How did the Episcopal Church it get started? There have been Anglicans (members of the Church of England) in what was to become the United States since the establishment of the first English colony at Jamestown. But no bishops were among the first settlers. And bishops (the successors of the Apostles) are considered important for the basic structure and continuity of the Church. The problem of no bishops was exacerbated because the infant church in America could not send candidates back to England to be consecrated as bishops because they would have had to have taken an oath to the British monarch as the head of the Church. As you can imagine, that would not sit well with the settlers, who left England to get away from the monarchy and all that went along with it.
So the church in Scotland, part of the Anglican Communion, came to the rescue and ordained bishops for the Church in the new world. Thus the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. was born. And because we’ve grown up as Christians, the issues we as a country and as a church had with England are resolved and are water under the bridge. The Episcopal Church is now a sister church with the Church of England and with other Anglican churches throughout the world.
The word "Protestant" became part of the name of the church for many years. That distinguished us from the Roman Catholic Church, which is also "episcopal" (see below) in its organization. The word “Protestant” has since been dropped from the official title, because the churches of the Anglican Communion have their roots in (and more closely resemble) the Roman Catholic Church than we resemble our truly “Protestant” brothers and sisters.
The Anglican Communion traces its origin to Jesus through the episcopacy (bishops). The office of bishop is explicitly referenced in Scripture. Since the beginning of Christianity bishops have handed their office to new bishops by the laying on of hands and the calling down of the Holy Spirit. Bishops can trace the successive handing down of their office back to the Apostles. The Roman Catholic Church (from whence we came) and the Orthodox Churches, e.g., Greek and Russian, enjoy this same succession of bishops back to the time of Christ.
What does "Episcopal" mean? "Episcopos" is the Greek word for "bishop." Thus "episcopal" means "governed by bishops." The Episcopal Church maintains the three-fold order of ministry that had its roots back to the Apostles -- deacons, priests and bishops.
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 separated itself from 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 who understood the needs of their people. As the church evolved in England, certain elements of the Reformation (such as worship in the vernacular, allowing priests and bishops to marry, an emphasis on the authority of Scripture, no manmade doctrines, and a broader view of what happens during the consecration of the Eucharist) became a part of its tradition. In an attempt to reconcile the views of the Reformers with the tradition of the Catholic Church, the Anglican tradition became a home for both. Thus you will find Episcopalian parishes where it is difficult to tell whether they are Roman Catholic or Episcopalian. Some parishes have the rosary, statues and in some places the Mass is even celebrated in Latin. And there are some parishes that are not nearly as “Roman.” Most parishes fall in the middle of the two extremes. All have this wealth of tradition back to the time of Jesus and the Apostles.
Controversy and Unity. No church is immune from disagreements. Wherever there are thinking human beings and whenever Scripture is not absolutely clear about a particular topic, there will be differences of opinion. Some individuals, and indeed some churches as a body, may interpret Scripture differently in respect to such things as authority, dancing, consumption of alcohol, divorce, birth control, sacraments, the type of music used in worship, infant baptism, homosexuality and women clergy. The Episcopal Church prides itself on being a church that has both highly respected scholars as well as ordinary people with informed opinions who take different sides in many of the issues of today, where Scripture is not absolutely clear or where it needs interpretation because of the cultural practices and languages used at the time the Scripture was written. No church, no matter how literally it interprets Scripture (sometimes called “conservative” or “fundamental”) or how one-sided it may appear, is without people who have serious differences of opinion about some matters.
The Episcopal Church believes there is room for differences of opinion, because people do differ in interpreting religious issues. Exploration opens new vistas to see God more clearly and to see more clearly how we ourselves relate to God and to one another.
We all must realize that there is a huge body of Scripture and religious practice and issues about which we are all one. Indeed we could spend the rest of our lives exploring our commonality and improving our Christian walk by studying Jesus, never needing to get into controversial issues.
One of the biggest focuses of the Episcopal Church is the unity of all Christian churches. This is exemplified when at Mass ALL baptized Christians are invited to receive Jesus in Communion. That is why we frequently share pulpits with clergy from other denominations. That is why the Episcopal Church has a wonderfully solid partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and is actively working on other such partnerships, including partnership with the Roman Catholic Church.
The Episcopal Church asks each of us to respond with unbridled love for our brothers and sisters with whom we have differences of opinion, and not to separate ourselves from them, causing further division in the Body of Christ, which is supposed to be ONE. Splitting a family (of which a Christian congregation is) because we disagree with the Church or someone in the church about a limited number of issues does not respect God’s command that we love even our enemies. Loving them means living with them, hugging them, accepting them, not running from them, not splitting a church.
