Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Episcopalians (but Were Afraid to Ask)
In the Episcopal Church we have a unique and exciting way of telling the Christian story. Grounded in the rich Catholic and Protestant heritage of the church, we seek to reach out to the world of the future. We draw on the 3000-year history of Biblical writings, as well as the movement of the Spirit into the twenty-first century. We seek to include children, men and women of all ages, races, backgrounds and lifestyles."
The Greek word for "bishop" is "Episcopos". The word "Episcopal" means "governed by bishops." The Episcopal Church maintains the order of ministry handed down by the Apostles - deacons, priests and bishops. Episcopalians believe that its ministers, via the laying on of hands, follow the line of the original Apostles. Please keep in mind "Episcopal" is an adjective: "I belong to the Episcopal Church." "Episcopalian" is a noun: "I am an Episcopalian."
Episcopalians celebrate the sovereignty of God and the reality of Christ who is revealed to us in love. Christ in not simply a man who lived long ago but a living presence among those who seek to serve, to forgive, to heal and to reconcile.
We may read of Jesus in Scripture; we may learn of him through study and prayer; we may respond to the proclamation of his Word and sing his praise; but we will only truly know him through breaking bread with other people. "If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples" (John 13:35).
The Episcopal Church is that community of Christians who trace their roots to English settlers who arrives in America and founded the Church of England congregations. The Protestant Episcopal church was organized after the War of Independence. Samuel Seabury, our first bishop, was consecrated by bishops in Scotland in 1784. In 1789, the General Convention adopted a constitution, canons and a revised Book of Common Prayer.
In 1821, the Episcopal Church was incorporated under its current title: The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. This name itself tends to reflect the great importance of the English missionary societies that were so crucial to the founding, spread and strengthening of the Church in these lands.
Episcopalians are unique in many of their views when compared to other Christian denominations. They believe that many have misunderstood the "good news" of Christ on these issues:
"The Greatest Story Ever Told." The Bible is a major part of the church's heritage and contains the very core of all Christian belief and thought - "all things necessary to salvation" (The Book of Common Prayer). Literal or fundamentalist interpretations do not represent the understanding of most Episcopalians. Modern biblical research or scientific examination of Scripture is as valid and necessary an advancement as in any other field. As revelation continues, our horizons are lifted far, and our understanding of what Scripture is and means continues to grow.
"Baptize people everywhere." We believe God's love and grace are the rightful possession of all people. That love and grace are expressed through Christ's Body, the church. Thus, we bring young children to be included in this larger family and present to them the free gift which God give to all. Later, when children have "come of age," they may elect to affirm their commitment to follow Christ through Confirmation. At this point they assume the full adult responsibilities of Christian service and worship.
"The People of God." Saint Paul call all Christians "saints," which implies their special identity and commission on earth. In the 2000 years of the church's existence, many "saints" have been acclaimed as exemplary of what we all should be like. Just as the nation pauses to remember such heroes as Washington, Lincoln and Columbus, so the church remembers such heroes of its past as Saint Mary, Saint Peter and Saint James. More recent "saints," like John Wesley, are remembered too. The saints are never "worshipped" nor "prayed to" since all prayer is to be in the name of Christ Jesus. Occasionally, however, just as one asks for the prayers of fellow Christians on earth, he or she may ask for those of fellow Christians in heaven.
He who would be the greatest." The Roman Pope and Greek Patriarch are successors to the Apostles in the same way our Bishops are; however, Episcopalians do not regard either as infallible, nor as superior to other Bishops in any way. All Bishops are equals in the Episcopal Church, and the Church in the USA is an autonomous member of the Anglican Communion (a voluntary association of twenty-six national churches throughout the world). We are governed democratically through elected conventions resembling our state legislatures and Congress.
"Of Sheep and Goats." The Book of Common Prayer indicates "Predestination of Life is the everlasting purpose of God." If God is good, this much is only logical; yet, for one person or group to claim exclusive right to this Life is denial of the universal nature of God's love and the reality of free will. Our behavior in this life should not be dictated by a sense of "election" nor by anticipated rewards or punishment, but by a free commitment of our will to do God's will.
Episcopalians believe that all things come from God, and, thus, are good. Nevertheless, all things are to be used responsibly - to no greater or lesser extent than is consistent with the good of self and neighbor. There is no virtue which, when abused, cannot become a vice. We are to be guided, then, in all our dealings by the commandment of love.
The Book of Common Prayer is the norm for our corporate services, and the vestments worn by our clergy date back to the Second Century A.D. These latter are the historical "uniforms" of Christ's ministers. Our uniformity of worship, while allowing for variations, serves to remind us of the universal nature of the church. In our worship we are united with the past, present and future generations of Christians. Such worship is carried out with a view to the glorification of God, not for our entertainment; thus, Episcopalians are not spectators but participants in worship. Not only do we express ourselves in word but also in gesture. Generally we stand or kneel to pray, and we sit to be instructed. All other devotional gestures are optional and purely personal. To Episcopalians worship is the most important thing we do, and ultimately this reality should characterize all that we do in every area of life.
"All that we have." Episcopalians believe that all we possess and are is from God. We give to the church our of thanksgiving for all that God has entrusted to us. The biblical tithe is given to us as a standard, but what people give must be determined by their own conscience. No one can possibly do more than love requires in this or any other area of the Christian life. Thus, neither should what one gives be a source of pride, nor should what one fails to give be a source of criticism.
"Go forth therefore." The mission of the Episcopalian is not simply a matter of "saving souls." Neither is it simply a matter of "feeding the hungry." Christian mission is seen as involving both spiritual and physical welfare of humanity, for Christ's love must extend to all life.
The Episcopal Church differs from other denominations in these and many other ways. Basically, it might be said, that it is a church which asks not for blind faith, not for unthinking obedience, but for thoughtful, responsible commitment. It may well be the church for you. Come and see for yourself. We would be delighted (as would any Episcopal parish) to have you share in our fellowship and worship any time. Please check the calendar for service times.