The following information is taken from:
Questions & Answers About the Episcopal Church
By the Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara
Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries
Episcopal Church Center
815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017
Many of the questions and answers that follow are based on the Episcopal
Catechism, or Outline of the Faith, which can be found on pages 843-862 of
the Book of Common Prayer (Church Hymnal Corporation, 1979). Please note
that the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) states that the catechism “is a
commentary on the creeds, but is not meant to be a complete statement of
belief and practices; rather, it is a point of departure for the teacher” (BCP,
p. 844). In that same spirit, the responses to the questions that follow are
not offered as definitive answers, but rather as general background
information on the traditions and customs of the Episcopal Church, meant to
encourage further discussion.
Is the Episcopal Church known by any other names? Yes, the Domestic
and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) is the legal, corporate name of the
Episcopal Church. When the church was incorporated 1821 its full legal name
was the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal
Church in the United States of America, but that name was changed when
the church became international; the Episcopal Church is now in 16 nations. The church has also gone by several acronyms in the recent past, including ECUSA (pronounced “ee-KYOO-sah”), which stands for the Episcopal Church in the USA, as well as TEC for The Episcopal Church.
Where did the Episcopal Church originate? Early English settlers
established the Church of England in the original colonies of the United
States, and in 1789, after the American Revolution, an assembly met in
Philadelphia to unify all Anglicans in the United States into a single national
church. A constitution was adopted along with a set of canonical laws, and
the English Book of Common Prayer of 1662 was revised, principally by
removing the prayer for the English monarch. Samuel Seabury was ordained
in Scotland as the first American bishop.
Why was the name “Episcopal Church” chosen? The Greek word
episcopos means “bishop” or “overseer,” which is used because the Episcopal
Church is governed by bishops.
Who is the head of the Episcopal Church? The General Convention,
comprised of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, is the
governing and legislative body of the Episcopal Church. The Presiding Bishop
is the Chief Pastor and Primate of the Church. The current Presiding Bishop is
the Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry.
What is a primate? A primate is the chief bishop or archbishop of one of
the thirty-eight churches of the Anglican Communion.
What is the Anglican Communion? An international association composed
of over 80 million people in 44 regional or national churches all in full
communion with the Church of England and, more specifically, with the
Archbishop of Canterbury.
Who is the current Archbishop of Canterbury? The Most Rev. and Rt.
Hon. Justin Welby is the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. He shares the primacy of the Church of England with the Archbishop of York.
What are the four Instruments of Communion in the Anglican
Communion? In the Anglican Communion, there is no one single
authoritative leader. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the symbolic head of
the Communion, the Focus for Unity among the other three Instruments of
Communion, and the “first among equals” among the Primates of the
Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is governed by three
consultative and collaborative international bodies: the Anglican Consultative
Council, the Primates Meeting, and the Lambeth Conference. Together with
the Archbishop of Canterbury, these four institutions function as the
Instruments of Communion (or Instruments of Unity) of the Anglican
What does theology mean? The Greek word theos means “God,” and logos
means “study,” so theology means, literally, the study of God.
What is the three-legged stool of faith in the Episcopal Church?
Scripture, tradition, and reason. The source of this metaphor is generally
attributed to the Rev. Richard Hooker (1554-1600), an Oxford University
scholar who wrote: “What Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first
place both of credit and obedience are due; the next whereunto, is what any
man can necessarily conclude by force of Reason; after this, the voice of the
church succeedeth.” Some scholars argue that the modern interpretation of a
“three-legged stool” is a misunderstanding of the passage; that in fact,
Hooker explained the three components as being hierarchical, not equal.
What do we mean by “scripture”? The Holy Scriptures, commonly called
the Bible, are the books of the Old and New Testaments (BCP, p. 853).
What do we mean by “tradition”? The Episcopal Church has inherited
ancient traditions from apostolic times, as well as historical customs, laws,
practices, and values that have become part of the common life of the
What do we mean by “reason”? Reason is both the intellect and the
experience of God that illuminates scriptures and tradition as they relate to
our common lives, ministries, and contemporary situations.
