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|Primate||Katharine Jefferts Schori|
|Headquarters||815 Second Avenue|
New York, New York
|Territory||The United States and dioceses in Taiwan, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Europe|
|Members||2,009,084 baptized, as of 2013|
|Primate||Katharine Jefferts Schori|
|Headquarters||815 Second Avenue|
New York, New York
|Territory||The United States and dioceses in Taiwan, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Europe|
|Members||2,009,084 baptized, as of 2013|
The Episcopal Church (TEC), also known as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA), is a United States-based member church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It is divided into nine provinces and has dioceses in the U.S., Taiwan, Micronesia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, as well as the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe and the Navajoland Area Mission. The current Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first female primate in the Anglican Communion.
The Episcopal Church describes itself as being both "Protestant and Catholic". Some refer to Anglicanism as a major branch of Christianity in its own right, alongside Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy. In 2013, the Episcopal Church had 2,009,084 baptized members, of whom 1,866,758 were in the U.S. In 2011 it was the nation's 14th largest denomination.
The church was organized after the American Revolution, when it separated as a separate church within the Anglican Communion from the Church of England, whose clergy are required to swear allegiance to the British monarch as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and became the first Anglican Province outside the British Isles. The Episcopal Church has become a rich and, considering its comparatively small size, one of the most prominent of United States churches.
The Episcopal Church was active in the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Since the 1960s and 1970s, the Church has pursued a more liberal course than that of most other churches in the Anglican Communion. It has opposed the death penalty and supported the civil rights movement and affirmative action. Some of its leaders and priests marched with civil rights demonstrators. Today the Church calls for the full legal equality of gay and lesbian people, a movement partly inspired by their similar call for racial equality during the mid-1900s. The church's General Convention has passed resolutions that allow for the blessing of same-sex partnerships in states in which it is legal. The convention also approved an official liturgy to bless such unions, though it is not an official liturgy within the Book of Common Prayer. On the question of abortion, the church's current Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori has adopted what she calls a "nuanced approach". The Episcopal Church ordains women to the priesthood as well as the diaconate and the episcopate.
There are two official names of the Episcopal Church specified in its constitution: "The Episcopal Church" and the "Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America". "The Episcopal Church" is the more commonly used name. Other languages also use equivalents of "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America" and "The Episcopal Church." In Spanish the church is called La Iglesia Episcopal Protestante de los Estados Unidos de América or La Iglesia Episcopal and in French L'Église protestante épiscopale dans les États Unis d'Amérique or L'Église épiscopale.
Until 1964, the only official name in use was "Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America". In the 19th century, High Church members advocated changing the name, which they felt did not acknowledge the church's Catholic heritage. They were opposed by the church's evangelical wing, which felt the "Protestant Episcopal" label accurately reflected the Reformed character of Anglicanism. After 1877, alternative names were regularly proposed and rejected by the General Convention. A commonly proposed alternative was "the American Catholic Church". By the 1960s, opposition to dropping the word "Protestant" had largely subsided. In a 1964 General Convention compromise, priests and lay delegates suggested adding a preamble to the church's constitution, recognizing "The Episcopal Church" as a lawful alternate designation while still retaining the earlier name.
The 66th General Convention voted in 1979 to use the name "Episcopal Church" (dropping the adjective "Protestant") in the Oath of Conformity of the Declaration for Ordination. The evolution of the name can be seen in the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer (BCP). In the 1928 BCP, the title page said, "According to the use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America." In contrast, the change in self-identity can be seen in the title page of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which states, "'According to the use of The Episcopal Church."
The alternate name "Episcopal Church in the United States of America" (ECUSA) has never been an official name of the Episcopal Church but is commonly seen in English. Since several other churches in the Anglican Communion also use the name "Episcopal," some groups, for example Anglicans Online, add the phrase "in the United States of America." A common mistake by non-Episcopalians is over the use of the words "Episcopal" and "Episcopalians". An Episcopalian is a member of the Episcopal Church but it is not the Episcopalian Church. Likewise, a member is not called an Episcopal, like a Methodist is a member of the Methodist Church. Episcopalian is a noun; Episcopal is an adjective.
The full legal name of the national church corporate body is the "Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America", which was incorporated by the legislature of New York and established in 1821. The membership of the corporation "shall be considered as comprehending all persons who are members of the Church". This, however, should not be confused with the name of the church itself, as it is a distinct body relating to church governance.
