The word “Episcopal” refers to government by bishops. This historic tradition continues the work of the first apostles in the Church, guarding the faith, unity and discipline of the Church, and ordaining people to continue Christ’s ministry. An Episcopalian is a person who belongs to the Episcopal Church, one branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion.As Episcopalians, we believe:
- The Holy Scriptures are the revealed word of God, which inspired the human authors of the Scripture, and which is interpreted by the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- The Nicene Creed is the basic statement of our belief about God. It was adopted in the 300s by the early church founders and is said every Sunday in Episcopal churches around the world. Read the creed.
- We’re a peculiar people whose spiritual arc bends more toward boundless hope and a reasonable faith than hardened surety and entrenched absolutism.
- The Episcopal tradition is founded on the affirmation that Jesus Christ is Lord. We believe that Christ’s transcendent presence in the Holy Spirit continually informs who we are.
- When King Henry VIII of England separated the Church of Engaland from the Roman Catholic Church, he wanted all liturgical books written in English. The Book of Common Prayer was established in 1548 as the official worship book for the church. Episcopalians often refer to it as the BCP.
- Our primary identity is as a liturgical community. Orthodoxy for us focuses on right worship, not right belief. Our life of prayer shapes our beliefs and behaviors.
- We constantly seek to hear the Spirit moving among us as changes in our understanding of Christian belief and practice are seen through additional revisions to the Book of Common Prayer.
- The Episcopal liturgy is the “work of the people.” That is what liturgy means. It is communal worship connected to our daily life and work as ministry.
- Catechism means the teachings and beliefs of the church; they’re outlined in the Book of Common Prayer.
- Our Episcopal tradition represents the continuous tradition of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. The Episcopal Church has often been called a “middle road,” a via media, between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
- Although we have ordained leaders (including the bishops that give us our name – Episcopal) the ministry of all believers is central.
- Still have questions? Send a question to the Rev. Canon Gwynn Lynch
The Episcopal Church has 2 million members in 7,500 congregations in the United States, the Virgin Islands, Haiti, Europe and other areas around the globe. In the Diocese of San Diego (one of five dioceses in the state), we have 20,000 members in 45 congregations. We also have 5 schools, 2 college ministries, a refugee support network, a retirement home, a social service agency and more than 500 ministries that reach out to help make our communities better places. We are part of the global Anglican Communion, which has more than 80 million members.
United by a Prayer Book
All Episcopal services whatever their style—and they vary from simple spoken ceremonies to elaborate sung ones—follow those laid out in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It ultimately traces its history back to the first Prayer Book of the English church, produced in 1549, following the separation from Rome. Services involve participation from the congregation and follow the same essential forms. This means that on any given Sunday an Episcopalian can walk into any Episcopal church (and with small local variations, any Anglican church in the world) and take part in a familiar worship service.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Very Rev. James E. Carroll at St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego during her 1983 visit.
Out of England
The origins of the Episcopal Church lie in the violent religious disagreements of 16th century Europe. The English church had initially split from Rome more for the convenience and enrichment of the heir-obsessed King Henry VIII than for doctrinal reasons. Doctrinal division soon followed, however, as Protestant ideas spread to England from the continent, where they were causing bloody internecine strife.
The English solution was a compromise designed to make the national church acceptable to the greatest possible number of those compelled (on pain of quite punitive fines) to attend it. By the standards of the day the Articles of Religion that defined the church avoided narrow doctrinal positions and allowed room for individual conscience provided that outward forms were observed. While this spirit of greater tolerance and inclusiveness did not save every clergyman from being burned at the stake, it definitely made things easier for average mortals. The colonial offshoots of the resulting Church of England were the direct antecedents of the Episcopal Church.
Birth of the Episcopal Church
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” to emphasize the historic ministry of bishops, priests and deacons. It changed its name and its constitution (Episcopal bishops are elected, while English ones continue even now to be appointed by the monarch) but continued to use the Book of Common Prayer, with minor modifications to acknowledge the political changes.
Being a product of its time in history, many of the creators of the new church were also founders of America’s new government. Two-thirds of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were Episcopalians, and the services for the inauguration of George Washington were performed by the first Bishop of New York and rector of Trinity Church, Samuel Provoost.
The Anglican Communion Today
Today, members of our church are known both as “Episcopalians” and “Anglicans.” The Episcopal Church (TEC) is one of 30 autonomous churches that are part of the Anglican Communion. With 70 million members in 64,000 congregations in 164 countries, the Anglican Communion is the third largest body of Christians in the world, after the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions. The current Archbishop of Canterbury is the Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. Dr. Justin Welby.