What are the Four Marks of the Christian Church? The Four Marks of the
church are expressed in the Nicene Creed: “We believe in  one,  holy,
 catholic, and  apostolic Church” (BCP, p. 358).
What does “via media” mean? Via media is Latin for “middle road,” which
refers to the tendency of Anglican theology to strike a middle ground
between reformed Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.
What are the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed? These two creeds
state the Episcopal Church’s basic beliefs about God. The Apostles’ Creed
(BCP, p. 96) is the ancient creed of baptism and is used in the church’s daily
worship to recall our Baptismal Covenant. The Nicene Creed (BCP, p. 358) is
the creed of the universal church and is used at the Eucharist.
What is the Holy Trinity? The Holy Trinity is one God: Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit (BCP, 852).
MISSION AND MINISTRY
What is the mission of the Episcopal Church? To “restore all people to
unity with God and each other in Christ” (BCP, p. 855).
What are the Five Marks of Mission adopted by the Episcopal Church in 2009?
1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom;
2. To teach, baptize, and nurture new believers;
3. To respond to human need by loving service;
4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society;
5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew
the life of the earth.
What are the four orders of ministry in the Episcopal Church? The four
orders are: bishops, priests, deacons, and lay leaders. “Bishop” is from the
Greek word episcopos, or “overseer”; “priest” is from the Greek word
presbyteros, or “elder”; “deacon” is from the Greek word diakonos, or
“intermediary”; and “lay” comes from the Greek laos, which means “the
What is “the priesthood of all believers”? This phrase is based in part on
1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him
who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The priesthood of
all believers refers to the belief that all baptized Christians have been given
direct access to God, just as a priest would have, and that God is equally
accessible to all the faithful, and every Christian has equal potential to
minister for God.
How does the church pursue its mission? The church pursues its mission
as it prays and worships, proclaims the gospel, and promotes justice, peace,
and love (BCP, p. 855).
What is the duty of all Christians? 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 (BCP, p. 856).
What is the Episcopal Church’s main guide to worship and liturgy?
The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is the official book of worship of the
Episcopal Church. The BCP provides liturgical forms, prayers, and instructions
so that all members and orders of the Episcopal Church may appropriately
share in common worship.
What are the major gestures or actions in the Episcopal liturgy?
• Standing to praise God
• Sitting to listen to God’s Word
• Kneeling to pray for the church and the world
• Bowing in reverence
• Lifting hands in prayer, or “orans”
• Making the sign of cross, usually with the right thumb on the forehead
or with the right hand on the forehead, chest, and shoulders
• Genuflecting, or bending the knee in reverence
• Giving and receiving a kiss of peace, a sign of greeting and
• Elevating the bread and wine during the Eucharist, offering them to
God or showing them to the people
• Extending hands in greeting (e.g., when the priest says, “The Lord be
• Laying on of hands or extending them over people as a sign of blessing
and authorization at baptism, confirmation, ordination, and other
What is the chief worship service in the Episcopal Church? The Holy
Eucharist, also known as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Mass,
Divine Liturgy, and the Great Offering (BCP, p. 859).
What are the liturgical seasons? The Christian calendar divides the year
into six liturgical seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and
Pentecost. The season after the Day of Pentecost is often called “Ordinary
Time,” although this term is unofficial and does not appear in the Book of
Common Prayer. Every season has a designated color, which is displayed on
clergy vestments and altar veils during that season.
• White signifies purity and joy and is used during Christmas and Easter,
and on All Saints’ Day and other joyous occasions such as weddings.
White is also used during funerals because death is viewed in relation
to Christ’s resurrection.
• Purple and blue signify penitence and patient waiting and are used
during Advent and Lent. These colors also suggest royalty, indicating
that during Advent we await the return of Jesus Christ, the King of
kings and the Lord of Lords.
• Red symbolizes the fire of the Holy Spirit and is used on Pentecost
Sunday and for the ordination of bishops, priests, and deacons. It also
signifies the blood of Christ and is used in the festival of martyrs.
• Green suggests hope and growth and is used during the weeks after
Epiphany, Trinity Sunday, and Pentecost.
