Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Episcopal Church?

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The Episcopal Church (TEC) is the American branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion.  It came into existence as an independent denomination after the American Revolution.  Today it has over 2 million members in the United States, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Taiwan, and parts of Europe, all of which are under the jurisdiction of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori.

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. 

What is the Anglican Communion?

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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.  Together they make up the Anglican Communion, a body headed spiritually by the Archbishop of Canterbury and having some 80 million members in over 165 countries.

How did the Episcopal Church get started?

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There were Anglicans in what was to become the United States beginning with the establishment of the first English colony at Jamestown.  Following the American Revolution, some reorganization was necessary for those Anglicans who chose to remain in the new country, as the Church of England is a state church which recognizes the monarch as her secular head (obviously, not a popular idea in post-Revolutionary America!).  Thus the “Protestant” Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. was born. The word “Protestant”, used to distinguish the Episcopal Church from the Roman Catholic Church, which is also “episcopal” in its organization, has since been dropped from the official title.  There were some difficult periods in the early days of the church, when bishops of the established Church of England would not consecrate new American bishops unless they recognized the reigning monarch as the head of the church.  However, those issues were soon overcome and the Episcopal Church is now fully “in communion” with the Church of England, and with other Anglican churches throughout the world.

What does “Episcopal” mean?

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“Episcopos” is the Greek word for “overseer” or “bishop.”  Thus “Episcopal” means, “governed by bishops.”  The Episcopal Church maintains the three-fold order of ministry as handed down by the Apostles—deacons, priests and bishops—in direct descent, via the laying on of hands, from the original Apostles.  By the way, “Episcopal” is an adjective: “I belong to the Episcopal Church.”  The noun is “Episcopalian”: “I am an Episcopalian.” 

Is the Episcopal Church Protestant or Catholic?

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Both.  Neither.  Either.  Anglicanism is often referred to as a “bridge tradition.”  When the Church of England separated itself from Rome, it did not consider itself to be a “Protestant” tradition.  Rather, it saw itself returning to the original organization of the church, with local/national congregations organized under the rule of their own bishops.  As the church evolved in England, certain elements of the Reformation (such as worship in the vernacular, an emphasis on Scriptural authority, and a broader view of what happens during the consecration of the Eucharist) became a part of its tradition.  In an attempt to reconcile the views of the Reformers with the tradition of the Catholic Church, the Anglican tradition became a home for both.  Thus you will find very traditional (“high church” or “Anglo-Catholic”) parishes and very reformed (“low church” or Evangelical) parishes throughout the Anglican Communion.  Most parishes probably fall in the middle.

Wasn’t the Church of England founded by Henry VIII?

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Not entirely.  While Henry VIII’s desire for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was, in a manner of speaking, the straw that broke the camel’s back (and, for what it’s worth, Henry’s request wasn’t out of line with church laws of his day . . . but that’s another story), the trend toward separation from Rome had been building for quite some time in England, which had never fully embraced the rule of the papacy.

Isn’t the Archbishop of Canterbury the Anglican Pope?

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No, he’s not.  We don’t have a pope.  The Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual leader of the Church of England, and is considered “first among equals” by the rest of the Anglican Communion.  He is highly respected, but he does not have the same authority over the churches of the Anglican Communion that the Pope has over the Roman Catholic Church.

How is the church governed?

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In an established, self-sustaining congregation, or “parish”, day-to-day matters are handled by a panel of elected lay people called a “vestry.”  The head priest, or “rector”, handles spiritual and worship-related matters, and usually serves in an advisory capacity on church committees.  Depending on the size of the congregation, the rector may have one or several ordained assistants (sometimes referred to as “curates”).  Often there will be other lay or ordained people in charge of specific areas, such as a music director who coordinates worship music for the congregation, or a “sexton” who maintains the church buildings and grounds).

Churches that are not self-sustaining are called “missions.”  Often they are newly formed congregations, or congregations with a very small membership.  These churches are administered by the bishop’s office.  The head priest of a mission is called a “vicar” because he or she serves as the bishop’s representative.

All individual congregations are part of a larger geographical area called a “diocese,” which is lead by a bishop.  Some churches in the Anglican Communion also have larger administrative districts called “archdioceses,” which are comprised of several dioceses and are administered by “archbishops.”  The Episcopal Church (TEC) does not have archdioceses or archbishops.  Instead we give primacy to a “Presiding Bishop,” who is elected to serve a nine-year term.

