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.
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.
Want to know more about the Sacraments of the Episcopal Church?