WHAT IS THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH?
The Episcopal Church is part of the Church founded by Jesus Christ when He commissioned His disciples to go into the entire world with the Gospel. The Episcopal Church today is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion with over 78 million baptized members, whose mother is the Church of England.
Episcopal is from a Greek word meaning bishops, after those who have governed our church in an unbroken succession from the Apostles. The Anglican Communion is the largest Christian body in the English-speaking countries of the world. Yet it is today a multilingual, multi-national, multiracial church that is second only to the Roman Catholic Church in worldwide geographic span. In this welcomed diversity there are common essential characteristics as follows
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IS A BIBLE CHURCH
We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be “the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation.” The Bible is the source of our belief and moral standards. As God’s word to us, the Bible is the lens through which we view and evaluate all other claims to truth. At most Sunday services, three Bible readings are proclaimed; the congregation recites a fourth, a Psalm. The sermon is based on one or more of these four Bible passages, and our Lectionary insures that we read most of the Old Testament and virtually the entire New Testament on Sundays over a three-year period.
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IS A CATHOLIC CHURCH
Catholic means that which has been consistently believed and practiced from the New Testament times. Our worship and life draw from the rich treasure of almost 2,000 years of Christian experience. We have kept the essentials of the historic Catholic tradition, including orders of ministry within the apostolic succession, the sacraments, the historic creeds, and the essential liturgy inherited directly from the early church and purged of unscriptural corruption. The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the ancient, ecumenical statements of the undivided Church based on Biblical truth, are our statements of faith today. We have neither added to nor subtracted from them, and no one is required to assent to any other creed or confessional statement. The rich inheritance of the liturgical year (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost), centuries of sacred music, and solemn and festive ceremony are welcomed and encouraged in our church.
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IS A REFORMED CHURCH
Much of our distinctiveness was formed in the Protestant Reformation in England in the 16th century. At that time, we redefined our doctrine to make sure it was in strict accord with Scripture. The word Protestant means “to witness for.” The Protestant faith is to witness “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” Protestantism is Christcentered, just as the apostolic faith is Christ centered. Corporate worship, clarity that we are saved by God’s grace and not by our works, the laity’s strong voice and vote in the church life, an emphasis on individual conscience and on Jesus Christ as “our only Mediator and Advocate,” and using scripture to judge and inform all come from our reformed Protestant heritage.
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IS A REVERENT CHURCH
Worship in the Episcopal Church tends to be reverent and dignified. The Book of Common Prayer is the norm for our services, and enables us to worship together and not just passively participate in the minister’s worship. The structure of our Holy Eucharist service today is the same as that of earliest existing descriptions of Christian worship. The vestments worn by our clergy and lay ministers date back to antiquity. These are the historical “uniforms” of Christ’s ministers. Our uniformity of worship, while allowing for variations, reminds us of the universal nature of the church. In our worship, we are united with past, present, and future generations of Christians. Our worship is carried out for the glorification of God, not for our entertainment; thus Episcopalians are not spectators but active participants in worship. Not only do we express ourselves in words but also in gesture. Generally, we kneel to pray, we stand to praise, and we sit to be instructed. All devotional gestures are entirely optional and purely personal. They are forms of prayer, just as words are. To Episcopalians, worship is the most important thing we do, and ultimately, this reality should characterize all that we do in every day life. Adapted from the Anglican Digest
THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER
Many people think the Episcopalians hold the Book of Common Prayer in as great esteem as the Holy Bible. This is not so. However, this book is very important to Episcopalians as it serves not only as our worship guide but also as a summary of that which we believe. It holds the forms of Worship, our Creeds, our Articles of Religion, Prayers for almost any occasion, the Psalter, and other historical documents. It began in 1549 when Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury translated from Latin form into English. Since then, it has undergone timely revisions to adapt it to the present needs of the Church. The current Prayer Book was approved in 1979.
The Book of Common Prayer is divided into sections according to daily usage. Those services that would be used more frequently come first such as Daily Morning and Evening Prayer as well as individual Daily Prayers. The path to Holy Communion is through Holy Baptism. Therefore, those services that lead to Baptism at Easter are next. Here you will find the services for Lent such as Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. The forms follow these for Holy Communion. Then those used less frequently are called Pastoral Offices. These include Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Unction, Reconciliation, and Burial. Following these we find the Episcopal offices that are the forms for Ordination.
The next section is the Psalter. Following these are the Prayers for Various Occasions then the Office of Instruction or Catechism. (This is a good place to look for answers as to the beliefs of the Episcopal Church). Next are the Historical Documents followed by the Lectionary.
Back to the question, “Do we worship the Prayer Book?" The answer is “NO!” We worship Jesus Christ and we look to the Holy Bible “as containing all things necessary to salvation and as being the rule and ultimate standard of the faith.” (Page 877, Book of Common Prayer) We include in the Prayer Book a method for reading Holy Scripture regularly and in a coordinated manner. This is called the Lectionary. It contains two schemes for using the Bible. The first ofthese is for use in the Sunday Worship and on Holy Days. It is found beginning on page 888 of the Book of Common Prayer. In this format, we use a three-year cycle. The years are called A, B, or C. These are determined by dividing the year in which Advent begins by three. For Daily Prayer there is another method for reading the Bible in a regular and coordinated manner. This format starts on Page 934. In this method, the years are divided into Year One and Year Two. To determine the year, go to the first Sunday in Advent. If the year to follow is odd, the year is Year One; if it is even, it is Year Two.