What is the Episcopal Church?
The Episcopal Church is the American branch of the Anglican
Communion. The Anglican Communion is an inheritor of 2000
years of catholic and apostolic tradition dating from
Christ himself, rooted in the Church of England. When
the Church of England spread throughout the British Empire,
sister churches sprang up. These churches, while autonomous
in their governance, are bound together by tradition,
Scripture, and the inheritance they have received from
the Church of England. They together make up the Anglican
Communion, a body headed spiritually by the Archbishop
of Canterbury and having some 80 million members, making
it the second largest Christian bodyin the world.
The Episcopal Church came into existence as an independent
denomination after the American Revolution. Today it
has between two and three million members in the United
States, Mexico, and Central America, all of which are
under jurisdiction of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal
Church, Frank Griswold.
Bishops in the American Episcopal Church are elected
by individual dioceses and are consecrated into the
Apostolic Succession, considered to witness to an unbroken
line of Church leadership beginning with the Apostles
themselves. For more than two decades the American Episcopal
Church has ordained women to the priesthood. In 1988
the Diocese of Massachusetts elected the first Anglican
woman bishop, Barbara Harris.
Although it subscribes to the historic Creeds (the
Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed), considers
the Bible to be divinely inspired, and holds the Eucharist
or Lord's Supper to be the central act of Christian
worship, the Episcopal Church grants great latitude
in interpretation of doctrine. It tends to stress less
the confession of particular beliefs than the use of
the Book of Common Prayer in public worship.
This book, first published in the sixteenth century,
even in its revisions, stands today as a major source
of unity for Anglicans around the world.
The Church of England has always valued the life of
the mind and dialogue with fields of secular study.
Isaac Newton was an Anglican clergyman and theologian
as were several of the founders of the Royal Society,
the earliest institution organized for the promotion
of science. The Episcopal Church maintains this tradition,
routinely requiring its clergy to hold university as
well as seminary degrees and supporting many university
Info source: The Rev. Jane S. Gould, MIT Episcopal