A Brief and Moderately Helpful History Lesson about the Episcopal Church
Remember back in school when you learned about the pilgrims who left England and sailed to Massachusetts because they didn’t like the Church of England? You know, the pilgrims associated with how elementary schools teach Thanksgiving? The ones with buckles on their hats?
We’re the American branch of the church the buckle-hat pilgrims didn’t like.
Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you? But yes, we’re the American branch of the Church of England, to put it really briefly. (There are also Episcopalians outside the United States, like in Taiwan and Central America, but that’s another lesson for another day)
But plenty of Americans like us! Presidents like George Washington and FDR were Episcopalians. Strong leaders like Eleanor Roosevelt, Frances Perkins (Secretary of Labor from 1933-1945, also the first woman to serve in the Cabinet), and Justice Thurgood Marshall were Episcopalians. And countless everyday people in history and today still find our Episcopal way of being Christian to be the way that nourishes their souls and hearts.
About that word, “Episcopal”…
So the word “Episcopal” means “relating to bishops.” We have bishops like how the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and many of the Lutheran churches do. We also have priests and deacons like the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do, but we also ordain women to the priesthood. Our clergy can be married, and we support the ministry of LGBT folks, too.
“Episcopal” is the adjective. “Episcopalian” is a person who is a member of the Episcopal Church. There’s the grammar lesson for the day!
A key way for understanding who we are is to see how we pray. One of the things that the pilgrims didn’t like about us is that we have a “Book of Common Prayer” which structures how we worship. We find having a set way of praying to keep us grounded in prayer – we’re not always searching for new ways to pray, so instead we can focus on actually praying! If you’d like to check it out, there’s an online copy available of the current American Book of Common Prayer by clicking here: http://www.bcponline.org
What do Episcopalians believe?
Like other Christians, we belive that Jesus Christ is the Lord; therefore, we follow him as Savior, Lord, and God-with-us.
We recite most every Sunday the Nicene Creed, an ancient statement of faith from the 4th century.
We read the books of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, and we embrace them as a principal witness to the work of God.
We use our God-given minds and hearts. Science and religion are not incompatible, and we use our minds and hearts to discern the will of God for today.
We believe that all people are beloved children of God. We really mean it.