The first parish was founded in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 under the charter of the Virginia Company of London. The circa 1639–43 tower of Jamestown Church is one of the oldest surviving Anglican church structures in the United States. The church itself is a modern reconstruction.
Although there was no American bishop in the colonial era, the Church of England had an official status in several colonies, which meant that tax money was paid to the local parish by the local government, and the parish handled some civic functions. The Church of England was designated the established church in Virginia in 1609, in New York in 1693, in Maryland in 1702, in South Carolina in 1706, in North Carolina in 1730, and in Georgia in 1758.
From 1635, the vestries and the clergy were loosely under the diocesan authority of the Bishop of London. After 1702, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) began missionary activity throughout the colonies. On the eve of Revolution about 400 independent congregations were reported throughout the colonies.
Embracing the symbols of the British presence in the American colonies, such as the monarchy, the episcopate, and even the language of the Book of Common Prayer, the Church of England almost drove itself to extinction during the upheaval of the American Revolution. More than any other denomination, the War of Independence internally divided both clergy and laity of the Church of England in America, and opinions covered a wide spectrum of political views: patriots, conciliators, and loyalists. While many Patriots were suspicious of Loyalism in the Church, about three-quarters of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were nominally Anglican laymen, including Thomas Jefferson, William Paca, and George Wythe. It was often assumed that persons considered "High Church" were Loyalists, whereas persons considered "Low Church" were Patriots; assumptions with possibly dangerous implications for the time.
Of the approximately three hundred clergy in the Church of England in America between 1776 and 1783, over 80 percent in New England, New York, and New Jersey were loyalists. This is in contrast to the less than 23 percent loyalist clergy in the four southern colonies. Many Church of England clergy remained loyalists as they took their two ordination oaths very seriously. Anglican clergy were obliged to swear allegiance to the king as well as to pray for the king, the royal family, and the British Parliament. In general, loyalist clergy stayed by their oaths and prayed for the king or else suspended services. By the end of 1776, some Anglican churches were closing. Anglican priests held services in private homes or lay readers who were not bound by the oaths held morning and evening prayer. During 1775 and 1776, the Continental Congress had issued decrees ordering churches to fast and pray on behalf of the patriots. Starting July 4, 1776, Congress and several states passed laws making prayers for the king and British Parliament acts of treason. The patriot clergy in the South were quick to find reasons to transfer their oaths to the American cause and prayed for the success of the Revolution. One precedent was the transfer of oaths during the Glorious Revolution in England. Most of the patriot clergy in the south were able to keep their churches open and services continued.
In the wake of the Revolution, American Episcopalians faced the task of preserving a hierarchical church structure in a society infused with republican values.
When the clergy of Connecticut elected Samuel Seabury as their bishop in 1783, he sought consecration in England. The Oath of Supremacy prevented Seabury's consecration in England, so he went to Scotland; the non-juring Scottish bishops there consecrated him in Aberdeen on November 14, 1784, making him, in the words of scholar Arthur Carl Piepkorn, "the first Anglican bishop appointed to minister outside the British Isles". On August 3, 1785, the first ordinations on American soil took place at Christ Church in Middletown.
By 1786, the church had succeeded in translating episcopacy to America and in revising the Book of Common Prayer to reflect American political realities. Later, through the efforts of Bishop Philander Chase (1775–1852) of Ohio, Americans successfully sought material assistance from England for the purpose of training Episcopal clergy. The development of the Protestant Episcopal Church provides an example of how Americans in the early republic maintained important cultural ties with England.
In 1787, two priests – William White of Pennsylvania and Samuel Provoost of New York – were consecrated as bishops by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, and the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the legal obstacles having been removed by the passage through Parliament of the Consecration of Bishops Abroad Act 1786. Thus there are two branches of Apostolic succession for the American bishops: through the non-juring bishops of Scotland that consecrated Samuel Seabury and through the English church that consecrated William White and Samuel Provoost. All bishops in the American Church are ordained by at least three bishops. One can trace the succession of each back to Seabury, White and Provoost. (See Succession of Bishops of the Episcopal Church.)
