FAQs about the Episcopal Church

Who Are Episcopalians

There are many different kinds of Episcopalians: conservatives, liberals, funny people, serious people, blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians can all be Episcopalian. Some are old, and some are young. Some are straight, and some are gay. Some are really sure about their faith, and some find it to be a constant struggle. Chances are, there's at least one other Episcopalian out there just like you.

What ties us together is our belief in the love of God, especially as Jesus talked about it. Jesus taught us that God's biggest hope for us is that we would love God and love our neighbors (Matt. 22:37-40). Although we're not always great at it, it's what we try to do.

Q. Do Episcopalians believe in the Bible?

A. We read the Bible aloud in church every Sunday, as part of the lessons. If you come for three years straight, you will have heard almost the entire Bible. Some Episcopalians read the Bible literally while others see it as something that requires new interpretation with the passage of time. Either way, we take it very seriously, and we believe that it has much to tell us about who God is, who we are, and how God wants us to live.

Q. Do Episcopalians believe in Jesus?

A. Like most other Christians, we believe that Jesus is the clearest picture God has ever given us of who God is. God loves us so much that God came to be one of us, and when we turned against him, crucified, and killed him, God used it as a way to conquer death forever ... not just for himself, but for all of us.

Q. Do Episcopalians believe in sin?

A. Yes, but we also believe in a forgiving God. In our view, "sin" can be thought of as a way of "missing the mark" or "turning away." God knows that we won't always get everything right, and God is always waiting for us when our greed, busy-ness, and self-centeredness get us off on the wrong track.

Q. What makes Episcopalians different?

A. There are many things that make us different, but two things in our worship set us apart from many other denominations. One is that we usually serve Communion every Sunday. That can seem strange at first, but we see it as a perfect way to remember all that God has done for us.
Another thing that makes us kind of different is that most Episcopalians don't spend too much time talking about hell. Some denominations make it seem like we were all born evil and have to do a lot of hard work to stay out of hell. We tend to believe that God made us very good, that God's love for us is greater than we can imagine, and that God's grace will ultimately do most of the hard work in keeping us out of hell. Of course, that doesn't mean we get to live crazy, sinful lives. It just means that we believe God is not a God who holds our humanity against us, especially since God's the one who created us.
Q. What's a typical service like?

A. At most Episcopal Churches, a typical Sunday service has two parts: the Word (lessons) and Communion. The Word is where we hear Scripture/Bible readings, say our prayers, and listen to the sermon. Communion is where we share the Bread and Wine as Jesus commanded us to do before he died.

Q. What kind of music do Episcopalians use?

A. Music is a big part of our worship. Some Episcopal churches only use the hymnal with an organ and choir, others provide a blend using more modern instruments such as guitar and singing. At Christ Church, we are blessed with a wonderful pipe organ and a gifted music director.

Q. Can anybody come?

A. All are welcome. We believe that God does not restrict anyone from coming to God's table, so neither do we. All are allowed to come and worship, and all are allowed to take Communion with us.

Q. How is the Church governed?

A. The Episcopal Church is rooted in a representative form of church government. The national church has a Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, who presides over the national church in conjunction with the elected legislature, known as The General Convention.

The Episcopal Church is divided into 110 dioceses which are geographical units including an entire state or a portion of a state. These dioceses are grouped together into nine provinces. Each diocese is led by a Bishop (for the Diocese of Massachusetts, it is Alan H. Gates  with assistant, called Suffragan Bishop, Gayle Harris).Each parish belongs to a gathering of parishes, called deaneries.  Christ Church is part of the Neponset River Deanery.

 Love God.
Love others.
The rest are details.
-- Jesus (Matthew 22:37-40)

Q. Why are your pastors called "priests"?

A. It's an old tradition that goes way back to our earliest roots when we were once part of the Roman Catholic Church. A Priest is someone called to represent or stand-in for God. In practice, our priests aren't much different from most pastors. They lead church services; they pray for their congregations and the world; they teach and learn; they counsel; and they visit those in need.

Q. What role do women play?

A. We believe God created both male and female in God's image and therefore do not discriminate. Women can have any role in the Episcopal Church that men can, including deacons, priests, and bishops.
Q. What about homosexuality?

A. The Episcopal Church is working hard right now to listen to God about homosexuality, and we're doing that by praying and by listening to scripture, tradition, science, and one another. It's hard work, but we feel that it's worth it. At St. Paul's, we believe that God does not exclude anyone from God's table, so all are invited to worship regardless of sexual orientation.

The first "openly gay" (non-celibate) priest was ordained in 1989. The first openly gay Bishop was consecrated in 2003.
In our General Convention of 2015, we voted to fully approve same-sex marriage within our Church.

Q. What about social justice advocacy?

A. The Episcopal Church believes strongly in the interconnectedness of all people. As stated in our Catechism (Book of Common Prayer - page 855)

"The mission of the Church is to restore all people to
unity with God and each other in Christ. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and
worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice,
peace, and love. The church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members."