TEC ShieldWhat is the significance of the Episcopal Seal (“The Shield”) and Flag?

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This symbol, which you will see at virtually every Episcopal Church, is the official “logo” of TEC, and depicts our history.  Its colors are taken from the flags of the US and the UK.  The red Cross of St. George on a white field is symbolic of the Church of England.  The blue field in the upper left corner features a Cross of St. Andrew, in recognition of the fact that the first American bishop was consecrated in Scotland.  This cross is made up of nine crosslets, which represent the original nine dioceses that met in Philadelphia in 1789 to form the Protestant Episcopal Church of the U.S.A.

ABOUT EPISCOPAL WORSHIP

What should I wear to an Episcopal Service?

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What you wear is entirely up to you.  Many people like to dress up to go to church.  This is more out of tradition than necessity.  You will see people in dresses and suits, and in shorts and jeans.  The important thing is that you are at church, praising God . . . NOT what kind of clothes you are wearing!

What basic things should I expect upon first visiting an Episcopal service?

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Upon entering, you will be welcomed by a greeter or usher.  If you have any initial questions, this is the person to ask.  The usher will give you the day’s service bulletin.  After this, you may take a seat anywhere you like . . . there are no assigned seats!

The Episcopal Church uses two main books at any given service.  Both are found at your seat.  These books are the red Book of Common Prayer and the blue 1982 Hymnal.  Page numbers will be announced.  At Christ Church, we use a service bulletin with which you can follow the entire service.  You may ask, “Where is the Bible?”  All services include scripture readings from the Bible, and the readings are found in your service bulletin, to make it easier to follow along and to limit the number of books we have to juggle.

At Christ church, from Labor Day until Memorial Day, following the 8:00 AM service, you are welcome to join us for our 9:00 AM coffee hour and Adult Forum, a presentation on a matter of faith. After the second service, be sure to come to cider in the hall or lemonade on the lawn, depending on the time of year.

When do I stand, sit, or kneel?

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Specific instructions are in the rubrics (directions) of the Book of Common Prayer and the Sunday service bulletin; but in general, we stand when we sing, praise, or read the Gospel; we sit during all other Bible readings, and during the Sermon; and we kneel to pray. During the blessing of the bread and wine at communion (The Eucharistic Prayer), either standing or kneeling is appropriate. If you’re not sure, just follow the example of the people around you.  If you are unable to stand or kneel for long periods of time, please feel free to remain seated.

Do I have to pay anything to go to church?

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There is no fee to attend church, but an Offertory is taken as part of the service.  This “passing of the plate” and our annual pledges are what keep the church alive.  This money goes towards maintaining our facilities, paying our clergy and staff, and helps support our charitable and outreach mission.  To learn more about pledging at Christ Church, you can click on this link: Stewardship & Pledging where you can also complete and submit pledge card.  Or, contact the parish office at 410-745-9076, or info@christstmichaels.org.

Is there anything in the Episcopal service which may embarrass me?

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During the announcements, the clergy may ask newcomers to stand so they may be welcomed by the parish, but you will not otherwise be singled out or asked to come forward or speak up for any reason at an Episcopal Service.

What is “The Book of Common Prayer”?

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Contrary to what some believe, The Book of Common Prayer (the “Prayer Book”) is not an “Anglican Bible.”  We love it, use it and depend on it, but it is not Scripture (though it does contain quite a lot of Scripture), and we do not view it or use it as such.   The first Book of Common Prayer was produced by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1549, and revised by Cranmer in 1552. Further revisions occurred in 1559 and 1662; the latter revision is still used as the official Prayer Book of the Church of England, and is considered a literary classic among scholars.  The book was intended to facilitate worship in English rather than Latin, and to bring the rites of the church together into one book for use by both clergy and laity. Each national church in the Anglican Communion has its own adaptation of the Prayer Book. The American version, used by most churches in TEC, was last revised in 1979.  In the Prayer Book, you will find the orders of service for the various rites of the church, the Daily Office, prayers for use within the context of the liturgy and prayers for use in home devotions, the Lectionary (i.e., the Scriptural readings to be used in corporate worship, and organized so as to carry the congregation through the entire Bible in a three-year period), the Psalter (Psalms), the Calendar of the Church Year, The Outline of the Faith (Catechism) and various historical documents.