In 1789, representative clergy from nine dioceses met in Philadelphia to ratify the Church's initial constitution. The Episcopal Church was formally separated from the Church of England in 1789 so that clergy would not be required to accept the supremacy of the British monarch. A revised version of the Book of Common Prayer was written for the new church that same year. The fourth bishop of the Episcopal Church was James Madison, the first bishop of Virginia. Madison was consecrated in 1790 by the Archbishop of Canterbury and two other Church of England bishops. This third American bishop consecrated within the English line of succession occurred because of continuing unease within the Church of England over Seabury's nonjuring Scottish orders. The Episcopal Church thus became the first Anglican Province outside the British Isles.
On 17 September 1792, at the triennial General Convention (synod) of the Episcopal Church at Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City, Thomas John Claggett was elected the first Bishop of Maryland. He was the first bishop of the Episcopal Church ordained and consecrated in America and the fifth Bishop consecrated for the Episcopal Church in the United States.
In 1856 the first society for African Americans in the Episcopal Church was founded by James Theodore Holly. Named The Protestant Episcopal Society for Promoting The Extension of The Church Among Colored People, the society argued that blacks should be allowed to participate in seminaries and diocesan conventions. The group lost its focus when Holly emigrated to Haiti, but other groups followed after the Civil War. The current Union of Black Episcopalians traces its history to the society. Holly went on to found the Anglican Church in Haiti, where he became the first African-American bishop on November 8, 1874. As Bishop of Haiti, Holly was the first African American to attend the Lambeth Conference. However, he was consecrated by the American Church Missionary Society, an Evangelical Episcopal branch of the Church.
Episcopal missions chartered by African-Americans in this era were chartered as a Colored Episcopal Mission. All other missions (white) were chartered as an Organized Episcopal Mission. Many historically Black parishes are still in existence to date.
When the American Civil War began in 1861, Episcopalians in the South formed their own Protestant Episcopal Church. However, in the North the separation was never officially recognized. By May 16, 1866, the southern dioceses had rejoined the national church.
By the middle of the 19th century, evangelical Episcopalians disturbed by High Church Tractarianism, while continuing to work in interdenominational agencies, formed their own voluntary societies, and eventually, in 1874, a faction objecting to the revival of ritual practices established the Reformed Episcopal Church.
Samuel David Ferguson was the first black bishop consecrated by the Episcopal Church, the first to practice in the U.S. and the first black person to sit in the House of Bishops. Bishop Ferguson was consecrated on June 24, 1885, with the then-Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church acting as a consecrator.
During the Gilded Age, highly prominent laity such as banker J. P. Morgan, industrialist Henry Ford, and art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner played a central role in shaping a distinctive upper class Episcopalian ethos, especially with regard to preserving the arts and history. These philanthropists propelled the Episcopal Church into a quasi-national position of importance while at the same time giving the church a central role in the cultural transformation of the country. Another mark of influence is the fact that more than a quarter of all presidents of the United States have been Episcopalians (see religious affiliations of Presidents of the United States). It was during this period that the Book of Common Prayer was revised, first in 1892 and later in 1928.
At the 1958 General Convention, a coalition of liberal church members succeeded in passing a resolution recognizing "the natural dignity and value of every man, of whatever color or race, as created in the image of God". It called on Episcopalians "to work together, in charity and forbearance, towards the establishment ... of full opportunities in fields such as education, housing, employment and public accommodations". In response, the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity (ESCRU) was founded in December 1959 in order to eliminate racial, ethnic and class barriers within the Episcopal Church. Opposition from southern church leaders prevented the Episcopal Church from taking a strong stand on civil rights prior to 1963. One prominent opponent of the movement was Charles C. J. Carpenter, the bishop of Alabama. By 1963, many church leaders felt more comfortable speaking out in support of racial equality. That year, Presiding Bishop Arthur Lichtenberger wrote a pastoral letter urging Christians to work "across lines of racial separation, in a common struggle for justice", and the House of Bishops endorsed civil rights legislation.
