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Episcopal Church USA

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Episcopal Church USA

For other uses, see Episcopal Church.
The Episcopal Church
cross crosslets.
Primate Katharine Jefferts Schori
Polity Episcopal
Headquarters 815 Second Avenue
New York, New York
United States
Territory The United States and dioceses in Taiwan, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Europe
Members 1,923,046 baptized in US, as of 2011[1]
Anglicanism Portal

The Episcopal Church (TEC) is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It is divided into nine provinces and has dioceses in the U.S., Taiwan, Micronesia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, as well as the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe and the Navajoland Area Mission.[2][3][4] The Episcopal Church describes itself as being "Protestant, yet Catholic".[5] In 2010, it had 2,125,012 baptized members, 1,951,907 of them in the U.S., making it the nation's 14th largest denomination.[1][6] The church is also known as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA or ECUSA).

The church was organized after the American Revolution, when it separated from the Church of England whose clergy are required to swear allegiance to the British monarch as Supreme Governor of the Church of England,[7] and became the first Anglican Province outside the British Isles.[8]

The Episcopal Church was active in the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[9] Since the 1960s and 1970s, it has opposed the death penalty and supported the civil rights movement and affirmative action. Some of its leaders and priests marched with civil rights demonstrators. Today the Church calls for the full civil equality of gay and lesbian people, and the church's General Convention has passed resolutions that allow for same-sex marriages in states in which it is legal.[10] The convention also approved an official liturgy to bless such unions.[11] On the question of abortion, the church has adopted a "nuanced approach".[12]

The Episcopal Church ordains women to the priesthood as well as the diaconate and the episcopate. The current Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first female primate in the Anglican Communion.

Official names

There are two official names of the Episcopal Church specified in its constitution: "The Episcopal Church" and the "Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America". "The Episcopal Church" is the more commonly used name.[2][3][4]

"Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America" was the only official name in use until 1964. In the 19th century, High Church members advocated changing the name, which they felt did not acknowledge the church's Catholic heritage. They were opposed by the church's evangelical wing, which felt the "Protestant Episcopal" label accurately reflected the Reformed character of Anglicanism. After 1877, alternative names were regularly proposed and rejected by the General Convention. A commonly proposed alternative was "the American Catholic Church". By the 1960s, opposition to dropping the word "Protestant" had largely subsided. In a 1964 General Convention compromise, priests and lay delegates suggested adding a preamble to the church's constitution, recognizing "The Episcopal Church" as a lawful alternate designation while still retaining the earlier name.[13] The preamble to the Constitution of the Episcopal Church now reads:

The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church), is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.[14]

The 66th General Convention voted in 1979 to use the name "Episcopal Church" (dropping the adjective "Protestant") in the Oath of Conformity of the Declaration for Ordination.[15] The evolution of the name can be seen in the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer (BCP). In the 1928 BCP, the title page said, "According to the use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America." In contrast, the change in self-identity can be seen in the title page of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which states, "'According to the use of The Episcopal Church."[16]

The alternate name "Episcopal Church in the United States of America" is commonly seen but has never been the official name of the Episcopal Church. Because it contains integral jurisdictions in many other countries, it was thought that a name was needed which is not directly tied to the United States. But since several other churches in the Anglican Communion also use the name "Episcopal", the phrase "in the United States of America" is often added, for example by the Anglican Communion's official website[17] and by Anglicans Online.[18]

In Spanish the church is called La Iglesia Episcopal Protestante de los Estados Unidos de América or La Iglesia Episcopal and in French L'Église protestante épiscopale dans les États unis d'Amérique or L'Église épiscopale.[19][20]

A common mistake by non-Episcopalians is over the use of the words "Episcopal" and "Episcopalians". An Episcopalian is a member of the Episcopal Church but it is not the Episcopalian Church. Likewise, a member is not called an Episcopal, like a Methodist is a member of the Methodist Church. Episcopalian is a noun; Episcopal is an adjective.[21]

The full legal name of the national church corporate body is the "Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America",[14] which was incorporated by the legislature of New York and established in 1821. The membership of the corporation "shall be considered as comprehending all persons who are members of the Church".[14][22] This, however, should not be confused with the name of the church itself, as it is a distinct body relating to church governance.[14]


Colonial era and the American Revolution (1604–1783)

The Episcopal Church has its origins in the Church of England in the American colonies, and it stresses its continuity with the early universal Western church and maintains apostolic succession.[23] The first parish was founded in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 under the charter of the Virginia Company of London. The circa 1639–43 tower of Jamestown Church is one of the oldest surviving Anglican church structures in the United States. The church itself is a modern reconstruction.[24]

Although there was no American bishop in the colonial era, the Church of England had an official status in several colonies, which meant that tax money was paid to the local parish by the local government, and the parish handled some civic functions. The Church of England was designated the established church in Virginia in 1609, in New York in 1693, in Maryland in 1702, in South Carolina in 1706, in North Carolina in 1730, and in Georgia in 1758.[25] From 1635, the vestries and the clergy were loosely under the diocesan authority of the Bishop of London. After 1702, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) began missionary activity throughout the colonies. On the eve of Revolution about 400 independent congregations were reported throughout the colonies.

