Who are Episcopalians?
The Episcopal Church began as the American Colonial branch of the Church of England. It is now an autonomous province of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion has spread well beyond its English roots, with about 70-80 million members in countries circling the globe.
The word “Episcopal” comes from the Greek word episkopos, which means “overseer” or bishop. We are a branch of Christianity, guided by our bishops, and served by our priests and deacons who support the work and witness of the majority of our ministers, the baptized members of our church.
The Episcopal Church has over 7,400 congregations in 109 dioceses plus three regional areas in 16 countries with 2.2 million members. The Episcopal Church has members in the United States, as well as in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Micronesia, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, Venezuela, the Virgin Islands, and the Convocation of Churches in Europe.
We are a diverse group. Episcopalians are black, white, Asian, Latino, Native American, Caribbean, and more. We are young and old, poor and rich, straight and gay. We try to reflect the diversity of the communities in which our congregations are located. We strive to be welcoming communities of faith, sharing the love of God with all.
We may be firm in our faith or constantly questioning. We find our unity not in a common consensus on all matters, but in a common journey toward God through the worship and ministry of our churches. What ties us together is our belief in the love of God, as found in Jesus.
Jesus taught us that God’s deepest hope for us is that we would love God and love our neighbors (Matt. 22:37-40). In Jesus, we have found forgiveness for sins, which are the ways in which we fall short of the mark set by God. We seek to live into that forgiveness we have been given by being open and loving communities of faith. It’s a lofty goal, and when we fall short, we still have the love of God supporting us as we attempt to change to be more Christ like in our words and actions.
We believe first and foremost that we can best come to know God, our creator, through a relationship with his son, Jesus Christ. The clearest statements of what we believe is to be found in The Apostle’s Creed and The Nicene Creed. These 2,000-year-old creeds (short statements of faith) are held to be true by billions of people around the world today. Beyond that, the best place to learn what Episcopalians believe is the Bible, which is the source of our theology, and the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). The BCP is not only the guide to our conduct of worship, but it is also articulates our theology.
As a church, we emphasize the mystery of encountering God in worship. Worship varies among the 70 churches in the Diocese of Georgia from very formal with older hymns played on a pipe organ to contemporary music played on guitars and drums in a less formal setting. With this diversity, our worship finds its center in the Book of Common Prayer. Created from medieval liturgies at the time of the reformation, our prayer book is filled with the beautiful language of well thought out and oft-prayed prayers that have sustained believers through the centuries.
The principal service on Sunday is Holy Communion, which is offered each week focusing our worship on Christ’s presence in our midst. We follow the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), a pattern of readings for each Sunday, which has us reading through much of the Bible in our common worship in a three-year cycle. Preaching and teaching the Word of Scripture are crucial features of Anglicanism, and so The Episcopal Church.
We believe all people are called to be ministers and to serve God, the Church, and the community in which they live. The Episcopal Church views the laity as ministers, who represent Christ and the Church, bearing witness to the Gospel wherever they may be; carrying on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world, and taking their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church, according to the gifts given them. Our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Scott Anson Benhase, has the ministry of oversight and serves as chief pastor of the diocese. Priests offer sacramental ministry within the church, pastoring a given congregation or ministry. Deacons have a servant ministry focused on taking the church to the world and bringing the needs of the world to the church.
Taken from What is an Episcopal Church?, courtesy of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.