• The Episcopal Church is a “branch” of the Church of England, and became an independent church after the American Revolution. Along with the Church of England and all of its other “branch” churches worldwide, we form the Anglican Communion, with over seventy million members, the third largest group of Christians worldwide (after the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches).
• The Episcopal Church is neither truly Protestant nor Catholic; rather it is a blending of both traditions. We trace our history back to the Protestant Reformation and share many of the beliefs of modern day Protestants. Yet, unlike many Protestant churches, we are a church of bishops (“Episcopal” derives from the Greek word “Episkopos” meaning “bishop”) and we retained most of the elements of the ceremony and worship of the Roman Catholic Church: our worship is centered on the celebration of the Eucharist (Communion) every Sunday, we use wine (not grape juice), we offer the Sacraments, and our clergy wear vestments/robes. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church our clergy (bishops, priests, and deacons) are allowed to marry; we ordain both men and women to all orders of clergy; communion is open to all Christians regardless of tradition; and our church is governed democratically.
What is Worship in the Episcopal Church Like?
Though worship in the Episcopal Church is unified by a common worship according to “The Book of Common Prayer,” you may find some diversity in the expression of that worship in individual parishes. While some parishes opt for a more simple or Protestant form of worship, others prefer to include familiar Catholic practices (such as chanting, incense, bells, genuflection, icons, votive candles and other devotional practices). Regardless of such practices, when you visit an Episcopal Church you are invited to participate as fully as you are comfortable in doing. Participants in the service both clergy and lay may wear various forms of robes. During the service people will stand, kneel and sit. The general rule of thumb is that we stand to praise God in spoken word and song; we sit to listen to the readings, the sermon and the announcements; and we stand or kneel to pray. Our service of Holy Eucharist has two basic parts. We begin with the Word of God in which we praise God, hear the reading of Scripture verses from both the Old and New Testaments, listen to the sermon and offer prayers for our community, the church and the world. The second part of the service focuses on the Sacrament of Holy Communion, during which we bring bread and wine to the altar, ask God’s blessing so that they might become for us the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and receive the Communion of bread and wine as the Body of Christ. The best way to experience the worship of the Episcopal Church is to join us! If you are not familiar with our style of worship, we encourage you to ask questions of our clergy and our lay people.
What Do Episcopalians Believe?
Episcopalian beliefs, like Episcopalians themselves, are quite diverse. Our beliefs on issues of moral, ethical and spiritual matters are informed by Scripture (the Bible as God’s Word for us as revealed through the history of the Hebrew people and the coming of Jesus Christ as the Son of God), the Tradition (the interpretation of God’s Word through the Church), and Reason (how we apply God’s Word to contemporary issues). Episcopalians do not demand uniformity on every matter of belief and welcome equally people of conservative, moderate and liberal belief. We value such diversity as the means of providing open and candid discussion regarding spiritual issues and of offering us an opportunity to experience the reconciling and healing power of God’s love. The standard guide for of our belief is the Book of Common Prayer, which contains daily prayer services; prayers for the church year and for various pastoral concerns; liturgies for worship for each of the Sacraments and special church year celebrations; the complete Book of Psalms; an outline of our faith (Catechism); historical documents of the Church; and suggested readings (lectionary) for Sunday services and for daily devotion.
How Can I Learn More about the Episcopal Church?
For more information about the Episcopal Church we encourage you to explore Episcopal web sites. The web site of the Episcopal Church in the USA (ECUSA) provides many answers to FAQ’s at its Visitor’s Center. The web site of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut offers a good perspective about the nature of the Episcopal Church and its mission and ministry in Connecticut. For a more in depth introduction to the Episcopal Church, we refer you to Christopher Webber’s book, “Welcome to the Episcopal Church.” We also have a selection of reading material available to you at St. Peter’s.
How Do I Become an Episcopalian?
If you are a member of St. Peter’s and you wish to become an “official” member of the Episcopal Church in the United States, you may do so through the sacrament of Confirmation. If you have already been confirmed by a bishop in another tradition, your confirmation will be honored and you will be “received” into the Episcopal Church. If you have been baptized, but never confirmed, you will be a candidate for confirmation. All candidates will be confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church by the bishop at a special regional Confirmation service that usually is scheduled for the spring. Persons coming to the Episcopal Church from other denominations, those who have not previously made a religious commitment, and Episcopalians who wish to know more about their church are encouraged attend Inquirer’s Classes which serve as preparation for this sacrament.