What is the Episcopal Church?
The Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. (ECUSA) is the American branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion – a “daughter” of the Church of England. It came into existence as an independent denomination after the American Revolution. Today it has between two and three million members in the United States, Mexico, and Central America, all of which are under jurisdiction of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori.
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 as handed down by the Apostles – deacons, priests and bishops – in direct descent, via the laying on of hands, from the original Apostles. By the way, “Episcopal” is an adjective: “I belong to the Episcopal Church.” The noun is “Episcopalian”: “I am an Episcopalian.”
What is the Anglican Communion?
The Anglican Communion is an inheritor of 2000 years of catholic and apostolic tradition dating from Christ himself, rooted in the Church of England. When the Church of England spread throughout the British Empire, sister churches sprang up. These churches, while autonomous in their governance, are bound together by tradition, Scripture, and the inheritance they have received from the Church of England. They together make up the Anglican Communion, a body headed spiritually by the Archbishop of Canterbury and having some 80 million members, making it the second largest Christian body in the Western world.
Is the Archbishop of Canterbury the Anglican Pope?
No, he’s not. The Episcopal Church/Anglican Communion does not 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 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?
In an established, self-sustaining congregation, or “parish”, day-to-day matters are handled by a panel of elected lay people called a “vestry.” The head priest, 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 (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) or a “sexton” (i.e., a person who handles physical maintenance of the church building and grounds). All individual congregations are part of a larger geographical area called a “diocese,” which is lead by a bishop.
What is the significance of the Episcopal Seal (The Shield) and Flag?
This symbol, which you will see at virtually every Episcopal Church and web site, is the official “logo” of ECUSA, and 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.
What is The Book of Common Prayer?
Contrary to what some believe, The Book of Common Prayer is not an “Anglican Bible.” We love it, use it and depend on it, but it is not Scripture (though it does contain quite a lot of Scripture), and we do not view it or use it as such. The first Book of Common Prayer was produced by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1549, and revised by Cranmer in 1552 (further revisions occurred in 1559 and 1662; the latter revision is still used as the official Prayer Book of the Church of England, and is considered a literary classic among scholars). 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 lay folk. Each national church in the Anglican Communion has its own adaptation of the Prayer Book. The American version, used by most churches in ECUSA, was last revised in 1979 (some Episcopal churches prefer to use the 1928 version). In the Prayer Book, you will find the orders of service for the various rites of the church, the Daily Office, prayers for use within the context of the liturgy and prayers for use in home devotions, the Lectionary (i.e., the Scriptural readings to be used in corporate worship, organized so as to carry the congregation through the entire Bible in a three-year period), the Psalter (Psalms), the Calendar of the Church Year, The Outline of the Faith (Catechism) and various historical documents.
I’m planning on visiting an Episcopal Church. May I take communion?
All baptized Christians, regardless of denomination, may take communion in the Episcopal Church. Your own denomination may have some restrictions on where you may or may not communicate, however, so it would be wise to check with a clergy person in your own church first.
I am handicapped and am unable to walk to the Altar to receive communion. Can I still receive communion?
Of course you can! Simply tell the usher or someone near you who is going to the Altar to have the Rector bring the Elements (the bread and the wine) to you. The Church is handicap accessible via the Lychgate Garden entrance.
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.”
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. The decision of when to take communion is left up to the child and his/her parents.
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, in a ceremony that normally takes place during the bishop's visit to your church. If you are coming from a different tradition, confirmation would be appropriate. Most churches hold “inquirer’s courses” for people interested in reception or confirmation prior to the bishop’s visitation. You will want to speak to the rector or vicar of your church 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, you have been received by adoption into the family of Christ (not into a particular denomination) and that need not ... in fact, 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, if appropriate (see above). You also always have the option of publicly reaffirming your baptismal vows, even after confirmation, if you so choose … but this is a highly personal matter, and not in any way required.