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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:
The Visitor's Center of The Episcopal Church, with introductions to the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion
The website of the Anglican Communion.

And finally, for all those who have ever wondered: "Episcopalian" is the noun, and "Episcopal" is the adjective. So an "Episcopalian" goes to an "Episcopal church."

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

The Ministry

Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.

Q. What is the ministry of a bishop?
A. The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ's name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church; and to ordain others to continue Christ's ministry.

Q. What is the ministry of a priest or presbyter?
A. The ministry of a priest is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as pastor to the people; to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.

Q. What is the ministry of a deacon?
A. The ministry of a deacon is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a servant of those in need; and to assist bishops and priests in the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.

Q. What is the duty of all Christians?
A. The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.

Lay ministry

Lay ministers
An excellent program for lay people is Education for Ministry (EFM), a four-year course of study that covers theology, scripture, church history, and the like. EFM groups are led in local parishes by a trained mentor. EFM was developed the University of the South/Sewanee, which also offers another course for parish-based learning about lay ministry, Disciples of Christ in Community. Click here for a link to the Sewanee pages about these programs.

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.

Ordained ministry

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.

Deacons model servant ministry. They are ordained, and serve certain roles in a parish. They are not paid for their parish work. The bishop assigns them to the parish. They also have a significant ministry in the world, either paid or volunteer, with the poor, lonely or sick. There is a training program for those exploring a call to the diaconate. Every year, the diocese holds a day for learning more about diaconal ministry. It is attended by priests, people interested in serving as a deacon, and their families. Click here for a list of FAQs asked by priests about deacons. Click here for the North American Associate of the Diaconate, a organization for deacons that publishes a regular newsletter. For more information about deacons in Connecticut, or about the deacon information day, contact Bishop Ahrens' Office.

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.

The canons of the church govern the process for discerning if one is called to ordained ministry as a priest; there are both national and diocesan canons. The individuals will work with their parish priest and vestry; a parish discernment committee; the bishop and any designated assistant (in Connecticut, the canon to the ordinary); several committees of the Commission on Ministry; and others as needed. The process can take many years, and is not a guarantee that all who start the process will finish as priests. The diocese holds an annual day for learning more about ordained ministry as a priest. It is required for those interested in exploring the possibility. Contact Linda Walley in the Canon to the Ordinary's office for more information about the process, and the annual priest information day, 860-233-4481,

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.)

Bishops are elected by dioceses (at a convention of diocesan clergy and elected lay delegates from parishes) and are bishops for life, even after retirement. There are canonical requirements for those who would be bishop, and for the election process. A diocesan bishop heads a diocese (the basic geographical unit of the Episcopal Church). A bishop coadjutor is elected to succeed a diocesan, and may serve with the diocesan until he/she retires or dies. A bishop suffragan is elected to assist the diocesan bishop, and has no "right of succession" if/when the diocesan retires or dies. A diocesan bishop may choose to hire a retired or resigned bishop from the same or another diocese to assist with certain ministries or responsiblities. Those bishops might be designated "assistant bishop" or an "assisting bishop."

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.