopal Church is governed in part by its bishops. The basic unit of ministry in the Episcopal Church is the “diocese,” or a region of a reasonable number of Episcopalians. Each diocese is presided over by a “diocesan bishop” who may have help from a variety of other kinds of bishops, depending on the circumstances.
The Diocesan Bishop chooses and ordains priests and deacons to serve the “parishes,” or congregations, of the diocese, which carryout the ministry of the diocese in their local communities. The priests lead the parish in worship, make decisions related to the sacramental life of the parish, and in general, supports the ministry of the worshiping Christians there.
The Episcopal Church is governed by a Constitution and a set of laws (known as “canons”) which it establishes for itself by Convention, but the diocesan bishop is the ecclesiastical (or “church”) authority in his or her particular diocese. The bishops of the Episcopal Church have no jurisdiction outside of their dioceses, so they meet together twice per year to pray and make decisions about the life of the Church. Every nine years, the Church elects a “Presiding Bishop” who represents the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion and “presides” over meetings of the bishops, known as the “House of Bishops.”
Every three years, delegations (or “deputations”) from all the dioceses, along with the House of Bishops, gather to worship and pass legislation for the Church. This General Convention is where broad decisions are made about policy and worship, as well as revitalizing the Christian community for ministry “back home.”