In 1967, Lichtenberger's successor, John Hines led the Episcopal Church to implement the General Convention Special Program (GCSP). The Special Program was designed to redirect nine million dollars over a three-year period (a quarter of the church's operating budget at the time) to fund special grants for community organizations and grassroots efforts facilitating black empowerment in America's urban ghettos. The effectiveness of the GCSP was limited due to the reluctance of conservative bishops in southern dioceses, who objected to the awarding of grants to groups perceived as radical. The GCSP also drew opposition from the recently formed Foundation for Christian Theology, a conservative organization opposed to "involv[ing] the Church in the social, political, and economic activities of our times". The tension between liberal and conservative constituencies in the church erupted during the Special General Convention of 1969. The convention was disrupted by black militants who demanded that the Episcopal Church hear their concerns. When white deputies objected to allowing the militants a hearing, African-American deputies walked out of the convention. The Special General Convention also witnessed protests of the Vietnam War. During this time period, African-American clergy organized the Union of Black Episcopalians to achieve full inclusion of African Americans at all levels of the Episcopal Church 
The liberal policies of Presiding Bishop Hines and the General Conventions of 1967 and 1969 led to a conservative reaction. Facing declining membership and a one million dollar budget cut, the Special Program became an easy target for conservatives, who succeeded in drastically reducing the financial support for the program in 1970. It was finally ended in 1973 with little protest. A year later, Hines was succeeded by John M. Allin, the bishop of Mississippi and a conservative.
The first women were admitted as delegates to General Convention in 1970. In 1975, Vaughan Booker, who confessed to the murder of his wife and was sentenced to life in prison, was ordained to the diaconate in Graterford State Prison's chapel in Pennsylvania, after having repented of his sins, becoming a symbol of redemption and atonement.
In recent decades, the Episcopal Church, like other mainline churches, has experienced a decline in membership as well as internal controversy over women's ordination and the place of homosexuals in the church. Because of these and other controversial issues including abortion rights, individual members and clergy can and do frequently disagree with the stated position of the church's leadership.
In 1976, the General Convention adopted a new prayer book, which was a substantial revision and modernization of the previous 1928 edition. It incorporated many principles of the Roman Catholic Church's liturgical movement, which had been discussed at Vatican II. This version was adopted as the official prayer book in 1979 after an initial three-year trial use. Several conservative parishes, however, continued to use the 1928 version. The 1976 General Convention also passed a resolution calling for an end to apartheid in South Africa and in 1985 called for "dioceses, institutions, and agencies" to create equal opportunity employment and affirmative action policies to address any potential "racial inequities" in clergy placement.
On July 29, 1974, a group of women known as the Philadelphia Eleven were irregularly ordained as priests in the Episcopal Church by bishops Daniel Corrigan, Robert L. DeWitt, and Edward R. Welles, assisted by Antonio Ramos. On September 7, 1975, four more women (the "Washington Four") were irregularly ordained by retired bishop George W. Barrett. In the wake of the controversy over the ordination of the Philadelphia Eleven, the General Convention permitted the ordination of women in 1976 and recognized the ordinations of the 15 forerunners. The first women were canonically ordained to the priesthood in 1977. The first female bishop, Barbara Harris, was consecrated on February 11, 1989.
At the same time, there was still tolerance for those dioceses who opposed women's ordination. In 1994, the General Convention affirmed that there was value in the theological position that women should not be ordained. In 1997, however, the General Convention then determined that "the canons regarding the ordination, licensing, and deployment of women are mandatory" and required noncompliant dioceses to issue status reports on their progress towards full compliance.
In 2006, the General Convention elected Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop. She is the first and, currently, the only woman to become a primate in the Anglican Communion. Schori's election was controversial in the wider Anglican Communion because not all of the communion recognizes the ordination of women. .
At the time of the formation of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), three U.S. dioceses did not ordain women as priests or bishops. These were San Joaquin, Quincy, and Fort Worth. All dioceses now ordain women. With the October 16, 2010, ordination of Margaret Lee, in the Peoria-based Diocese of Quincy, Illinois, women have been ordained as priests in all 110 dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the United States.
The Episcopal Church affirmed at the 1976 General Convention that homosexuals are "children of God" who deserve acceptance and pastoral care from the church and equal protection under the law. Despite the affirmation of gay rights, the General Convention affirmed in 1991 that "physical sexual expression" is only appropriate within the monogamous, lifelong "union of husband and wife". The first openly homosexual priest, Ellen Barrett, was ordained in 1977. The first openly homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson, was elected in June 2003. Robinson's election caused a crisis in both the American church and the wider Anglican Communion. In October 2003, an emergency meeting of the Anglican primates (the heads of the Anglican Communion's 38 member churches) was convened. The meeting's final communiqué included the warning that if Robinson's consecration proceeded, it would "tear the fabric of the communion at its deepest level".
In 2009, the General Convention charged 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. It also gave bishops an option to provide "generous pastoral support", especially where civil authorities have legalized same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships.