Isn't it true that the Church of England was founded by 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 (and, for what it's worth, Henry's request wasn't out of line with church laws of his day...but that's another story), the trend toward separation from Rome had been building for quite some time in England, which had never fully embraced the rule of the papacy.
Isn't 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 and he is a wonderful spokesperson for the Church, but he does not have the same authority over the churches of the Anglican Communion that the Pope has over the Roman Catholic Church.
How is the church governed? The world is a community of people. Countries are a community of people. Church denominations are a community of people. Parishes (i.e., congregations) are a community of people. Communities need order and leadership to survive. No society can survive without effective leadership. So leadership in an Episcopal parish is centered in a panel of elected lay people called a "vestry." The head priest (variously known as a vicar, pastor or rector) handles spiritual and worship-related matters, and usually serves in an advisory capacity on church committees. Depending on the size of the congregation, the rector may have one or several ordained assistants (priests or deacons who are sometimes referred to as "curates").
Often there will be other lay or ordained people in charge of specific areas, such as a music director (who coordinates worship music for the congregation) and "sexton" (i.e., a person who handles the physical maintenance of the church building and grounds). Churches that are not self-sustaining are called "missions." Often they are newly formed congregations, or congregations with a very small membership. These churches are administered by the bishop's office. The head priest of a mission is called a "vicar" because he or she serves as the bishop's representative. All individual congregations are part of a larger geographical area called a "diocese," which is lead by a bishop. Some churches in the Anglican Communion also have larger administrative districts called "archdioceses," which are comprised of several dioceses and are administered by archbishops. ECUSA does not have archdioceses or archbishops. We do have a Presiding Bishop, who is elected by the clergy and laity of the Church to serve a nine-year term. The Presiding Bishop is the main spokesperson for the ECUSA.
· What is "The Book of Common Prayer"? Just what it says. It mainly contains wonderful and spiritually uplifting prayers used in the various ceremonies of the Church: baptisms, ordinations, weddings, anointing of the sick and the various formularies of the Mass. It also has prayers for numerous everyday occasions and it organizes the Scriptures that will be used during the Mass to be sure that the entire Bible is read every 3 years.
The first Book of Common Prayer was produced by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1549, and subsequently revised from time to time. The book was intended to facilitate worship in English rather than Latin, and to bring the rites of the church together into one book for use by both clergy and laity. Each national church in the Anglican Communion has its own adaptation of the Prayer Book. It also contains the Outline of the Faith (Catechism) and various historical documents.
How do Episcopalians worship? If you are familiar with Roman Catholic or Lutheran services, you will find Episcopal services remarkably similar. The central rite is the Holy Eucharist (aka "Communion," "The Lord's Supper" or the “Mass”), analogous to the Roman Catholic Mass. The first part of the liturgy ("The Liturgy of the Word") consists of prayers, scripture readings and a sermon (also called a “homily”). This is followed by an Affirmation of Faith (the ancient Nicene Creed), the Prayers of the People, Confession of Sin, Absolution, and the Exchange of Peace. The second part of the liturgy ("The Liturgy of the Eucharist") begins with the offerings of the congregation (bread and wine to be used in the Mass) and includes the Eucharistic Prayer during which the consecration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus happens. Then the reception of communion with both the consecrated Bread and Wine. Communion is followed by a final prayer, a blessing and a dismissal to follow Jesus.
What are the sacraments of the Episcopal Church? They include Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Holy Matrimony, Reconciliation ("confession"), Ordination and Anointing of the Sick. Of these, Baptism and the Eucharist are considered "necessary" sacraments and the others are "conditional" sacraments (i.e., they are not required of all persons, but apply in certain situations). "Sacraments" are defined as "Outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace." They all have their origin in Scripture and have been in use by the Church since the beginning.
Does the church celebrate other rites? Other public rites of the church include Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer and Evensong or Evening Prayer (held at various times in various churches. The Church also has the sacraments of confirmation (a reaffirmation of the Christian faith by those who are strong in the faith, done by the bishop of the diocese on his visits to the parish) and ordinations to the episcopacy, priesthood and diaconate).
How can I learn more about Episcopal worship practices? The best way to learn more about our worship practices is to look through a copy of the Book of Common Prayer. These can typically be found in the pews in every Episcopal Church, and no one is likely to mind if you drop by to peruse a copy. Copies can also often be found in libraries and bookstores.
I'm planning on visiting an Episcopal Church. May I take communion? Since Jesus gave himself for all people, and since he ministered to all (especially to sinners), in the Episcopal Church all baptized Christians are invited to receive Communion. Some churches believe that Communion is a sign of unity. The Episcopal Church believes it is Jesus and therefore the source of unity.
