|THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION |
During the Reformation in the 16th Century, Henry VIII declared the Church of England independent of the Roman Catholic Church with himself as its head. It was the result of many factors, some political and some theological, but it has given rise to a distinct form of Christianity, known as Anglicanism.
The Episcopal Church is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the churches around the world that trace their roots to the Church of England, and maintain a “communion” with it, hence the name “Anglican.” Other members of the Communion include the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Nigeria. In fact, most Anglicans now live in Africa.
The member churches of the Anglican Communion are joined together by choice in love, and have no direct authority over one another. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, is acknowledged as the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, but while respected, the Archbishop does not have direct authority over any Anglican Church outside of England.
While there are other churches that call themselves “Anglican,” only one Church in any country can be considered “in full communion” with the Church of England, and the Episcopal Church is the American member of the Communion.
|WHAT MAKES US ANGLICAN? |
The Episcopal Church, having its roots in the Church of England, is also an Anglican Church. Like all Anglican churches, the Episcopal Church is distinguished by the following characteristics: Protestant, Yet Catholic
Anglicanism stands squarely in the Reformed tradition, yet considers itself just as directly descended from the Early Church as the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches. Episcopalians celebrate the “Mass” in ways similar to the Roman Catholic tradition, yet do not recognize a single authority, such as the Pope of Rome.Worship in one’s first language
Episcopalians believe that Christians should be able to worship God and read the Bible in their first language, which for most Episcopalians, is English, rather than Latin or Greek, the two earlier, “official” languages of Christianity. Yet the Book of Common Prayer has been translated into many languages, so that those Episcopalians who do not speak English can still worship God in their native tongue.The Book of Common Prayer
Unique to Anglicanism, though, is the Book of Common Prayer, the collection of worship services that all worshipers in an Anglican church follow. It’s called “common prayer” because we all pray it together, around the world. The first Book of Common Prayer was compiled in English by Thomas Cranmer in the 16th Century, and since then has undergone many revisions for different times and places. But its original purpose has remained the same: To provide in one place the core of the instructions and rites for Anglican Christians to worship together.
The present prayer book in the Episcopal Church was published in 1979. Many other worship resources and prayers exist to enrich our worship, but the Book of Common Prayer is the authority that governs our worship. The prayer book explains Christianity, describes the main beliefs of the Church, outlines the requirements for the sacraments, and in general serves as the main guidelines of the Episcopal life.Scripture, Tradition, and Reason
The Anglican approach to reading and interpreting the Bible was first articulated by Richard Hooker, also in the 16th Century. While Christians universally acknowledge the Bible (or the Holy Scriptures) as the Word of God and completely sufficient to our reconciliation to God, what the Bible says must always speak to us in our own time and place.
The Church, as a worshiping body of faithful people, has for two thousand years amassed experience of God and of loving Jesus, and what they have said to us through the centuries about the Bible is critical to our understanding it in our own context. The traditions of the Church in interpreting Scripture connect all generations of believers together and give us a starting point for our own understanding.
Episcopalians believe that every Christian must build an understanding and relationship with God’s Word in the Bible, and to do that, God has given us intelligence and our own experience, which we refer to as “Reason.” Based on the text of the Bible itself, and what Christians have taught us about it through the ages, we then must sort out our own understanding of it as it relates to our own lives.(Text from the Episcopal Church Center in New York City, NY)
|EPISCOPAL CHURCH - GENERAL INFORMATION|
The Protestant Episcopal church in the United States is a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. In the late 1980s the church had about 2,500,000 members in some 7,000 parishes and missions, with about 14,000 clergy. Divided into 4 provinces that include all the states and territories of the United States, it has 106 dioceses and missionary districts.
The history of the Episcopal church began with the English exploration and colonization of North America. Although the New England colonies were established by Puritans opposed to Anglicanism, large numbers of Anglicans settled in the southern colonies, and the Church of England became the established church in the Carolinas, Maryland, and Virginia.
The American Revolution severed ties between the Church of England and the church in the colonies. Thus in 1789, the Protestant Episcopal church began its separate existence, determined to preserve its Anglican heritage but also committed to such American ideals as the separation of Church and State.
The character of the Episcopal church was influenced during its early years by the struggle between the Low church party, led by William White, the first bishop of Pennsylvania, and a High church party, led by Samuel Seabury, bishop of Connecticut. Seeking to resolve the struggle, the Episcopal church established a polity in which a democratic, lay dominated church structure was set in tension with the aristocratic, episcopally dominated government structure. A general convention was established, composed of a house of bishops and a house of clerical and lay deputies, and chartered to meet triennially. Further tension was to exist between this national convention and the local dioceses and missionary districts, which resisted interference by the national body. Unity has been maintained by commonly held traditions embodied in a constitution and canon law, the Book of Common Prayer, and the threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons, as well as through a common agreement to coexist.
The subsequent history of the Episcopal church is largely that of its expansion with the growth of the United States in territory and population, and of revisions of polity, laws, and liturgy. The church's missionary commitments led to the founding of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society in 1821. Its president was the senior and presiding bishop of the house of bishops. This marked the beginning of a permanent national executive for the church. In 1919 the general convention created the national council, later called the executive council, which absorbed the missionary society and other societies for education and social concerns. In 1976 the general convention approved both a revision of the Book of Common Prayer (previously revised in 1892 and 1928) and the admission of women to the ordained ministry. These actions provoked widespread contention, causing some church members to leave for other churches or to establish a new church, the Anglican Church of North America. The consecration of Barbara Harris as the first woman bishop in 1989 provoked the formation of the Episcopal Synod of America, a dissenting group supported by several Episcopal bishops.
The Episcopal church has been actively engaged in the Ecumenical Movement, largely through the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches. It has participated in conversations with other churches, chiefly the Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran churches.John E Booty
R Albright, History of the Protestant Episcopal Church (1964); J Booty, The Episcopal Church in Crisis (1988); D Locke, The Episcopal Church (1991); R Pritchard, ed., Readings from the History of the Episcopal Church (1986).
|GOVERNANCE OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH|
“Episcopal” means “bishop” in Greek, and the Episcopal Church is governed in part by its bishops. The basic unit of ministry in the Episcopal Church is the “diocese,” or a region of a reasonable number of Episcopalians. Each diocese is presided over by a “diocesan bishop” who may have help from a variety of other kinds of bishops, depending on the circumstances.
The Diocesan Bishop chooses and ordains priests and deacons to serve the “parishes,” or congregations, of the diocese, which carryout the ministry of the diocese in their local communities. The priests lead the parish in worship, make decisions related to the sacramental life of the parish, and in general, supports the ministry of the worshiping Christians there.
The Episcopal Church is governed by a Constitution and a set of laws (known as “canons”) which it establishes for itself by Convention, but the diocesan bishop is the ecclesiastical (or “church”) authority in his or her particular diocese. The bishops of the Episcopal Church have no jurisdiction outside of their dioceses, so they meet together twice per year to pray and make decisions about the life of the Church. Every nine years, the Church elects a “Presiding Bishop” who represents the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion and “presides” over meetings of the bishops, known as the “House of Bishops.” The current Presiding Bishop is Katharine Jefferts Schori who was elected at the 2006 General Convention in Columbus, Ohio.
Every three years, delegations (or “deputations”) from all the dioceses, along with the House of Bishops, gather to worship and pass legislation for the Church. This General Convention is where broad decisions are made about policy and worship, as well as revitalizing the Christian community for ministry “back home.”
(Text from the Episcopal Church Center in New York City, NY).
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