On July 14, 2009, the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops voted that "any ordained ministry" is open to gay men and lesbians. The New York Times said the move was "likely to send shockwaves through the Anglican Communion."
This vote ended a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops passed in 2006 and passed in spite of Archbishop Rowan Williams's personal call at the start of the convention that, "I hope and pray that there won't be decisions in the coming days that will push us further apart."
After considerable internal debate, some members of a number of congregations and six dioceses left the Episcopal Church, most after Gene Robinson in 2003 became the church's first openly gay and non-celibate bishop.
Many of those who separated themselves have joined churches of the Continuing Anglican movement or advocated Anglican realignment, claiming alignment with overseas Anglican provinces including the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone of America and the Church of Nigeria.
Differences over social issues led to the formation of the Continuing Anglicanism and Anglican Realignment movements and the development of the Anglican Church in North America which has over 900 parishes. Episcopal Church leaders, particularly the presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, responded by taking a firm stance against the separatists, initiating litigation against departing dioceses and parishes that has cost all parties over $22 million. Litigation has largely centered around church properties, with the Episcopal leadership asserting ownership of buildings occupied by separatist congregations.
In a letter to the House of Bishops during summer 2009, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori instructed local dioceses not to sell parish property to departing groups. "We do not make settlements that encourage religious bodies who seek to replace The Episcopal Church".
Before Schori took this stand, prior Bishops had treated parish property disputes as internal diocesan matters that are "not subject to the review or oversight of the presiding bishop." One example was when then-Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold told the Diocese of Western Louisiana on May 11, 2006 that the national church involved itself in parish property disputes only upon invitation of the local bishop and diocesan standing committees. Schori's letter stated that her firm stance was the consensus of the Council of Advice and expressed hope that "those who have departed can gain clarity about their own identity".
As of 2013[update], the Episcopal Church reports 2,009,084 baptized members. The majority of members are in the United States, where the Church has 1,866,758 members, a decrease of 27,423 persons (-1.4 percent) from 2012. Outside of the U.S. the Church has 142,326 members, a decrease of 30,203 persons (-17.5 percent) from 2012. Total average Sunday attendance (ASA) for 2013 was 657,102 (623,691 in the U.S. and 33,411 outside the U.S.), a decrease of 3.4 percent from 2012.
According to data collected in 2000, the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Virginia have the highest rates of adherents per capita, and states along the East Coast generally have a higher number of adherents per capita than in other parts of the country. New York was the state with the largest total number of adherents, over 200,000. In 2013, the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti was the largest single diocese, with 84,301 baptized members, which constitute slightly over half of the church's foreign membership.
The Episcopal Church experienced notable growth in the first half of the 20th century, but like many mainline churches, it has had a decline in membership in more recent decades. Membership grew from 1.1 million members in 1925 to a peak of over 3.4 million members in the mid-1960s. Between 1970 and 1990, membership declined from about 3.2 million to about 2.4 million. Once changes in how membership is counted are taken into consideration, the Episcopal Church's membership numbers were broadly flat throughout the 1990s, with a slight growth in the first years of the 21st century.   A loss of 115,000 members was reported for the years 2003–05, which has been attributed in part to controversy concerning ordination of homosexuals to the priesthood and the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. Other theories about the decline in membership include a failure to sufficiently reach beyond ethnic barriers in an increasingly diverse society, and the low fertility rates prevailing among the predominant ethnic groups traditionally belonging to the church. In 1965, there were 880,000 children in Episcopal Sunday School programs. By 2001, the number had declined to 297,000.
Episcopalians tend to be considerably wealthier and better educated than most other religious groups in America, and are disproportionately represented in the upper reaches of American business, law and politics, especially the Republican Party. A study by Fortune magazine found that one of every five of the country's largest businesses was run by an Episcopalian. Of the country's largest and most powerful banks, one in three was headed by an Episcopalian. Numbers of the most wealthy and affluent American families as the Vanderbilts and Astors, Whitneys and Morgans and Harrimans are Episcopalians. The Episcopal Church also has the highest number of graduate and post-graduate degrees per capita of any other Christian denomination in the United States, as well as the most high-income earners.
