About the Episcopal Church
Basics about the Episcopal Church and Episcopalians
The fundamentals of the Episcopal Church are Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. Because God gave us Reason to interpret Scripture and Tradition, Episcopalians hold a variety of theological, political, and doctrinal beliefs. Anyone with questions about who God is and how God works will find a welcome in the Episcopal Church, and many different people with whom to share questions, journeys, and experiences.
"Episcopal" means that our church is "overseen" by bishops (from episcope in Greek). Each individual congregation (or "parish church") belongs to a larger governing area called a "diocese," which is overseen by an elected bishop. All the dioceses together make up the Episcopal Church in the United States (and a few other places). The national Episcopal Church is overseen by a Presiding Bishop, who is also elected. A bishop is one kind of ordained clergy person, along with priests and deacons. Every Episcopalian participates in the ministries and governance of the Episcopal Church. The national governing body is called General Convention, which meets every three years. General Convention has two houses - the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. The House Deputies is made up of lay and ordained people elected by their home dioceses, including our Diocese of Missouri.
The Episcopal Church is descended from the Church of England, and through the consecration of bishops, has roots all the way back to Jesus and his original disciples. The Church of England developed during the 16th century, as it moved away from being overseen by the Pope but did not reject its Catholic origins. Although the popular myth is that King Henry VIII severed the Church in England from the Roman Catholic Church in order to get a divorce from his wife Catherine, the truth a lot more complicated. In the end, Henry did not change much in the way that Christianity was practiced in England. Most major reforms to the Church of England occurred during the reigns of Henry's heirs, especially Queen Elizabeth I and King James I, who oversaw the creation of the King James Bible. The Church of England is often called the "via media" (Latin for middle way) between Protestant Churches (Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Congregationalists) and the Roman Catholic Church. Churches in the Anglican Communion, including the Episcopal Church, maintain traditions that are both "Protestant" and "Catholic."
The Episcopal Church started as a church independent from the Church of England in 1789, just after the United States of America succeeded in gaining political independence from England. While we are self-governing, the Episcopal Church maintains a relationship based on common faith, traditions, history, and the use of the Book of Common Prayer, with the Church of England and more than 30 other Anglican churches all over the world. All churches in this tradition make up the Anglican Communion.
The Anglican Communion is the family of churches that have their roots in the Church of England and often have their roots in English colonialism. Although all Anglicans (including Episcopalians) honor the Archbishop of Canterbury as the figurehead of the Anglican Communion, he has no authority to oversee the governance of any church outside of the Church of England.
For a thorough, fun (and very pro-Anglican) timeline, please visit Dr. Ed Friedlander's Anglican Timeline.
The Book of Common Prayer, or "BCP," contains the prayers and worship services that Episcopalians share. The BCP helps us to worship God together. The BCP also binds together everyone in the Anglican Communion. The first BCP was written in 1549. The BCP used in the Episcopal Church today was written in 1979, although we have also developed newer official supplemental texts called Enriching Our Worship, most of which are available in online formats.