The Episcopal Church is a part of the wider Christian Church that encompasses many denominations and non-denominational Christian churches throughout the world. In the United States the Episcopal Church grew out of the Church of England, which was supported by many of the early colonists in New England. After the American Revolution, Church of England congregations in the newly independent States reorganized themselves as a new church—free from the King of England and from oversight by English bishops. The new church took the name “Episcopal,” meaning “having bishops,” to emphasize the historic ministry of bishops, priests and deacons. The new church has continued to use the Book of Common Prayer, with certain revisions, which has been used for centuries by the Church of England as the foundational source for worship, prayer, sacrament, and belief.
Today the Episcopal Church is also an independent branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and members are known both as “Episcopalians” and “Anglicans.” The Episcopal Church is one of 30 autonomous national churches that are part of the Anglican Communion. The Communion has over 70 million members in 164 countries and is the third largest body of Christians in the world, after the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. The Episcopal Church numbers between 2–3 million of those 70 million members.
The Episcopal Church exists to continue the ministry begun by Jesus Christ. As Episcopalians we believe:
- The Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, written by God-inspired human authors, and interpreted by the Church with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- The Nicene Creed is the basic statement of our belief about God. It was adopted in the 4th century A.D. by early church leaders and is said every Sunday in Episcopal churches and many other Christian churches around the world.
- The two great sacraments of the Gospel, given by Christ to the Church, are Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. In Baptism we renounce Satan, repent of our sins, and adopt Jesus as our Lord and Savior. In the Holy Eucharist, the center of our worship life, we remember and participate in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ until his coming again.
- The teachings and beliefs of the Episcopal Church are articulated in the Catechism, our “Outline of the Faith.”
The Episcopal Church honors tradition and strives to live by the example of Jesus Christ, welcoming the stranger, helping our neighbors and offering love and forgiveness. We want our communities to be better because the Episcopal Church is here.
WHO WE ARE
We often talk about the Episcopal Church as following the “via media” or middle way in our theology and discussions because we believe that, whether or not we agree on a particular topic, we all are children beloved by God and we can have thoughtful and respectful discourse. We worship together, study and ask questions as we move more deeply into the mystery of God and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The beauty of the Episcopal worship services appeals to people from diverse backgrounds. For those who have grown up Roman Catholic, the service (known as the Mass, Eucharist, or Holy Communion) will be very familiar. Those of Reformed tradition or no religious tradition at all may find a spiritual home in a church that respects its own tradition and maintains its sense of awe and wonder at the power and mystery of God.