As its name suggests, the Episcopal Church, as are other Anglican churches, is governed according to episcopal polity with its own system of canon law. This means that the church is organized into dioceses led by bishops in consultation with representative bodies. It is a unitary body, in that the power of the General Convention is not limited by the individual dioceses. The church has, however, a highly decentralized structure and characteristics of a confederation.
At the local level, there are 6,622 Episcopal congregations, each of which elects a vestry or bishop's committee. Subject to the approval of its diocesan bishop, the vestry of each parish elects a priest, called the rector, who has spiritual jurisdiction in the parish and selects assistant clergy, both deacons and priests. (There is a difference between vestry and clergy elections – clergy are ordained members usually selected from outside the parish, whereas any member in good standing of a parish is eligible to serve on the vestry.) The diocesan bishop, however, appoints the clergy for all missions and may choose to do so for non-self-supporting parishes.
The middle judicatory consists of a diocese headed by a bishop who is assisted by a standing committee. The bishop and standing committee are elected by the diocesan convention whose members are selected by the congregations. The election of a bishop requires the consent of a majority of standing committees and diocesan bishops. Conventions meet annually to consider legislation (such as revisions to the diocesan constitution and canons) and speak for the diocese. Dioceses are organized into nine provinces. Each province has a synod and a mission budget, but it has no authority over its member dioceses.
There are 110 dioceses in the United States, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, Venezuela and the Virgin Islands. The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe and the Navajoland Area Mission are jurisdictions similar to a diocese. The Presiding Bishop is one of three Anglican primates who together exercise metropolitan jurisdiction over the Episcopal Church of Cuba, which is an extraprovincial diocese in the Anglican Communion.
The highest legislative body of the Episcopal Church is the triennial General Convention, consisting of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. All active (includes diocesan, coadjutor, suffragan, and Assistant Bishops) and retired bishops make up the over 300 members of the House of Bishops. Diocesan conventions elect over 800 representatives (each diocese elects four laity and four clergy) to the House of Deputies. The House of Deputies elects a president and vice-president to preside at meetings. General Convention enacts two types of legislation. The first type is the rules by which the church is governed as contained in the Constitution and Canons; the second type are broad guidelines on church policy called resolutions. Either house may propose legislation. The House of Deputies only meets as a full body once every three years; however, the House of Bishops meets regularly throughout the triennium between conventions.
The real work of General Convention is done by interim bodies, the most powerful being the Executive Council, which oversees the work of the national church during the triennium. The council has 40 members; 20 are directly elected by the General Convention, 18 are elected by the nine provinces, and the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies are ex officio members. Other interim bodies include a number of standing commissions which study and draft policy proposals for consideration and report back to General Convention. Each standing commission consists of three bishops, three priests or deacons, and six laypersons. Bishops are appointed by the Presiding Bishop while the other clergy and laypersons are appointed by the president of the House of Deputies.
The Presiding Bishop is elected from and by the House of Bishops and confirmed by the House of Deputies for a nine-year term. The Presiding Bishop is the chief pastor and primate of the Episcopal Church and is charged with providing leadership in the development of the Church's program as well as speaking on behalf of the Church. The Presiding Bishop does not possess a territorial see; since the 1970s, however, the Presiding Bishop has enjoyed extraordinary jurisdiction (metropolitical authority) and has authority to visit dioceses for sacramental and preaching ministry, for consulting bishops, and for related purposes. The Presiding Bishop chairs the House of Bishops as well as the Executive Council of the General Convention. In addition, the Presiding Bishop directs the Episcopal Church Center, the national administrative headquarters of the denomination. Located at 815 Second Avenue, New York City, New York, the center is often referred to by Episcopalians simply as "815".
Varying degrees of liturgical practice prevail within the church, and one finds a variety of worship styles: traditional hymns and anthems, more modern religious music, Anglican chant, liturgical dance, charismatic prayer, and vested clergy of varying degrees. As varied as services can be, the central binding aspect is the Book of Common Prayer or supplemental liturgies.
Often a congregation or a particular service will be referred to as Low Church or High Church. In theory:
A majority of Episcopal services could be considered to be "High Church" while still falling somewhat short of a typical Anglo-Catholic "very" high church service. In contrast, "Low Church" services are somewhat rarer. However, while some Episcopalians refer to their churches by these labels, often there is overlapping, and the basic rites do not greatly differ. There are also variations that blend elements of all three and have their own unique features, such as New England Episcopal churches, which have elements drawn from Puritan practices, combining the traditions of "high church" with the simplicity of "low church". Typical parish worship features Bible readings from the Old Testament as well as from both the Epistles and the Gospels of the New Testament. Some latitude in selecting Bible readings is allowed, but every service includes at least a passage from one of the Gospels, as well as the praying of the Lord's Prayer.