Embracing the symbols of the British presence in the American colonies, such as the monarchy, the episcopate, and even the language of the Book of Common Prayer, the Church of England almost drove itself to extinction during the upheaval of the American Revolution.[26] More than any other denomination, the War of Independence internally divided both clergy and laity of the Church of England in America, and opinions covered a wide spectrum of political views: patriots, conciliators, and loyalists. While many Patriots were suspicious of Loyalism in the Church, about three-quarters of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were nominally Anglican laymen, including Thomas Jefferson, William Paca, and George Wythe.[7] It was often assumed that persons considered "High Church" were Loyalists, whereas persons considered "Low Church" were Patriots; assumptions with possibly dangerous implications for the time.

Of the approximately three hundred clergy in the Church of England in America between 1776 and 1783, over 80 percent in New England, New York, and New Jersey were loyalists. This is in contrast to the less than 23 percent loyalist clergy in the four southern colonies.[7] Many Church of England clergy remained loyalists as they took their two ordination oaths very seriously. Anglican clergy were obliged to swear allegiance to the king as well as to pray for the king, the royal family, and the British Parliament.[7] In general, loyalist clergy stayed by their oaths and prayed for the king or else suspended services.[7] By the end of 1776, some Anglican churches were closing.[7] Anglican priests held services in private homes or lay readers who were not bound by the oaths held morning and evening prayer.[7] During 1775 and 1776, the Continental Congress had issued decrees ordering churches to fast and pray on behalf of the patriots.[7] Starting July 4, 1776, Congress and several states passed laws making prayers for the king and British Parliament acts of treason.[7] The patriot clergy in the South were quick to find reasons to transfer their oaths to the American cause and prayed for the success of the Revolution.[7] One precedent was the transfer of oaths during the Glorious Revolution in England.[7] Most of the patriot clergy in the south were able to keep their churches open and services continued.[7]

Early nation: 1783–1800

In the wake of the Revolution, American Episcopalians faced the task of preserving a hierarchical church structure in a society infused with republican values. By 1786, the church had succeeded in translating episcopacy to America and in revising the Book of Common Prayer to reflect American political realities. Later, through the efforts of Bishop Philander Chase (1775–1852) of Ohio, Americans successfully sought material assistance from England for the purpose of training Episcopal clergy. The development of the Protestant Episcopal Church provides an example of how Americans in the early republic maintained important cultural ties with England.[27]

When the clergy of Connecticut elected Samuel Seabury as their bishop in 1783, he sought consecration in England. The Oath of Supremacy prevented Seabury's consecration in England, so he went to Scotland; the non-juring Scottish bishops there consecrated him in Aberdeen on November 14, 1784, making him, in the words of scholar Arthur Carl Piepkorn, "the first Anglican bishop appointed to minister outside the British Isles".[28] On August 3, 1785, the first ordinations on American soil took place there at Christ Church in Middletown.

In 1787, two priests – William White of Pennsylvania and Samuel Provoost of New York – were consecrated as bishops by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, and the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the legal obstacles having been removed by the passage through Parliament of the Consecration of Bishops Abroad Act 1786. Thus there are two branches of Apostolic succession for the American bishops: through the non-juring bishops of Scotland that consecrated Samuel Seabury and through the English church that consecrated William White and Samuel Provoost. All bishops in the American Church are ordained by at least three bishops. One can trace the succession of each back to Seabury, White and Provoost. (See Succession of Bishops of the Episcopal Church.)

In 1789, representative clergy from nine dioceses met in Philadelphia to ratify the Church's initial constitution. The Episcopal Church was formally separated from the Church of England in 1789 so that clergy would not be required to accept the supremacy of the British monarch. A revised version of the Book of Common Prayer was written for the new church that same year. The fourth bishop of the Episcopal Church was James Madison, the first bishop of Virginia. Madison was consecrated in 1790 by the Archbishop of Canterbury and two other Church of England bishops. This third American bishop consecrated within the English line of succession occurred because of continuing unease within the Church of England over Seabury's nonjuring Scottish orders.[7]


In 1856 the first society for African Americans in the Episcopal Church was founded by James Theodore Holly. Named The Protestant Episcopal Society for Promoting The Extension of The Church Among Colored People, the society argued that blacks should be allowed to participate in seminaries and diocesan conventions. The group lost its focus when Holly emigrated to Haiti, but other groups followed after the Civil War. The current Union of Black Episcopalians traces its history to the society.[29] Holly went on to found the Anglican Church in Haiti, where he became the first African-American bishop on November 8, 1874. As Bishop of Haiti, Holly was the first African American to attend the Lambeth Conference.[30] However, he was consecrated by the American Church Missionary Society, an Evangelical Episcopal branch of the Church.