Central to this belief are the vows we take in baptism, and renew each time we witness a baptism. Called the "Baptismal Covenant," it renews our commitment of faith as expressed through the Nicene Creed, and adds these vow:
  • To persevere in resisting evil, and , whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord
  • To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ
  • To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves
  • To strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being

The Episcopal Church has a Public Policy Network (EPPN) and the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund, among others.

Read the Episcopal Church Policy on Refugees and Immigrants.

To learn more about The Episcopal Church,
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To learn more about The Episcopal Diocese of MA, Click here

To learn more about the Neponset River Deanery, click here.

To download the Episcopal Diocese of MA monthly newsletter fyi, please click here.

Learning Resources:

For more information about Episcopal Church structure and tenets, please read A People Called Episcopalians: A Brief Introduction to Our Peculiar Way of Life, by the Reverend Dr. John H. Westerhoff

Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons

Diocese of Massachusetts Vestry Guide
The Episcopal Church grew from the presence of the Church of England in America, and the severing of ties with England as a consequence of the American Revolution.

1701: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts is founded.

1607-1785: The Church of England in New World is overseen by the Bishop of London. The vestry system develops. Clergy are paid from taxes. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson serve on vestries.

1776: The Declaration of Independence is signed. Most Anglican clergy, who have sworn loyalty to the King in their ordinations, stay loyal.

1783: The Treaty of Paris ends the Revolutionary War.

1784: Samuel Seabury of Connecticut is consecrated the first overseas Anglican bishop by Scottish non-juring bishops, after being elected in Connecticut and rejected by Church of England bishops, who, legally, could not ordain him. Seabury promised to use the Scottish 1764 Communion service, based on the Eastern Orthodox service.

1785: The First General Convention of Episcopal Church is held, with clergy and lay representatives from Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia. The General Convention authorizes the preparation of an American Prayer Book and names itself the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

1786The proposed American Book of Common Prayer is approved for use on a state-by-state basis.

1787: Samuel Provoost of New York and William White of Philadelphia are consecrated bishops by the Church of England. Seabury's Scottish consecration helped motivate Parliament and the Church of England to do this. Both continue to be rectors. The second General Convention adopts basically the present Episcopal Church structure. Arevised Book of Common Prayer, prepared by White, is adopted; this version of the Book of Common Prayer is based on the 1662 Prayer Book with the exception of the 1764 Scottish Communion Service.

1804: Absalom Jones is ordained the first black priest in the Episcopal Church.

1839: The Diocese of Virginia establishes the first high school in Virginia, Episcopal High School (adjacent to Virginia Theological Seminary).

1833: The Oxford Movement (Anglo-Catholic) begins in England. In the following decades, many new Religious Orders (i.e., monastic communities) were formed.

1861-65: During the American Civil War, Southern Episcopal dioceses join the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Confederate States of America, but are welcomed back after war ends. Other denominations experience long term (100+ years) splits.

1873: Evangelical, "low church"-oriented Reformed Episcopal Church is founded.

1885: The House of Bishops adopts the Chicago Quadrilateral. General Convention approves the Quadrilateral in 1886.

1888: The Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops adopts the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.

1919: The National Council (now the Executive Council) is established by General Convention. The Office of the Presiding Bishop is established to oversee national church programs.

1928: The revised Book of Common Prayer includes language updates and a new translation of Psalms. "Love, honor, and obey" is dropped from the bride's vows in the service of Holy Matrimony.

1940: A new Hymnal is approved.

1944: Henry St. George Tucker becomes the Episcopal Church's first full-time Presiding Bishop.

1961: John Hines of Texas is elected Presiding Bishop. Strong social justice commitments elicit negative reaction from conservatives.

1970: The first authorized women members join the House of Deputies.

1974: The first eleven women are ordained to priesthood in an “irregular” service in Philadelphia.

1976: General Convention approves the ordination of women, and "regularizes" 1974-75 ordinations. First reading on new Prayer Book.

1979: Second reading approves new (present) Book of Common Prayer.

1982: A new Hymnal is approved.

1989: Barbara Harris is consecrated the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion.

2000: General Convention approves "Called to Common Mission," a revised version of the Lutheran Concordat, establishing full communion between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Episcopal Church, effective January 1, 2001.

2003: General Convention approves the Diocese of New Hampshire's election of the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest in a long-term committed relationship, as Bishop Coadjutor.

2006: Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada is elected the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church for a 9-year term. She is the first and only woman to be a churchwide leader in the Anglican Communion. 

2009: General Convention charges 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.

2011: The Episcopal Church inaugurates a full-communion relationship with the Northern and Southern provinces of the Moravian Church in North America.

2012: The Episcopal Church approves the trial use of an official liturgy to bless same-sex couples and their unions, called "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant."

2015: The Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry was installed as the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church on November 1, 2015.

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