What is the Episcopal Church?
The Episcopal Church is part of Christ's "one holy catholic and apostolic" church. "Episcopal" means we are governed by bishops and organized into dioceses. We trace the succession of bishops in this country back to the Church of England in the 17th Century, and through it to the European Catholic Church of the Middle Ages to the apostles of New Testament times. The Episcopal Church is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, with 70 million members in 163 countries. We are a community of Christians bound together by our belief that Holy Scripture contains the very core of all Christian faith. Through the many ancient, as well as modern, stories that connects us to Jesus and his teachings, we discover God's hope and call to us in our life together. If you want to know more about the Episcopal Church, The Anglican Vision by James E. Griffiss is an excellent book to read.
What Do Episcopalians Believe?
We believe there is One God who creates all things, redeems us from sin and death and renews us as the Children of God. As Episcopalians we promise to follow Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. We believe the mission of our church is restoration of all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
What is an Episcopal Church service like?
In worship, we are united, acknowledging the holiness of God, to hear God's Word, to offer prayer and to celebrate God's presence among us.
All are welcome to participate in our worship because it is in worship that we live out our life as a Christian family together. Scripture is the foundation of our worship. The service follows an order found in our worship book called the Book of Common Prayer, two-thirds of which is scriptural. Every worship service includes the reading of Holy Scripture from the Old and New Testaments. Many of our prayers and hymns are filled with scripture.
THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER includes a variety of ancient and modern prayers and worship services for occasions when the whole community gathers and for individual use. The Book of Common Prayer allows everyone to participate, reminding us that each person is an important part of the worship experience, whether the service is a celebration or a solemn occasion. It is a guidebook for daily Christian living. Music, both traditional and contemporary, is an integral part of uniting our prayers and Scripture. The Book of Common Prayer is in every pew, but also, it can be purchased for private devotions, in a book store, such as Barnes and Noble.
In our worship service, we celebrate God with us through water, bread and wine. Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us through water we are united with God. We call this Baptism. The Episcopal Church believes through baptism in any Christian denomination, we become brothers and sisters in God's family.
Jesus shared bread and wine with his first followers and is with us when we share in the family meal we call Holy Communion (Holy Eucharist, Last Supper). Through it we receive the forgiveness of our sins and a strengthening of our union with God and one another as we remember Christ's life, death and Resurrection. Any baptized person is welcome and encouraged to share in his meal when visiting an Episcopal Church.
Does the Episcopal Church use creeds in worship services?
In the Episcopal Church, we say both the Apostles' Creed and Nicene Creed in our worship. Because we are a community of faith, we openly declare our beliefs and in this way unite ourselves to Christians in the past, present and future.
The Apostles' Creed dates from the early years of the Christian Church and was used as a statement of faith at Baptism. The Apostles' Creed is included in the services of daily Morning and daily Evening Prayer that may be used both at church and in private devotions. It can be found in the Book of Common Prayer.
The Nicene Creed was written in the year 325 by early bishops meeting in Nicaea (modern-day Turkey). It is a statement which summarizes the Christian faith and is said in unison during services of Holy Eucharist (the reenactment of the Lord's Supper).
BELIEF & THE CREEDS
Do I have to believe everything in the creeds?
Relationship with God is a personal journey and also one we share with others in this community of faith. The Creeds clearly state the beliefs of the Church, and we recite them as we join with those around us in the process of discovering our own relationship with God. So it is not easy to answer this question "yes" or "no." It is important that we take part with fellow seekers in this lifelong journey. Most Episcopalians are comfortable with the realities of modern science and our ever expanding knowledge of history while accepting the theological truths of the Creeds and Scripture. These truths tell us that God is the Creator, that we matter and that God cares.
DOUBTS AND QUESTIONS
What if I have doubts or questions?
It is not unusual to have doubts and questions. In the Episcopal Church, questions are encouraged. There are many groups, classes and forums available for discussing questions with other seekers. Episcopal Churches have classes at different times throughout the year. In addition, the clergy are eager to be contacted for help with questions.
What are the foundations of belief?
In the Episcopal Church, we are called to live out our faith on a daily basis, whether we are at home, school, work or recreation. The cornerstones of our faith are Scripture, tradition and reason.
What do Episcopalians believe about Scripture?
Scripture is the word of God contained in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The 39 books of the Old Testament contain the story of God's love from the time of Creation to the birth of his son, Jesus Christ. The books contain God's laws as He gave them to The Hebrew people.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible is the most widely used study Bible in schools, colleges, seminaries, and universities across the nation. An indispensable tool for people who desire a modern translation combined with outstanding study helps.The New Testament contains Christ's teachings, the accounts of his life as told by his followers and the beginning of the Church. It is written in 27 books. Within an Episcopal worship service, Scripture is read in the lessons, the Gospel (the teachings of Jesus), the Psalms (poems from the Old Testament) and other prayers.
What role does tradition play?
We are not Christians in isolation but are part of a living faith that spans 2000 years. Tradition is the embodiment of our experience as Christians throughout the centuries. The heart of our tradition is expressed through the Bible, the Creeds, the Sacraments of the Lord's Supper and Baptism and the ordained ministry passed on by Christ to his Church. Our tradition is expressed with many voices, among which are a variety of worship styles, languages, cultures, architecture and music. Our tradition encourages this diversity. We seek to value the life and story each person brings to the community of faith. As in a multitextured tapestry, each person's offering is woven into the life of the whole making it stronger and more beautiful.
What part does reason play in the way Episcopalians believe?