Episcopal missions chartered by African-Americans in this era were chartered as a Colored Episcopal Mission. All other missions (white) were chartered as an Organized Episcopal Mission. Many historically Black parishes are still in existence to date.

When the American Civil War began in 1861, Episcopalians in the South formed their own Protestant Episcopal Church. However, in the North the separation was never officially recognized. By May 16, 1866, the southern dioceses had rejoined the national church.[31]

By the middle of the 19th century, evangelical Episcopalians disturbed by High Church Tractarianism, while continuing to work in interdenominational agencies, formed their own voluntary societies, and eventually, in 1874, a faction objecting to the revival of ritual practices established the Reformed Episcopal Church.[32]

Samuel David Ferguson was the first black bishop consecrated by the Episcopal Church, the first to practice in the U.S. and the first black person to sit in the House of Bishops. Bishop Ferguson was consecrated on June 24, 1885, with the then-Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church acting as a consecrator.

During the Gilded Age, highly prominent laity such as banker J. P. Morgan, industrialist Henry Ford, and art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner played a central role in shaping a distinctive upper class Episcopalian ethos, especially with regard to preserving the arts and history. These philanthropists propelled the Episcopal Church into a quasi-national position of importance while at the same time giving the church a central role in the cultural transformation of the country.[33] Another mark of influence is the fact that more than a quarter of all presidents of the United States have been Episcopalians (see religious affiliations of Presidents of the United States). It was during this period that the Book of Common Prayer was revised, first in 1892 and later in 1928.

The first women were admitted as delegates to General Convention in 1970.[34] In 1975, Vaughan Booker, who confessed to the murder of his wife and was sentenced to life in prison, was ordained to the diaconate in Graterford State Prison's chapel in Pennsylvania, after having repented of his sins, becoming a symbol of redemption and atonement.[35][36]

Recent history (1976–present)

In recent decades, the Episcopal Church, like other mainline churches, has experienced a decline in membership as well as internal controversy over women's ordination and the place of homosexuals in the church. About these and other controversial issues such as abortion, individual members and clergy can and do frequently disagree with the stated position of the church. In response to changes from an agenda of what some perceived as traditional, biblical Anglicanism to more liberal theological teachings, perceived by others to be even more biblical, the members of various congregations and six dioceses have left the Episcopal Church. Most of these groups left after Eugene Robinson became in 2003 the first openly gay non-celibate bishop in the Episcopal Church. Disciplinary and legal action against separatists by denominational leadership, while prompted by the departures, has also been cited by later separatists as a reason for leaving the denomination. These separatist groups have joined the churches of the Continuing Anglican movement or advocated Anglican realignment, claiming alignment with overseas Anglican provinces including the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone of America and the Church of Nigeria.[37]

The phenomena of Continuing Anglicanism and Anglican Realignment have led to the development of the Anglican Church in North America, which claims over 900 parishes,[38] The Episcopal Church leaders, particularly Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, have responded by taking a firm stance against the separatists, initiating litigation against departing dioceses and parishes that has cost all parties over $22 million.[39][40] In a letter to the House of Bishops from the summer of 2009, she discouraged dioceses from selling parish property to departing groups until those groups "gain clarity about their own identity" and do not "seek to replace the Episcopal Church."[41][42]

In 1976, the General Convention adopted a new prayerbook, which was a substantial revision and modernization of the previous 1928 edition. It incorporated many principles of the Roman Catholic Church's liturgical movement, which had been discussed at Vatican II. This version was adopted as the official prayerbook in 1979 after an initial three-year trial use. Several conservative parishes, however, continued to use the 1928 version. The 1976 General Convention also passed a resolution calling for an end to apartheid in South Africa and in 1985 called for "dioceses, institutions, and agencies" to create equal opportunity employment and affirmative action policies to address any potential "racial inequities" in clergy placement.

The General Convention permitted the ordination of women in 1976. The first women were canonically ordained to the priesthood in 1977. The first female bishop, Barbara Harris, was consecrated on February 11, 1989.[43] At the time of the formation of ACNA, three U.S. dioceses did not ordain women at all. All dioceses of TEC now ordain women. The 2006 election of Jefferts Schori as the Church's 26th presiding bishop was controversial in the wider Anglican Communion because she is a woman, and the full communion does not recognize the ordination of women. She is the only national leader of a church in the Anglican Communion who is a woman. In addition, eight American dioceses have rejected her authority and have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to assign them another national leader.[44]