In the Eucharist or Holy Communion service, the Book of Common Prayer specifies that bread and wine are consecrated for consumption by the people. A valid communion is made in either species, so those wishing for whatever reason to avoid alcohol can decline the cup and still make a valid communion. A Eucharist can be part of a wedding to celebrate a sacramental marriage and of a funeral as a thank offering (sacrifice) to God and for the comfort of the mourners.
The veneration of saints in the Episcopal Church is a continuation of an ancient tradition from the early Church which honors important people of the Christian faith. The usage of the term "saint" is similar to Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Those inclined to the Anglo-Catholic traditions may explicitly invoke saints as intercessors in prayer.
The Episcopal Church publishes its own Book of Common Prayer (BCP) (similar to other Anglican prayerbooks), containing most of the worship services (or liturgies) used in the Episcopal Church. Because of its widespread use in the church, the BCP is both a reflection of and a source of theology for Episcopalians.
The full name of the BCP is: The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with The Psalter or Psalms of David According to the use of The Episcopal Church.
Previous American BCPs were issued in 1789, 1892, and 1928. (A proposed BCP was issued in 1786 but not adopted.) The BCP is in the public domain; however, any new revisions of the BCP are copyrighted until they are approved by the General Convention. After this happens, the BCP is placed into the public domain.
The current edition dates from 1979 and was marked by a linguistic modernization and, in returning to ancient Christian tradition, it restored the Eucharist as the central liturgy of the church. The 1979 version reflects the theological and worship changes of the ecumenical reforms of the 1960s and 1970s. On the whole, it changed the theological emphasis of the church to be more Catholic in nature. In 1979, the Convention adopted the revision as the "official" BCP and required churches using the old (1928) prayer book to also use the 1979 revision. There was enough strife in implementing and adopting the 1979 BCP that an apology was issued at the 2000 General Convention for any who were "offended or alienated during the time of liturgical transition to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer". The 2000 General Convention also authorized the occasional use of some parts of the 1928 book, under the direction of the bishop.
The 1979 edition contains a provision for the use of "traditional" (Elizabethan) language under various circumstances not directly provided for in the book, and the Anglican Service Book was produced accordingly, as "a traditional language adaptation of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer together with the Psalter or Psalms of David and Additional Devotions."
The full catechism is included in the Book of Common Prayer and is posted on the Episcopal website. The threefold sources of authority in Anglicanism are scripture, tradition, and reason. These three sources uphold and critique each other in a dynamic way.
The Episcopal Church follows the via media or "middle way" between Protestant and Roman Catholic doctrine and practices: that is both Catholic and Reformed. Although many Episcopalians identify with this concept, those whose convictions lean toward either evangelicalism or Anglo-Catholicism may not.
A broad spectrum of theological views is represented within the Episcopal Church. Some Episcopal theologians hold evangelical positions, affirming the authority of scripture over all. The Episcopal Church website glossary defines the sources of authority as a balance between scripture, tradition, and reason. These three are characterized as a "three-legged stool" which will topple if any one overbalances the other. It also notes
This balance of scripture, tradition and reason is traced to the work of Richard Hooker, a 16th-century apologist. In Hooker's model, scripture is the primary means of arriving at doctrine and things stated plainly in scripture are accepted as true. Issues that are ambiguous are determined by tradition, which is checked by reason. Noting the role of personal experience in Christian life, some Episcopalians have advocated following the example of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Methodist theology by thinking in terms of a "Fourth Leg" of "experience." This understanding is highly dependent on the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher.
A public example of this struggle between different Christian positions in the church has been the 2003 consecration of the Right Reverend Gene Robinson, an openly gay man living with a long-term partner. The acceptance/rejection of his consecration is motivated by different views on the understanding of scripture. This struggle has some members concerned that the church may not continue its relationship with the larger Anglican Church. Others, however, view this pluralism as an asset, allowing a place for both sides to balance each other.
Comedian and Episcopalian Robin Williams once described the Episcopal faith (and, in a performance in London, specifically the Church of England) as "Catholic Lite – same rituals, half the guilt."