How do Episcopalians worship?

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If you are familiar with Roman Catholic or Lutheran services, you will find Episcopal services remarkably similar.  The central rite is the Service of Holy Eucharist (also known as “Communion,” or “The Lord’s Supper”), analogous to the Roman Catholic Mass (and referred to as “Mass” by some Episcopalians).  The first part of the liturgy (“The Liturgy of the Word”) consists of prayers, scripture readings and a sermon or homily. This is followed by an Affirmation of Faith (The Nicene Creed), the Prayers of the People, Confession of Sin, Absolution, and the Exchange of Peace.  The second part of the liturgy (“The Liturgy of the Eucharist”) begins with the offerings of the congregation, then proceeds with the Eucharistic Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, Consecration of the Elements (bread and wine), Communion, the Post-Communion Prayer, Blessing and Dismissal.  Two Eucharistic Rites are commonly used by the Episcopal Church:  At Christ Church, we use the more traditional Rite I at the 8:00 service and the modern language and less-formal Rite II at the second service (9:30 or 10:15 depending on the time of year).

Does the church celebrate other rites?

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Other public rites of the church include Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer and Evensong or Evening Prayer (held at Christ Church the first Sunday of the month from October through April), Baptism (held during Sunday services at specified times during the year; speak with the clergy for more information), Confirmation/Reception (held during the main Sunday service during the Bishop’s annual visitation), Stations of the Cross (held on Good Friday) and Ordinations (these are scheduled by the bishop’s office, and held at various churches throughout the diocese).

How can I learn more about Episcopal worship practices?

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The best way to learn more about our worship practices is to look through a copy of the Book of Common Prayer.  These can typically be found in the pews in every Episcopal Church, and no one is likely to mind if you drop by to peruse a copy.  Copies can also often be found in libraries and bookstores. 

I’m planning on visiting an Episcopal Church. May I take communion?

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All baptized Christians, regardless of denomination, may take communion in the Episcopal Church.  However, your own denomination may have some restrictions on where you may or may not communicate, so it would be wise to check with a clergy person in your church first. 

I am handicapped and am unable to walk to the Altar to receive communion.  Can I still receive communion?

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Of course you can!  Simply tell the usher or someone near you who is going to the Altar to have a clergy person bring the Elements (the bread and the wine) to you.

What are the sacraments of the Episcopal Church?

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Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Holy Matrimony, Reconciliation (“confession”), Ordination and Unction of the Sick.  Of these, Baptism and the Eucharist are considered “necessary” sacraments…the others are “conditional” sacraments (i.e., they are not required of all persons, but apply in certain situations).  “Sacraments” are defined as “Outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” 

Does the Episcopal Church baptize infants?

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Yes.  We believe that the grace conferred by the Sacrament of Baptism is not and should not be reserved only for “informed believers.” 

At what age may a child take communion?

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A baptized child may take communion at any age.  We do not believe that a certain “understanding” of the proceedings is necessary for the sacrament to be valid.  The decision of when to take communion is left up to the child and his/her parents.

Does the Episcopal Church ordain women to the clergy?

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Yes. The Episcopal Church has ordained women to all orders of ministry since 1976.

How do I join the Episcopal Church? Do I need to be confirmed?

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If you are coming from a church in the Apostolic Succession i.e. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Lutheran, and have already been confirmed, you would be “received” by the bishop of your diocese, in a ceremony that normally takes place during the bishop’s visit to your church. If you are coming from a different tradition, confirmation would be appropriate.  Most churches including Christ Church hold “inquirer’s courses” for people interested in reception or confirmation prior to the bishop’s visitation.  Speak with one of the clergy, if you are interested.  Note that confirmation or reception is NOT necessary before you can take communion, or participate in the life of the church.

I have already been baptized in another church.  If I become an Episcopalian, do I need to be re-baptized?

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No.  “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”  Once you have been baptized with water, in the name of the Trinity, you have been received by adoption into the family of Christ (not into a particular denomination) and that need not…in fact, should not…be repeated.  This is true even if you were a tiny baby when you were baptized.  If you wish to make a public, adult, affirmation of faith, you may choose to be confirmed, if appropriate (see above).  You also always have the option of publicly reaffirming your baptismal vows, even after confirmation, if you so choose . . . but this is a highly personal matter, and not in any way required.