The Episcopal Church affirmed at the 1976 General Convention that homosexuals are "children of God" who deserve acceptance and pastoral care from the church and equal protection under the law. Despite the affirmation of gay rights, the General Convention affirmed in 1991 that "physical sexual expression" is only appropriate within the monogamous, lifelong "union of husband and wife."[45] The first openly homosexual priest, Ellen Barrett, was ordained in 1977.[46] The first openly homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson, was elected in June 2003.[47] Robinson's election caused a crisis in both the American church and the wider Anglican Communion. In October 2003, an emergency meeting of the Anglican primates (the heads of the Anglican Communion's 38 member churches) was convened. The meeting's final communiqué included the warning that if Robinson's consecration proceeded, it would "tear the fabric of the communion at its deepest level."[48]

In 1991 the General Convention declared "the practice of racism is sin"[49] and in 2006 a unanimous House of Bishops endorsed Resolution A123 apologizing for complicity in the institution of slavery and silence over "Jim Crow" laws, segregation, and racial discrimination.[50]

In 2009, the General Convention charged the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to develop theological and liturgical resources for same-sex blessings and report back to the General Convention in 2012. It also gave bishops an option to provide "generous pastoral support" especially where civil authorities have legalized same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships.[51] On July 14, 2009, the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops voted that "any ordained ministry" is open to gay men and lesbians.[52] The New York Times said the move was "likely to send shockwaves through the Anglican Communion."[52] This vote ended a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops passed in 2006 and passed in spite of Archbishop Rowan Williams's personal call at the start of the convention that, "I hope and pray that there won't be decisions in the coming days that will push us further apart."[52]

There are two historical societies of American Episcopalianism: Historical Society of the Episcopal Church or National Episcopal Historians and Archivists (NEHA).


As of 2010, the Episcopal Church reports 2,125,012 baptized members. The majority of members are in the United States, where the Church has 1,951,907 members, a decrease of 54,436 persons (-2.7 percent) from 2009.[1] Outside of the U.S. the Church has 173,105 members, an increase of 3,700 persons (2.2 percent) from 2009.[1] Total average Sunday attendance (ASA) for 2010 was 697,880 (657,831 in the U.S. and 40,049 outside the U.S.), a decrease of 3.7 percent from 2009.[53]

According to data collected in 2000, the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Virginia have the highest rates of adherents per capita, and states along the East Coast generally have a higher number of adherents per capita than in other parts of the country.[54] New York was the state with the largest total number of adherents, over 200,000.[55] In 2010, the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti was the largest single diocese, with 86,760 members baptized members, which constitute slightly over half of the church's foreign membership.[1]

Episcopal Church also has the highest number of graduate and post-graduate degrees per capita of any other Christian denomination in the United States, as well as the most high-income earners.[56][57]

The Episcopal Church experienced notable growth in the first half of the 20th century, but like many mainline churches, it has had a decline in membership in more recent decades.[58] Membership grew from 1.1 million members in 1925 to a peak of over 3.4 million members in the mid-1960s.[59] Between 1970 and 1990, membership declined from about 3.2 million to about 2.4 million.[59] Once changes in how membership is counted are taken into consideration, the Episcopal Church's membership numbers were broadly flat throughout the 1990s, with a slight growth in the first years of the 21st century.[60][61][62][63][64] A loss of 115,000 members was reported for the years 2003–05, which has been attributed in part to controversy concerning ordination of homosexuals to the priesthood and the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire,[65] but is a similar rate of loss to that which prevailed in the period from 1967–69, when the church lost 113,000 members, which has been attributed in part to liberal policies in an age of racial tension. Other theories about the decline in membership include a failure to sufficiently reach beyond ethnic barriers in an increasingly diverse society, and the low fertility rates prevailing among the predominant ethnic groups traditionally belonging to the church. In 1965, there were 880,000 children in Episcopal Sunday School programs. By 2001, the number had declined to 297,000.[66]


As its name suggests, the Episcopal Church, as are other Anglican churches, is governed according to episcopal polity with its own system of canon law. This means that the church is organized into dioceses led by bishops in consultation with representative bodies. It is a unitary body, in that the power of the General Convention is not limited by the individual dioceses. The church has, however, a highly decentralized structure and characteristics of a confederation.[67]

Parishes and dioceses

At the local level, there are over 7,000 Episcopal congregations, each of which elects a vestry or bishop's committee. Subject to the approval of its diocesan bishop, the vestry of each parish elects a priest, called the rector, who has spiritual jurisdiction in the parish and selects assistant clergy, both deacons and priests. (There is a difference between vestry and clergy elections – clergy are ordained members usually selected from outside the parish, whereas any member in good standing of a parish is eligible to serve on the vestry.) The diocesan bishop, however, appoints the clergy for all missions and may choose to do so for non-self-supporting parishes.

The middle judicatory consists of a diocese headed by a bishop who is assisted by a standing committee.[68] The bishop and standing committee are elected by the diocesan convention whose members are selected by the congregations. The election of a bishop requires the consent of a majority of standing committees and diocesan bishops.[69] Conventions meet annually to consider legislation (such as revisions to the diocesan constitution and canons) and speak for the diocese. Dioceses are organized into nine provinces. Each province has a synod and a mission budget, but it has no authority over its member dioceses.