Each one of us, with God's help, makes a decision about how we use tradition and Scripture in our lives. A personal relationship with God allows us to realize and celebrate our lives to the fullest. The gifts of reason, as a complement to Scripture and tradition, leads us to seek answers to our own questions and to grow spiritually. Being active in a community of faith strengthens us to carry our faith into the world. Weaving Scripture, tradition and reason together, we strengthen our faith and grow as Children of God
BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER
What is the Book of Common Prayer?
The Book of Common Prayer is our guide to worship and devotion. Scripture is the foundation of our worship and two-thirds of the Book of Common Prayer comes directly from the Old and New Testaments.
Our current Book of Common Prayer, revised in 1979, was originally compiled by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, in 1549. There are more than 70 million Anglicans (Episcopalians) in 163 countries throughout the world, using a Book of Common Prayer in their own language, reflecting our diversity and ethnic backgrounds.
The Book of Common Prayer is a collection of ancient and modern prayers and worship services for occasions when the community gathers and for individual use as well. It allows everyone to participate, reminding us that each person is an important part of the worship experience, whether the service is a celebration or a solemn occasion. It is a guidebook for daily Christian living.
Why call it "Common" Prayer?
Common does not mean ordinary. These are the prayers we say together or "in common" when we worship as a community.
Can the Book of Common Prayer be used in personal devotions?
Yes, in private daily prayers or with family, prayers in the morning and evening, special prayers of praise or thanksgiving, requests for others, and for special occasions. All 150 Psalms, or poems from the Old Testament are contained in the Book of Common Prayer and can be read at any time. A calendar for reading through the entire Bible every two years, as well as an outline of the Episcopal faith and Church history, is also included. The Book of Common Prayer is in every pew, but also, it can be purchased for private devotions, in a book store, such as Barnes and Noble.
Can I make up my own prayers?
The Book of Common Prayer is meant to complement daily individual prayers, not replace them. Every service in the book includes time for personal prayer requests, either silent or aloud. Prayers from your heart and mind and of your own words and thoughts are the most important prayers.
The Book of Common Prayer has been a source of comfort, joy and inspiration, a unique treasure in Christian worship for more than 400 years.
What services are included in the Book of Common Prayer?
The primary service is the presentation of our Lord's Last Supper with his disciples, a service that we call Holy Eucharist or Holy Communion. This is the service you are most likely to share with us when you visit an Episcopal Church on Sunday. The Book of Common Prayer also includes services for Morning and Evening Prayer as well as sacramental services such as Holy Baptism.
What are sacraments?
In the Episcopal Church we take part in certain regular acts of worship. These are called sacraments or reenactments of Christ's ministries on earth. The two primary sacraments are Baptism and Holy Communion however, there are several others. We believe that God is actively present in the world and in us. In the sacraments we realize his presence and his favor towards us. Through the sacraments, which are freely given to us by God, our sins are forgiven, our minds are enlightened, our hearts stirred and our wills strengthened.
These sacraments are contained in the worship services found in the Book of Common Prayer. Additional information can be found in the Book of Common Prayer.Questions are encouraged and always welcome. Please feel free to contact the clergy at any Episcopal Church for more information.
BAPTISM is the means by which we become members of the community of believers, defined in the New Testament as the Body of Christ. Just as Jesus was baptized with water by John the Baptist, we include people in the community of faith by baptizing them with water. Following a series of questions, responses and prayers, the priest pours water on the candidate. The sign of the cross may be made on the candidate's forehead with blessed oil. In the Episcopal Church, a person is baptized only once.
HOLY COMMUNION is a reenactment of the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples before his death on the cross. Any baptized person is welcome to share in this meal of bread and wine. Holy Communion is also called Holy Eucharist, the Last Supper and Mass.
Other Sacraments are confirmation, holy matrimony, reconciliation of a penitent, unction and ordination. Confirmation is when a baptized person, who has been instructed in the Christian faith, makes a mature commitment to God within a worship setting and receives a special blessing and prayer from a bishop. Holy Matrimony is a Christian marriage, in which a woman and a man enter into a lifelong union and make their promises before God in a worship service. Sometimes couples who were married in a civil ceremony will have their marriage blessed in a worship service. While private confession of sins is not a requirement, anyone may request the reconciliation of a penitent from a priest and receive assurances of God's forgiveness. The confession is always made in private and kept in strict confidence. Unction is a special blessing for those who are sick or desire special prayers. A sign of the cross is made on their forehead with blessed oil. Ordination is the sacrament whereby God empowers trained persons for special ministry as deacons, priests or bishops. The service always includes the laying on of hands by bishops.
VISITING WITH US
What should I know before visiting an Episcopal Church?
Know, first of all, that all are welcome. You are welcome to visit, to worship with us regularly, as a baptized Christian of any denomination to share in the celebration of Holy Communion, and to become an Episcopalian if you wish.
When you worship with us, you may wonder when to stand or kneel. Practices vary--even among individual Episcopalians in the same parish. The general rule is to stand to sing hymns, to say the Creed and for the reading of the Gospel in the Holy Eucharist service. We sit during readings from the Old Testament or New Testament Letters, the sermon and anthems sung by the choir. We stand or kneel for prayer; guidance is given in The Book of Common Prayer. The best guide is to follow others. If you don't feel comfortable kneeling or standing, for whatever reason, do what makes you feel comfortable.
When you visit an Episcopal Church, you will be our respected and welcome guest. You will not be singled out in an embarrassing way nor asked to stand before the congregation or to come forward. You will worship God with us.
How do I get more information about the Episcopal Church?
One of the best ways to find out more is to visit with us. Attend a service on Sunday or contact the Parish Office and ask to talk to someone about the Episcopal Church. You will find that clergy are always happy and willing to meet with you.
There is no inappropriate question or comment about your faith or doubts.
Most of the text for the Q&A was adapted from a series of five excellent brochures published by the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.