Who We Are

What is the Episcopal Church?:

The Episcopal Church is the Church of England as it developed in the United States. During the American revolution, The Church of England present in the Colonies began to administer itself, although it remained in communication — in Communion — with the mother Church in England itself. For this reason, it is said to be part of the Anglican (that is, of England) Communion. The Church of England is a Christian church founded on Jesus’ teachings and example on loving God and one another (and ourselves).

The church is both the place where the people gather for public worship, prayer, singing and celebration of sacraments (certain rites and symbols indicating God’s gracious presence among us) together, and also the people themselves, participating in worship, praying, singing and celebrating.

On a technical level, Episcopal means that our church is governed or “overseen” by bishops (from the Greek episcopos, over-seer). Each individual church (or “parish”) belongs to a larger governing area called a “diocese,” which is overseen by an elected bishop. All the dioceses across the whole country are overseen by a specially elected bishop, called the Presiding Bishop. However, all of the people of the church participate in the running of the business of the church family.

—(Thank you to Grace Cathedral of San Francisco for this discerment.)

What Do Episcopalians Believe?

Episcopalian belief, like Episcopalians themselves, are quite diverse. The standard is the Book of Common Prayer, which contains excerpts of passages from the Bible and various prayers for use in Church (that is, when people gather together for public prayer) and at home (for when a person is alone with his or her God). The Book of Common Prayer also contains several ancient Creeds. A creed is a statement of belief, and these ancient creeds proclaim what the earliest Christians believed to be true.

Included in the Book of Common Prayer, as a complement to the Creeds and Prayers, is a Catechism. A catechism states the beliefs and practice of the Church in a very concise format. It is in the catechism that you may find how Episcopalians view God, Jesus Christ, death, good and evil, and sin. It also explains in a practical fashion what the goal of human life is, and how we may pursue that goal. For a more thorough introduction to the Episcopal Church, see Christopher Webber’s Welcome to the Episcopal Church.

What Does It Mean to Be Episcopalian?

On a more day-to-day level, to be Episcopalian means thinking critically about issues which confront everyone — and responding in a particular way. The Episcopal Church is quite diverse, and welcomes people of all backgrounds, allowing them to take on responsibilities ranging from those of the clergy, to teachers, or simply congregation members. The Episcopal Church is not a “preachy” Church, and although it does maintain those rituals common to the Christian Church since its inception, it is not a “you must follow the rules or else” type of Church.

What does “Episcopal” mean?:

“Episcopos” is the Greek word for “bishop.” “Episcopal” means “governed by bishops.” The Episcopal Church maintains the three-fold orders of ministry as handed down by the Apostles — deacons, priests, and bishops — in direct descent, via the laying of hands, from the original Apostles. Also, “Episcopal” is used as an adjective: “I belong to the Episcopal Church.” The noun is “Episcopalian”: “I am an Episcopalian.”

So is the Episcopal Church Protestant or Catholic?:

Both. Neither. Either. Anglicanism is often referred to as a “bridge tradition.” When the Church of England seperated itself from the Church of Rome, it did not consider itself to be a “Protestant” tradition. Rather, it saw itself returning to the original organization of the church, with local/national congregations organized under the rule of their own bishops. As the church evolved in England, certain elements of the Reformation (such as worship in the vernacular (local language), an emphasis on Scriptural authority, and a broader view of what happens during the consecration of the Eucharist) became part of its tradition. (Interestingly enough some of these are the same practices the Roman Catholic Church adopted some 400 years later in the Second Vatican Council.) In an attempt to reconcile the views of the Reformers with the traditions of the Catholic Church, the Anglican tradition became the home for both. Thus, you will find very traditional (“high church” or “Anglo-Catholic”) parishes, or very reformed (“low church” or Evangelical) throughout the Anglican Communion. Most parishes probably fall in the middle of the two extremes.

Isn’t it true that the Church of England was founded by King Henry VIII?:
Not entirely. While Henry VIII’s desire for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was, in a manner of speaking, the straw that broke the camel’s back (it must be remembered that Henry’s request wasn’t out of line with Church laws and practices of his day and if his wife’s nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V hadn’t been holding the pope hostage he would have certainly received one), the trend toward seperation from Rome had been building for some time in England, which had never fully embraced the rule of the papacy.

Is the Archbishop of Canterbury the Anglican Pope?:

No, he’s not. We don’t have a pope. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual leader of the Church of England, and is considered “first among equals” by the rest of the Anglican Communion. He is highly respected, but does not have the same authority over the churches in the Anglican Communion that the Pope has over the Roman Catholic Church. Click here for information about, and a list of the Archbishops of Canterbury.

How do I join the Episcopal Church? Do I need to be confirmed?:

If you are coming from a church in the Apostolic Succession (i.e. Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox), and have already been confirmed, you would be “received” by a bishop in your diocese, in a ceremony that takes place during the bishop’s visit to your church. If you are coming from a different tradition, confirmation would be appropriate. Most parishes hold “inquirer’s courses” for people interested in information or confirmation prior to the bishop’s visitation. You will need to speak to a priest if you are interested. Note that reception or confirmation is not necessary before you can take communion (if you have been baptised – check with a priest for details), or participate in the life of the church.

Why do you have devotions to Mary, and who is Our Lady of Walsingham?:

This is a very old designation of the Virgin Mary, dating from 1061 when she appeared in the village of Walsingham, England directing that a replica of the Holy House in Nazareth be constructed. Soon it became a great pilgrimage site and ranked as one of the top pilgrimage destinations of medieval Europe (this was long before Lourdes, Fatima, or Guadalupe). In the 16th century the Shrine was destroyed but the memory and devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham lived on in the hearts of the faithful until the Shrine was rebuilt some 80 years ago. According to a BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) poll in 2004 Walsingham ranks as the most popular pilgrimage site in the United Kingdom. Devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham is a particularly Anglican way of honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. Thomas the Apostle has a statue of her, and honors her with the parish’s Society of Our Lady of Walsingham and every two years offers a pilgrimage to Walsingham. At times in the history of the church there has been controversy about devotion to Mary but in these ecumenical days there are few who would deny a right respect and love to the Mother of Our Lord Jesus. Click here for some interesting facts about the Protestant reformers, Luther, Calvin and Zwingli’s beliefs regarding the Blessed Virgin. In great contrast with Protestant churches today, it may surprise you!

Links

What Anglicans Believe
From Anglicans Online, an independent view of Anglican thought on the internet.

Anglicans Online Essays
Some clear Anglican thinking on the web. See Bishop Peter Whalon’s essay on the difference between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism, as well as his reception at the Inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI as representative of the Episcopal Church USA.

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