Faith and Ministry
About Episcopal beliefs
The beliefs of Episcopalians, or Anglicans, are quite diverse. The website of Anglicans Online! has a good set of resources to start your quest. You can visit a page hosted by the Episcopal Church USA, which has a series of questions and answers about Episcopalians and their beliefs. An excellent way to learn more about us is to look through the Book of Common Prayer (links to html, and Kindle, versions here) . In it you'll find our order of worship for Sundays, Easter and other holy days, marriage and funerals and other pastoral offices, and the prayers we say in common.
The Book of Common Prayer includes a Catechism, which summarizes the faith in a question and answer format. The prayer book also sets out our creeds and historic articles of faith. In practice, you'll find a broad variety of both beliefs and worship styles in this denomination that some consider a "bridge" between Catholic and Protestant formulations. There are churches that have a Sung Mass, incense, and ornate vestments; there are churches where the Word is more prominent and incense is never used; there are churches where people raise their hands in praise to God; there are churches in the middle. There are a range of conservative and liberal interpretations of the faith, too.
What unites Episcopalians has traditionally been not so much a set of fixed, common beliefs or a single authority for interpreting those beliefs, but common prayers - traditional prayers said together - in a common form of worship, a common structure of our church, which is overseen by bishops. Currently, as in times past, there is debate over our beliefs and practices. Some of us seek a more defined set of beliefs, and would welcome a mandatory confession of that. Others embrace ambiguity and freedom in their faith journey. As we wrestle with these issues among ourselves, we keep in mind our reconciliation in Jesus and our Episcopal tradition of finding the "via media," the middle way.
The institutional Church gets a lot of media attention, but at the grassroots level, many of us find that we are returning to locating ourselves in God's mission, turning around the focus from the church (which is still an essential community) to God's mission), and our role in participating with God in the restoration and reconciliation of the world. There are so many ways to do that. We invite you to join us anytime, at any parish.
Two primary resources to help understand us:
Orders of Ministry
In the Episcopal Church, we believe that when you are baptized, your ministry begins. This is your lay ministry, and it is primarily "in the world." There are also significant lay ministries that a person may have in a parish, such as administering the chalice (which contains the sacramental wine) at the Eucharist.
Some people are called to ordained ministry in the church. The Episcopal Church recognizes three orders of ordained ministry: deacons, priests, and bishops.
Below is an excerpt on ministry as understood by the Episcopal Church, taken directly from the Book of Common Prayer: (p. 855-856). For more resources, see the The Episcopal Church's page on Ministry Development.
Lay ministers Deacons Priests Bishops
Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
Q. What is the ministry of a bishop?
Q. What is the ministry of a priest or presbyter?
Q. What is the ministry of a deacon?
Q. What is the duty of all Christians?
Contact Bishop Suffragan Jim Curry's office to find out more about local EFM groups.
There is a national organization for lay professionals (lay people who work in church ministry), called the National Network of Lay Professionals.
In the Episcopal Church, both women and men are ordained as deacons, priests and bishops. There are still a few areas of the Church in the U.S., where the ministry of ordained women is not accepted as valid. Celibacy is not a requirement for ordination. It is currently against the official policy of the church to ordain gay and lesbian candidates who are not celibate, but the policy is not binding and is not followed by all bishops. This issue is very contentious and regularly comes before the whole church in its triennial business meetings known as General Convention.The issue of ordaining women, and accepting their ministry, continues to be divisive but to a lesser extent than in years past.
Transitional deacons: Currently in the Episcopal Church, those who are on the "path" to becoming priests ordained as "transitional deacons" first, after completing all of their academic and other preparation. They remain as transitional deacons for about six months until they are ordained as priests. There are many deacons who would like to see this practice ended. They would prefer that priests be ordained directly to that order, and regularly petition the church's General Convention for a change in policy.
Priests are accountable to their diocesan bishop. As ordained ministers in the whole church, they may take a position with a parish in another diocese than the one in which they were ordained. In such cases, their paperwork, and accountability, transfers to the other diocese and bishop. Most priests are called to serve in parishes, but others may work in "secular" employment, including as doctors, directors of non-profit organizations, professors, etc. (These are sometimes called "tentmaker priests" after St. Paul.)
The Episcopal Church USA has 108 dioceses, each with a diocesan bishop. Some have additional bishops, depending on their size. The Episcopal Church has a presiding bishop, elected for nine-year terms at the church's General Convention. The presiding bishop oversees the whole church, and gathers all the bishops, active and retired, for regular meetings. (In other countries this person may be called an archbishop; also known as a primate). The primates from all 38 churches in the Anglican Communion meet annually with the archbishop of Canterbury at locations around the globe; all bishops of the Anglican Communion meet every 10 years with the archbishop in England. The next of these larger meetings is 2016.
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