There are 110 dioceses in the United States, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, Venezuela and the Virgin Islands. The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe and the Navajoland Area Mission are jurisdictions similar to a diocese. The Presiding Bishop is one of three Anglican primates who together exercise metropolitan jurisdiction over the Episcopal Church of Cuba, which is an extraprovincial diocese in the Anglican Communion.[70]

National church

The highest legislative body of the Episcopal Church is the triennial General Convention, consisting of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. All active (includes diocesan, coadjutor, suffragan, and assistant bishops) and retired bishops make up the over 300 members of the House of Bishops. Diocesan conventions elect over 800 representatives (each diocese elects four laity and four clergy) to the House of Deputies. The House of Deputies elects a president and vice-president to preside at meetings. General Convention enacts two types of legislation. The first type is the rules by which the church is governed as contained in the Constitution and Canons; the second type are broad guidelines on church policy called resolutions.[71] Either house may propose legislation.[72] The House of Deputies only meets as a full body once every three years; however, the House of Bishops meets regularly throughout the triennium between conventions.

The real work of General Convention is done by interim bodies, the most powerful being the Executive Council, which oversees the work of the national church during the triennium. The council has 40 members; 20 are directly elected by the General Convention, 18 are elected by the nine provinces, and the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies are ex officio members.[73] Other interim bodies include a number of standing commissions which study and draft policy proposals for consideration and report back to General Convention. Each standing commission consists of three bishops, three priests or deacons, and six laypersons. Bishops are appointed by the Presiding Bishop while the other clergy and laypersons are appointed by the president of the House of Deputies.[74]

The Presiding Bishop is elected from and by the House of Bishops and confirmed by the House of Deputies for a nine-year term.[75] The Presiding Bishop is the chief pastor and primate of the Episcopal Church and is charged with providing leadership in the development of the Church's program as well as speaking on behalf of the Church.[76] The Presiding Bishop does not possess a territorial see; since the 1970s, however, the Presiding Bishop has enjoyed extraordinary jurisdiction (metropolitical authority) and has authority to visit dioceses for sacramental and preaching ministry, for consulting bishops, and for related purposes.[77] The Presiding Bishop chairs the House of Bishops as well as the Executive Council of the General Convention. In addition, the Presiding Bishop directs the Episcopal Church Center, the national administrative headquarters of the denomination. Located at 815 Second Avenue, New York City, New York, the center is often referred to by Episcopalians simply as "815".[78]

A system of ecclesiastical courts is provided for under Title IV of the canons of General Convention. These courts are empowered to discipline and depose deacons, priests, and bishops.

Worship and liturgy

Varying degrees of liturgical practice prevail within the church, and one finds a variety of worship styles: traditional hymns and anthems, more modern religious music, Anglican chant, liturgical dance, charismatic prayer, and vested clergy of varying degrees. As varied as services can be, the central binding aspect is the Book of Common Prayer or supplemental liturgies.

Often a congregation or a particular service will be referred to as Low Church or High Church. In theory:

High Church, especially the very high Anglo-Catholic movement, is ritually inclined towards the use of incense, formal hymns, and a higher degree of ceremony. In addition to clergy vesting in albs, stoles and chasubles, the lay assistants may also be vested in cassock and surplice. The sung Eucharist tends to be emphasized in High Church congregations, with Anglo-Catholic congregations and celebrants using sung services almost exclusively.
Low Church is simpler and may incorporate other elements such as informal praise and worship music. "Low" congregations tend towards a more "traditional Protestant" outlook with its emphasis of Biblical revelation over symbolism. The spoken Eucharist tends to be emphasized in Low Church congregations.
Broad Church incorporates elements of both low church and high church.

A majority of Episcopal services could be considered to be "High Church" while still falling somewhat short of a typical Anglo-Catholic "very" high church service. In contrast, "Low Church" services are somewhat rarer. However, while some Episcopalians refer to their churches by these labels, often there is overlapping, and the basic rites do not greatly differ. There are also variations that blend elements of all three and have their own unique features, such as New England Episcopal churches, which have elements drawn from Puritan practices, combining the traditions of "high church" with the simplicity of "low church". Typical parish worship features Bible readings from the Old Testament as well as from both the Epistles and the Gospels of the New Testament. Some latitude in selecting Bible readings is allowed, but every service includes at least a passage from one of the Gospels, as well as the praying of the Lord's Prayer.

In the Eucharist or Holy Communion service, the Book of Common Prayer specifies that bread and wine are consecrated for consumption by the people. A valid communion is made in either species, so those wishing for whatever reason to avoid alcohol can decline the cup and still make a valid communion. A Eucharist can be part of a wedding to celebrate a sacramental marriage and of a funeral as a thank offering (sacrifice) to God and for the comfort of the mourners.

