July 24, 2017

  

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What is the Episcopal Church?

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Faith and TraditionThe Episcopal Church is the American province of the Anglican Communion, a family of churches who trace their ecclesiastical origins to the Church of England. The Episcopal Church became an autonomous church after the American Revolution separated the United States from Great Britain.
 
Often, The Episcopal Church is called a “bridge church” between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Many couples who join The Episcopal Church do so when a Catholic marries a Protestant. Both find in The Episcopal Church a theology and a style of worship that honors the faith traditions in which they were formed.


The foundation of faith in The Episcopal Church is often described using the image of a Three-legged stool.
The first leg of the stool is Holy Scripture. The catechism in the Prayer Book says of the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament that “God inspired their human authors” and that “God still speaks to us through the Bible” (BCP 853). The Old Testament conveys the story of the covenant relationship between Israel and God. The New Testament reveals the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Holy Scripture serves as the touchstone of our lives.


The second leg of the stool is Tradition. Tradition consists of the wisdom and teaching of those generations of saints who have gone before us. Tradition guides our living and our interpretation of Scripture. In The Episcopal Church, special emphasis is given to the Tradition embodied in the early Church Fathers and the Councils of the Church, including the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. Nicea formulated the bulk of the Nicene Creed, which we confess at Holy Eucharist each week.


The third leg of the stool is Reason. We understand our human reason to be a gift from God. Therefore, the use of reason in interpreting Scripture, engaging the past Tradition of the Church, and navigating through the contingencies of our world is highly valued in The Episcopal Church.


Worship and sacramental life in The Episcopal Church are centered around the use of the Book of Common Prayer. The Prayer Book was Christianity’s first comprehensive book of worship. It was originally compiled by Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer in 1549 as a way to bring together in one volume and in the common tongue of the people all of the Church’s prayers and sacramental liturgies. The Book of Common Prayer serves as a comfort, a guide, and a window into Scripture. It has been revised many times. The current American Prayer Book was approved in 1979.


The word “Episcopal” is derived from the Greek New Testament word meaning bishop. Thus, our very name implies that our church polity includes bishops who serve as the guardians of the faith and the overseers of the Church. Episcopal bishops (like Roman Catholic and Orthodox bishops) trace their authority back to the age of the apostles.


The Episcopal Church is divided into geographic units known as dioceses. Within a diocese, congregations are known as either parishes or missions. Parishes and missions are served by ordained priests and deacons.
Adapted from the website of The Church of the Holy Apostles in Memphis, TN.