Technically it means “bishop”. The Episcopal Church has clergy (bishops, priests, deacons) and lay people (all baptized members of the church who are not clergy). Lay people and clergy collaborate in the worship, mission, and governing of the church.
We expect you will find us friendly and welcoming. We value the arts as expressions of God’s own beauty and grace, so many of our churches are very intentional about incorporating them into our buildings and worship. Often you will find beautiful architecture, visual arts, and music programs.
You will likely be greeted at the door and we usually have handouts and other helps for visitors. Not always, but often our worship is considered somewhat formal by visitors because we generally follow a set pattern of prayers, hymns, and readings from the Bible. (The next FAQ will say more about that.) You are welcome to join in the prayers and hymns as much as you like, but you are also welcome to just sit and let it all wash over you.
Here’s what WON’T happen: we won’t make you stand up in the middle of everyone and introduce yourself or anything like that. We try to be outgoing and friendly and to help visitors get to know people, but we also try to read your cues and just let you be if that is what you prefer. You can expect to be invited to a coffee hour following the service, if you’d like to do so.
As we said above, our worship is sometimes considered somewhat formal by visitors because we are a “liturgical” church. That means we generally follow a set pattern of prayers, hymns, and readings from the Bible. If you’ve ever been to a Lutheran or Roman Catholic service, our liturgical style of worship will feel more familiar to you.
We usually celebrate Holy Communion (also sometimes called Holy Eucharist, The Lord’s Supper, or Mass) on Sunday mornings, but not always. We also use a service called Morning Prayer, which consists of prayers, music, Scripture, and sermon.
Our worship is intended to be highly participatory. During worship, the congregation is invited to read certain prayers together out loud, to stand and sing together almost all of the music, to greet people around you in the middle of the service, and to come forward to receive Holy Communion (all baptized Christians are invited to receive Communion in our church). As we’ve said, in all things you are invited, not required, to take part.
We will also pass a plate for an offering. This is an important part of our worship in which our members offer the first fruits of their life and labor to the work of God in the world through God’s church. Again, you are welcome to join in, but we have no expectation that our visitors will make a contribution. It is important to know that all gifts regardless of size are received with gratitude.
We prefer to say we pray prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, but yes, in order to do so we most certainly read those prayers from its pages. Here are just three reasons we do:
No. As Episcopalians we not only allow for questions and differences of opinion, we actually rely upon them. Here’s what we mean:
We honor science and other areas of academic study as gifts to us from God who wants us to engage each other and the world in ways that bring knowledge, wonder, and life.
There are three good places to learn what the Episcopal Church believes and stands for:
Not in the sense those terms are usually meant. The Catechism described in the FAQ above explains our understanding well. It says that we call the Scriptures “the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible” (Book of Common Prayer, page 853, https://www.bcponline.org). We use the Bible in our worship as much or more than any church, usually reading four passages of significant length each Sunday. Our theology and practice are grounded in Scripture, and we believe it is best understood as people study, discuss, and pray with it together.
Everyone who so desires.
The first thing to do is to start attending an Episcopal Church. Take part in our worship and in the life of the local congregation. If you find you are interested in joining, speak with a priest or a knowledgeable lay leader in that congregation. Depending on your past church experiences, the way you become a member can differ. You can join by being baptized if you’ve never been baptized before. Or you might join by other means (we call them being Confirmed or Received, according to your situation). We are always excited to explore membership in our church with anyone who is interested.
We require that at least one of the parties be a baptized Christian, that the ceremony be attested by at least two witnesses, that both parties meet with a clergy person for pre-marital counseling, and that the marriage conform to the laws of the state and the rules of the church. When one of the parties has been previously married and divorced, the consent of the diocesan bishop must be obtained prior to solemnization of the marriage. Individual congregations sometimes have additional requirements, often around local church membership.
We are glad to affirm that all of this includes members of the LGBTQ community.
In a previous FAQ, we said that the Episcopal Church believes that intellectual honesty and integrity are essential to a mature Christian faith, and that we rely on engaging each other’s thoughts and ideas as one means through which God speaks to the church today.
As a result, a broad spectrum of political and social perspectives is represented within our church, and often within a particular local congregation. As a body, however, the church does take social and political stands. It is fair to say that often our positions fall within the range of moderate to progressive politics. That said, Episcopalians are not expected to automatically agree with or keep quiet about different views they may have.
For more specific information, you can go to https://www.episcopalchurch.org/social-justice-and-advocacy-engagement and http://advocacy.episcopalchurch.org/home?0 .
The Episcopal Church is glad to be among the first American religious institutions to include LGBTQ+ people as full members and leaders in our church. Many LGBTQ+ people and couples are members of our parishes and also serve as bishops, priests, and deacons. This is true nationally and in our diocese.
As part of that, we are delighted to support LGBT+ couples seeking Christian marriage. LGBTQ+ couples and straight couples are required to meet the same eligibility and preparation standards. You can find more information about those standards in our FAQ about marriage.
You can find lots of information about LGBT+ people and issues in the Episcopal Church at https://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/lgbt-church.
Absolutely. As with the LGBTQ community, we are glad to have been among the first major American churches to ordain women to the priesthood. Our most recently retired Presiding Bishop is a woman, and women are well represented at all levels of teaching and leadership.
Part of the answer is that our current Book of Common Prayer was released in 1979 and our understandings and sensibilities about the use of the male gender in referring to God were different then. In addition, the English language doesn’t lend itself easily to avoiding gendered pronouns.
In the decades since 1979 however, the church has approved other forms for common worship all of which carefully structure sentences so as to use non-gendered language as much as possible. These newer forms also intentionally include female pronouns and images for God, most of which are drawn directly from the Bible.
Jesus, of course, was born into history as a male, and so we continue to refer to and describe him as such. We acknowledge however, that neither God the Father nor God the Spirit are of a human gender. Although our language is not always inclusive we believe God always is.
In many ways we believe we are all three. That, however, is a larger conversation than an FAQ list allows.
So, the most direct answer is that we are none of those. We are instead Anglican. The Anglican Church grew out of the sixteenth-century religious movement in Western Europe known as the Reformation. One expression of the Reformation led to the creation of the Protestant Church, another led to meaningful changes in the Roman Catholic Church, and another led to the creation of the Anglican Church, now known as the Anglican Communion.
One short hand way of describing the Anglican Communion is that it arose in England during the Reformation and came to occupy a middle place between Protestantism and Catholicism. Anglicans reformed the church theologically in most of the same ways as did Protestants, but retained the four orders of ministry (lay, deacon, priest, and bishop), the sacramental theology, and much of the worship style of Roman Catholicism.
Today, the Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian church in the world, numbering about eighty million people on all continents. It is also one of the fastest growing, particularly in Africa.