The veneration of saints in the Episcopal Church is a continuation of an ancient tradition from the early Church which honors important people of the Christian faith. The usage of the term "saint" is similar to Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Those inclined to the Anglo-Catholic traditions may explicitly invoke saints as intercessors in prayer.

Book of Common Prayer

The Episcopal Church publishes its own Book of Common Prayer (BCP) (similar to other Anglican prayerbooks), containing most of the worship services (or liturgies) used in the Episcopal Church. Because of its widespread use in the church, the BCP is both a reflection of and a source of theology for Episcopalians.

The full name of the BCP is: The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with The Psalter or Psalms of David According to the use of The Episcopal Church.

Previous American BCPs were issued in 1789, 1892, and 1928. (A proposed BCP was issued in 1786 but not adopted.) The BCP is in the public domain; however, any new revisions of the BCP are copyrighted until they are approved by the General Convention. After this happens, the BCP is placed into the public domain.

The current edition dates from 1979 and was marked by a linguistic modernization and, in returning to ancient Christian tradition, it restored the Eucharist as the central liturgy of the church. The 1979 version reflects the theological and worship changes of the ecumenical reforms of the 1960s and 1970s. On the whole, it changed the theological emphasis of the church to be more Catholic in nature. In 1979, the Convention adopted the revision as the "official" BCP and required churches using the old (1928) prayer book to also use the 1979 revision. There was enough strife in implementing and adopting the 1979 BCP that an apology was issued at the 2000 General Convention[79] for any who were "offended or alienated during the time of liturgical transition to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer". The 2000 General Convention also authorized the occasional use of some parts of the 1928 book, under the direction of the bishop.

The 1979 edition contains a provision for the use of "traditional" (Elizabethan) language under various circumstances not directly provided for in the book, and the Anglican Service Book was produced accordingly, as "a traditional language adaptation of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer together with the Psalter or Psalms of David and Additional Devotions."

Belief and practice

The center of Episcopal teaching is the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ.[80] The basic teachings of the church, or catechism, include:

The full catechism is included in the Book of Common Prayer and is posted on the Episcopal website.[82] The threefold sources of authority in Anglicanism are scripture, tradition, and reason. These three sources uphold and critique each other in a dynamic way.

The Episcopal Church follows the via media or "middle way" between Protestant and Roman Catholic doctrine and practices: that is both Catholic and Reformed. Although many Episcopalians identify with this concept, those whose convictions lean toward either evangelicalism or Anglo-Catholicism may not.

A broad spectrum of theological views is represented within the Episcopal Church. Some Episcopal theologians hold evangelical positions, affirming the authority of scripture over all. The Episcopal Church website glossary defines the sources of authority as a balance between scripture, tradition, and reason. These three are characterized as a "three-legged stool" which will topple if any one overbalances the other. It also notes[83]

The Anglican balancing of the sources of authority has been criticized as clumsy or "muddy." It has been associated with the Anglican affinity for seeking the mean between extremes and living the via media. It has also been associated with the Anglican willingness to tolerate and comprehend opposing viewpoints instead of imposing tests of orthodoxy or resorting to heresy trials.

This balance of scripture, tradition and reason is traced to the work of Richard Hooker, a 16th-century apologist. In Hooker's model, scripture is the primary means of arriving at doctrine and things stated plainly in scripture are accepted as true. Issues that are ambiguous are determined by tradition, which is checked by reason.[84] Noting the role of personal experience in Christian life, some Episcopalians have advocated following the example of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Methodist theology by thinking in terms of a "Fourth Leg" of "experience." This understanding is highly dependent on the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher.

A public example of this struggle between different Christian positions in the church has been the 2003 consecration of the Right Reverend Gene Robinson, an openly gay man living with a long-term partner. The acceptance/rejection of his consecration is motivated by different views on the understanding of scripture.[85] This struggle has some members concerned that the church may not continue its relationship with the larger Anglican Church. Others, however, view this pluralism as an asset, allowing a place for both sides to balance each other.

Comedian and Episcopalian Robin Williams once described the Episcopal faith (and, in a performance in London, specifically the Church of England) as "Catholic Lite – same rituals, half the guilt."[86]

Social issues

The preparation materials for delegates to the 2006 General Convention highlighted areas of "Social Teaching/Contentious Resolutions" made by the General Convention in the previous 30 years including race, economic justice, ordination of women, and inclusion. In some areas, such as race, the church has maintained a consistent theme. In other areas, such as human sexuality, the church has faced larger struggles.