Does the Episcopal Church baptize infants? Yes. We believe that the grace conferred by the Sacrament of Baptism is not and should not be reserved only for "informed believers." In baptizing infants, we follow the ancient practice of the Church from its inception.
At what age may a child take communion? A child may take communion at any age. We do not believe that a certain "understanding" of the proceedings is necessary for the sacrament to be valid. Indeed Jesus came to many little children, who certainly did not have the full knowledge and understanding of who he was. The decision of when to take communion is left up to the child and his/her parents.
Does the Episcopal Church ordain women to the clergy? Yes. The Episcopal Church has ordained women to all orders of ministry since 1976. The Church simply adheres to what the Bible teaches – that everyone is made in the image and likeness of God as well as other parts of Scripture that call out for equality of men and women. Although throughout much of Christian history the Church has been male-dominated, that practice arose because of cultural influences rather than from the mind of God. In a real sense, we have “grown up” in the understanding and practice of the faith.
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 the bishop of your diocese. Reception is a ceremony that normally takes place during the bishop's visit to your parish. If you are coming from a different tradition, confirmation would be appropriate when you feel you have grown strong in the faith. Most churches hold "inquirer courses" for people interested in reception or confirmation prior to the bishop's visitation. Please arrange to speak with the pastor if you are interested. Note that confirmation or reception is NOT necessary before you can take communion or participate in the life of the church.
I have already been baptized in another church. If I become an Episcopalian, do I need to be re-baptized? No. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." Once you have been baptized with water in the name of the Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit), you have been received by adoption into the family of Christ (not into a particular denomination). Baptism should not be repeated. This is true even if you were a tiny baby when you were baptized. If you wish to make a public, adult affirmation of faith, you may choose to be confirmed. Also when Baptisms occur, all Christians in attendance are invited to renew their vows taken at Baptism.
What is the significance of the Episcopal Seal ("The Shield") and Flag? This symbol, which you will see at virtually every Episcopal Church and website, is the official "logo" of ECUSA. It depicts our history. It is red, white and blue...the colors of both the U.S. and England. The red Cross of St. George on a white field is symbolic of the Church of England. The blue field in the upper left corner is the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. It features a cross of St. Andrew, in recognition of the fact that the first American bishop was consecrated in Scotland. This cross is made up of nine crosslets, which represent the nine dioceses that met in Philadelphia in 1789 to form the Protestant Episcopal Church of the U.S.A.
Interpretation of Scripture. It is no secret thanks to the pages of history books and modern media that Christian churches over the centuries since the time of Jesus have had serious conflicts because one group interprets the Scriptures and religious practices differently from the other. Schisms (serious splits, sometimes leading to bloodshed) have happened. Current issues with which the Episcopal Church deals include the acceptance of women clergy (deacons, priests and bishops) and gay people in those ministry. Other churches have other issues. The issues facing the Roman Catholic Church include pedophilia, divorce and remarriage, artificial birth control, dwindling clergy because of the celibacy requirement and the status of women in the church. No church is exempt from dealing with "issues."
In dealing with the issue of interpretation vs. the literal observance of what is in the Bible, we need to keep in mind that the Bible was written between 3,500 and 2,000 years ago by people whose language limitations and cultural norms influenced what eventually became the body of Scripture (the Bible) as we know it today. So much of Scripture is quite clear in what we must do to be saved. But until the 19th century, slavery was deemed to be perfectly Scriptural. Then the modern tools of language and sociology and archeology and a better understanding of the Biblical languages gave Biblical scholars a reason to step back and re-look at how we should consider slavery, especially taking into consideration other parts of Scripture about the equality of all people in the eyes of God, no matter the color of their skin.
The treatment of gay and lesbian people in Christian churches, and in a rather big way in the Episcopal Church with the election of openly gay bishops (Gene Robinson in New Hampshire, Mary Glasspool in Los Angeles, and Barbara Harris in Massachusetts) has created quite a stir in the membership of the Episcopal Church. It is not the position of the Episcopal Churches of West Kauai to take a side in this issue, but rather to say that our calling as Christians is to love all people, even our enemies. Judgment is up to God, not us. Too many have placed gay and lesbian people outside of that scope of “love all people” and “love our enemies” and created a special category in which it is OK to hate by unloving words and by throwing darts at that group.
When it comes to conflict and interpretation, the vast majority of issues we deal with in our spiritual lives as members of a church never need to touch these issues of conflict. When they do, then splitting a family (of which a Christian congregation is) because we disagree with someone in the church about a limited number of issues does not respect God’s command that we love even our enemies and that Jesus' church must be ONE. Loving those with different opinions about the interpretation of Scripture means living with them, hugging them, accepting them, not running from them. In God's house there are many mansions (John 14:2).