In 1991, the Convention recommended parity in pay and benefits between clergy and lay employees in equivalent positions. Several times between 1979 and 2003, the Convention expressed concern over affordable housing and supported the church working to provide affordable housing. In 1982 and 1997, the Convention reaffirmed the Church's commitment to eradicating poverty and malnutrition and challenged parishes to increase ministries to the poor. The Convention urged the church in 1997 and 2000 to promote living wages for all. In 2003, the Convention urged legislators to raise the US minimum wage and to establish a living wage with health benefits as the national standard.
Since December 2012, the Episcopal Church has had an official liturgy for the blessing of same-sex relationships. This liturgy is not a marriage rite, but the blessing includes an exchange of vows and the couple agrees to enter into a lifelong committed relationship. The blessing of same-sex relationships is not uniform throughout the Episcopal Church. Bishops determine whether churches and priests within their dioceses are permitted to use the liturgy. Also, no Episcopal priest can be required to perform a blessing ceremony, even in dioceses where blessings are permitted. The Episcopal Church also opposes any state or federal constitutional amendments designed to prohibit same-sex marriages or civil unions. Gay and lesbian individuals are eligible to be ordained.
The Episcopal Church's official position on the controversy over abortion is that while a woman has the right to terminate her pregnancy; nevertheless, it does not approve of the use of abortion as a means of birth control or family planning. Abortion is condoned only in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, or when a mother’s physical or mental health is at risk. The Episcopal Church disapproves of assisted suicide and other forms of euthanasia, but it does teach that it is permissible to withdraw medical treatment, such as artificial nutrition and hydration, when such treatment imposes more burdens than benefits to an individual.
In 1861, a pamphlet titled A Scriptural, Ecclesiastical, and Historical View of Slavery written by John Henry Hopkins attempted to justify slavery based on the New Testament and gave a clear insight into the Episcopal Church's involvement in slavery. Bishop Hopkins Letter on Slavery Ripped Up and his Misuse of the Sacred Scriptures Exposed, written by G.W. Hyer in 1863, opposed the points mentioned in Hopkins' pamphlet and revealed a startling divide in the Episcopal Church over the issue of slavery. In 1991, the General Convention declared "the practice of racism is sin" and in 2006 a unanimous House of Bishops endorsed Resolution A123 apologizing for complicity in the institution of slavery and silence over "Jim Crow" laws, segregation, and racial discrimination.
SIM is the only organization raising funds on a national basis for Episcopal seminarian support. SIM's founding purpose in 1857 – "to find suitable persons for the Episcopal ministry and aid them in acquiring a thorough education." SIM has awarded scholarships to qualified, full-time seminary students.
Episcopal Relief and Development is the international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church of the United States. It helps to rebuild after disasters and aims to empower people by offering lasting solutions that fight poverty, hunger and disease. Episcopal Relief and Development programs focus on alleviating hunger, improving food supply, creating economic opportunities, strengthening communities, promoting health, fighting disease, responding to disasters, and rebuilding communities.
There are about 60 trust funds administered by the Episcopal Church which offer scholarships to young people affiliated with the church. Qualifying considerations often relate to historical missionary work of the church among American Indians and African-Americans, as well as work in China and other foreign missions. There are special programs for both American Indians and African-Americans interested in training for the ministry.
Like the other churches of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church has entered into full communion with the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, the Philippine Independent Church, and the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar. The Episcopal Church is also in a relationship of full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church in America.
The Episcopal Church maintains ecumenical dialogs with the United Methodist Church and the Moravian Church in America, and participates in pan-Anglican dialogs with the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Roman Catholic Church. In 2006 a relation of interim Eucharistic sharing was inaugurated with the United Methodist Church, a step that may ultimately lead to full communion.
Historically Anglican churches have had strong ecumenical ties with the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the Episcopal Church particularly with the Russian Orthodox Church, but relations in more recent years have been strained by the ordination of women and the ordination of Gene Robinson to the episcopate. A former relation of full communion with the Polish National Catholic Church (once a part of the Union of Utrecht) was broken off by the PNCC in 1976 over the ordination of women.
The Episcopal Church was a founding member of the Consultation on Church Union and participates in its successor, Churches Uniting in Christ. The Episcopal Church is a founding member of the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, and the new Christian Churches Together in the USA. Dioceses and parishes are frequently members of local ecumenical councils as well.
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