Economic justice

  • During the Great Depression, places like the Cathedral Shelter of Chicago served the poor.
  • In 1991, the Convention recommended parity in pay and benefits between clergy and lay employees in equivalent positions.[95]
  • Several times between 1979 and 2003, the Convention expressed concern over affordable housing and supported the church working to provide affordable housing.[96]
  • In 1982 and 1997, the Convention reaffirmed the Church's commitment to eradicating poverty and malnutrition and challenged parishes to increase ministries to the poor.[97]
  • In 1997 and 2000, the Convention urged the church to promote living wages for all.[98][99]
  • In 2003, the Convention urged legislators to raise the US minimum wage and to establish a living wage with health benefits as the national standard.[100][101]

Ordination of women

The first woman ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Communion was Florence Li Tim-Oi, who was ordained on 25 January 1944 by Ronald Hall, Bishop of Victoria, Hong Kong in response to the crisis among Anglican Christians in China caused by the Japanese invasion. To avoid controversy, she resigned her licence (though not her priestly orders) after the end of the war.

  • The first women to be ordained under normal circumstances as priests in the Episcopal Church were the "Philadelphia Eleven" on July 29, 1974. The women were ordained by Bishops Daniel Corrigan, Robert L. DeWitt, Edward R. Welles, assisted by Antonio Ramos, although their orders were not immediately endorsed by General Convention.[102] On September 7, 1975, four more women (the "Washington Four") were irregularly ordained by retired Bishop George W. Barrett.[103] The 1976, General Convention, which approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, voted to regularize the 15 forerunners.
  • In 1994, the Convention affirmed that there is value in the theological position that women should not be ordained
  • In 1997, the Convention affirmed that "the canons regarding the ordination, licensing, and deployment of women are mandatory and that dioceses noncompliant in 1997 shall give status reports on their progress toward full implementation."[104]
  • In 2006, the convention elected Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop. She is the first woman to serve as primate in the Anglican Communion.

The three "noncompliant" dioceses were San Joaquin, Quincy, and Fort Worth. The 2006 directory of the North American Association for the Diaconate lists three women deacons in Quincy, 15 in San Joaquin, and 8 in Fort Worth.[105] With the October 16, 2010, ordination of Margaret Lee, in the Peoria-based Diocese of Quincy, Illinois, women have been ordained as priests in all 110 dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the United States.[106]

Gender and sexuality

  • In 1976, the Convention declared that homosexuals are "children of God" and "entitled to full civil rights".[107]
  • In 1979, the Convention endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment and urged legislatures to ratify it.
  • In 1988, the Convention reaffirmed the expectation of chastity and fidelity in relationships.
  • In 1991, the Convention restated that "physical sexual expression" is only appropriate within a monogamous "union of husband and wife". The Convention also called on the church to "continue to reconcile the discontinuity between this teaching and the experience of members", referring both to dioceses that have chosen to bless monogamous same-sex unions and to general tolerance of premarital relations.[45]
  • In 2000, the Convention affirmed "the variety of human relationships in and outside of marriage" and acknowledged "disagreement over the Church's traditional teaching on human sexuality."[108]
  • In 2006, the Convention affirmed "support of gay and lesbian persons as children of God"; calls on legislatures to provide protections such as bereavement and family leave policies; and opposes any state or federal constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex civil marriages or civil unions."[109]
  • In 2009, the Convention affirmed that "gays and lesbians (that are) in lifelong committed relationships," should be ordained, saying that "God has called and may call such individuals to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church."[110] The Convention also voted to allow bishops to decide whether or not to bless same-sex marriages.[11]
  • In 2012, the Convention approved the trial use of an official liturgy to bless same-sex couples and their unions, called "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant."[11][111]


In 1861, a pamphlet titled A Scriptural, Ecclesiastical, and Historical View of Slavery written by John Henry Hopkins attempted to justify slavery based on the New Testament and gave a clear insight into the Episcopal Church's involvement in slavery. Bishop Hopkins Letter on Slavery Ripped Up and his Misuse of the Sacred Scriptures Exposed, written by G.W. Hyer in 1863, opposed the points mentioned in Hopkins' pamphlet and revealed a startling divide in the Episcopal Church over the issue of slavery.[112]

Charitable works

Episcopal Relief and Development

Episcopal Relief and Development is the international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church of the United States. It helps to rebuild after disasters and aims to empower people by offering lasting solutions that fight poverty, hunger and disease. Episcopal Relief and Development programs focus on alleviating hunger, improving food supply, creating economic opportunities, strengthening communities, promoting health, fighting disease, responding to disasters, and rebuilding communities.[113]


There are about 60 trust funds administered by the Episcopal Church which offer scholarships to young people affiliated with the church. Qualifying considerations often relate to historical missionary work of the church among American Indians and African-Americans, as well as work in China and other foreign missions.[114][115] There are special programs for both American Indians[116] and African-Americans[117] interested in training for the ministry.

Ecumenical relations

Like the other churches of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church has entered into full communion with the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, the Philippine Independent Church, and the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar. The Episcopal Church is also in a relationship of full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America[118] and the Northern and Southern[119] Provinces of the Moravian Church in America.

