About the Episcopal Church

About the Episcopal Church
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The Episcopal Church is the American branch of 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 independent 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. The Episcopal Church 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 Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori. Four strands of authority guide our search for truth.

  • Scripture: The Bible, living and dynamic, is the basis for liturgy and worship.
  • Tradition: We look to tradition to guide us in knowing the truth.
  • Reason: We are a people who ask questions and employ logic.
  • Experience: We test our faith in the world.

Church Structure and Governance

The order of ministry in the Episcopal Church extends from bishops to priests and deacons. On the regional level, parishes group together to form dioceses, while the tasks of setting policy are relegated to a general convention that is held every three years. Delegates to this convention form a house of bishops and a house of deputies, the latter including both laity and clergy; they are elected by diocesan conventions attended by representatives of each diocese. The church's bishops participate in the Lambeth Conference, held in London every ten years, to address issues of significance to the entire church; at these, all churches that are part of the Anglican Communion participate. The presiding bishop of the church is elected by the house of bishops and an executive council that is chosen by the general convention. Bishops in the American Episcopal Church are elected by individual dioceses and are consecrated into the Apostolic Succession, considered to witness to an unbroken line of Church leadership beginning with the Apostles themselves.

The Book of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer is our guide for prayer and the liturgies of the Church. It is impossible to understand the Anglican Communion without reference to the Book of Common Prayer, which grew directly out of the turbulent era that saw the founding of the Church of England. When, for political as well as personal reasons, Henry VIII chose to break away from the Roman Catholic Church, he assigned Thomas Cranmer and Nicholas Ridley the task of producing a book that, along with the Bible itself, would provide the basis for Anglican worship. The Book of Common Prayer is thus a compilation of everything from the liturgy of Holy Communion to the sacramental rites, morning and evening prayer, and other documents critical to church practice. The Book of Common Prayer has seen an often controversial history. First authorized in 1549 as the First Prayer Book of Edward VI, it was revised in 1552 (the Second Prayer Book of Edward VI), with dramatic changes that downplayed Roman ceremony and moved the tome in a more Protestant direction. After a brief life, this edition was suppressed by Queen Mary I, but her sister Elizabeth I would later oversee the production of an amended Prayer Book that made some concessions in the direction of Roman practice. Later revisions would include an amended version in 1604 and, after the suppression of the book during the Commonwealth period, a new edition in 1662 that remains the basis for worship of most Anglican churches in the British Commonwealth today. In America, a revised edition was authorized in 1789, with subsequent revisions in 1892, 1928, and 1979. Along with the King James Bible, the Book of Common Prayer is one of the glories of English literature, retaining a vitality that, despite its numerous revisions, continues to provide a firm foundation for the Episcopal Church.

Additional Resources

Anglo-Catholicism Sites

Anglican and Episcopal Sites