The Episcopal Church itself maintains ecumenical dialogs with the United Methodist Church and the Moravian Church in America, and participates in pan-Anglican dialogs with the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Roman Catholic Church. In 2006 a relation of interim Eucharistic sharing was inaugurated with the United Methodist Church, a step that may ultimately lead to full communion.

Historically Anglican churches have had strong ecumenical ties with the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the Episcopal Church particularly with the Russian Orthodox Church, but relations in more recent years have been strained, following the ordination of women and the ordination of Gene Robinson to the episcopate. A former relation of full communion with the Polish National Catholic Church (itself once a part of the Union of Utrecht) was broken off by the PNCC in 1976 over the ordination of women.

The Episcopal Church was a founding member of the Consultation on Church Union and participates in its successor, Churches Uniting in Christ. The Episcopal Church is a founding member of the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, and the new Christian Churches Together in the USA. Dioceses and parishes are frequently members of local ecumenical councils as well.

See also


Further reading

  • The Journal of the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church (articles, church reviews, and book reviews).
  • Articles on leading Episcopalians, both lay (e.g., George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Frances Perkins) and ordained, in American National Biography. (1999). Edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. Also 100 biographical articles in Hein and Shattuck, The Episcopalians: see below.
  • A Brief History of the Episcopal Church. Holmes, David L. (1993). Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International.
  • Standing against the Whirlwind: Evangelical Episcopalians in Nineteenth-Century America. (1996) Butler, Diana Hochstedt.
  • A Dictionary for Episcopalians. Wall, John N. (2000). Boston, MA: Cowley Publications.
  • Documents of Witness: A History of the Episcopal Church, 1782–1985. Armentrout, Don S., & Slocum, Robert Boak. (1994). New York: Church Hymnal Corporation.
  • Readings from the History of the Episcopal Church. Prichard, Robert W. (Ed.). (1986). Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow.
  • The Episcopal Clerical Directory. New York: Church Publishing.
  • An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians. Armentrout, Don S., & Slocum, Robert Boak. (Eds.). ([1999]). New York: Church Publishing Incorporated.
  • About the Concordat: 28 Questions about the Agreement between the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Church of America [i.e. the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America], prepared by the Ecumenical Relations Office of the Episcopal Church. Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement Publications, [1997?]. 43 p. Without ISBN
  • A Commentary on [the Episcopal Church/Evangelical Lutheran Church in America] Concordat of Agreement, ed. by James E. Griffes and Daniel Martensen. Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg-Fortress; Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement Publications, 1994. 159 p. ISBN 0-8066-2690-9
  • Concordat of Agreement [between the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America]: Supporting Essays, ed. by Daniel F. Martensen. Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg-Fortress; Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement Publications, 1995. 234 p. ISBN 0-8066-2667-4
  • The Episcopalians. Hein, David, and Gardiner H. Shattuck Jr. (2005). New York: Church Publishing.
  • "Episcopalian Crisis: Authority, Homosexuality & the Future of Anglicanism". Seltser, Barry Jay Commonweal CXXXIII, 10 (May 19, 2006). An essay on Hooker and the present discontents, accessed December 19, 2006.
  • The History of the Episcopal Church in America, 1607–1991: A Bibliography. Caldwell, Sandra M., & Caldwell, Ronald J. (1993). New York: Garland Publishing.
  • Episcopalians and Race: Civil War to Civil Rights. Gardiner H. Shattuck (2003)
  • Jamestown Commitment: the Episcopal Church [i.e. the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.] and the American Indian, by Owanah Anderson. Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement Publications (1988). 170 p. ISBN 0-88028-082-4
  • Mullin, Robert Bruce. "Trends in the Study of the History of the Episcopal Church," Anglican and Episcopal History, June 2003, Vol. 72 Issue 2, pp 153–165, historiography
  • New Georgia Encyclopedia article on the Episcopal Church in the U.S. South
  • "The Forgotten Evangelicals: Virginia Episcopalians, 1790–1876". Waukechon, John Frank. Dissertation Abstracts International, 2001, Vol. 61 Issue 8, pp 3322–3322
  • Noble Powell and the Episcopal Establishment in the Twentieth Century. Hein, David. (2001, 2007). Urbana: University of Illinois Press; paperback reprint, Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock.
  • . Savitri Hensman. Ekklesia. 2007.
  • A War of Religion: Dissenters, Anglicans, and the American Revolution. James B. Bell. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). 323 pp. ISBN 978-0-230-54297-6

External links

  • Official website
  • [1]
  • Profile of the Episcopal Church on the Association of Religion Data Archives website
  • Executive Offices of the General Convention
  • Resources at the Archives of the Episcopal Church
  • 1979 Book of Common Prayer
  • Calendar of the Church Year
  • Episcopal (Anglican) Glossary

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