THE WORD OF GOD
What is a lectionary? A lectionary is a table of readings from Scripture
appointed to be read at public worship. Although there are several
lectionaries contained in the Book of Common Prayer, the Episcopal Church
now follows the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), which was officially
adopted at General Convention in 2006. The Revised Common Lectionary,
like the lectionaries in the Book of Common Prayer, is a three-year cycle of
Sunday Eucharistic readings in which Matthew, Mark, and Luke are read in
successive years with some material from John read in each year.
How many books are in the Bible? Protestants traditionally have
recognized 66 books in total, including 39 books of the Hebrew Scriptures or
the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament. Roman Catholics
accept as authorized texts an additional number of books in the Old
Testament. The Episcopal Church commends these additional books, which
are often called the pseudo-canonical books or the Apocrypha, for private
study and also uses them in public liturgy.
What are the Ten Commandments? The Ten Commandments are a list of
laws that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai for the People of Israel (Exodus
1. I am the Lord thy God and thou shalt not have other gods besides me.
2. Thou shalt not make for thyself any graven image.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4. Remember the Lord’s Day to keep it holy.
5. Honor thy Father and Mother.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
10. Thou shalt not covet.
How did Jesus summarize the Ten Commandments? According to the
Gospel of Matthew, Christ summarized the Ten Commandments into two
Great Commandments: “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy
soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37); and “Love thy neighbor as
thyself” (Matthew 22:39).
What is a sacrament? A sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an
inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by
which we receive that grace” (BCP, p. 857).
How many sacraments does the Episcopal Church observe? Seven. In
addition to baptism and the Eucharist, which are the two great sacraments
given by Christ to his church (BCP, pp. 858-859), the Episcopal Church also
recognizes five other sacramental rites: confirmation, ordination, holy
matrimony, reconciliation of a penitent, and unction of the sick (anointing the
sick with oil, or the laying on of hands) (BCP, pp. 860-861).
Who can be ordained in the Episcopal Church? According to the
Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, Title III.1.2, no person
shall be denied access to the discernment process. The Office of Transition
Ministry explains that “in most dioceses, there are discernment programs to
assist both the aspirant and the church in reaching agreement about those
called to the priesthood”
What are the three levels of governance in the Episcopal Church? The
three levels of governance are the parish, the diocese, and the General
What is a vestry? A vestry is a group of church leaders, composed of
wardens, a clerk, and members elected by the parishioners at the annual
parish meeting, as governed by its canons and by laws.
What is a diocese? A diocese is a geographical grouping of parishes under
the supervision of a diocesan bishop.
What do bishops do? In addition to providing vision and leadership for their
dioceses, bishops are charged with the apostolic work of leading, supervising,
and uniting the church. The Book of Common Prayer notes that a bishop is
“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” (BCP, p.
855). Episcopal services led specifically by bishops include the ordination and
consecration of bishops, ordination of priests, ordination of deacons,
celebration of a new ministry, and the consecration of a church or chapel.
Bishops also preside at services of confirmation, reception, and reaffirmation.
Bishops bless altars and fonts, and the blessing of chalices, patens, and
church bells are also traditionally reserved for bishops.
What is the General Convention? The General Convention is the highest
governing body of the Episcopal Church. It meets every three years and is
composed of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies.
How many people belong to the Episcopal Church? As of 2008, there
are 2,057,292 active baptized members; 300 bishops; 15,800 priests; 2,400
deacons; and 6,964 parishes and missions.
What is a province? In the context of the Episcopal Church, dioceses are
grouped geographically into nine provinces. These are not to be confused
with the official member churches or provinces of the Anglican Communion.
In addition to the Anglican Communion, with what other church
organizations is the Episcopal Church in full communion? The
Episcopal Church is in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church
in America (ECLA); the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht;
Philippine Independent Church (the Iglesia Filipina Independiente); Mar
Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, India; the Church of South India, the
Church of North India, the Church of Pakistan, the Church of Bangladesh;
and the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church.
What ecumenical councils is the Episcopal Church part of? The
Episcopal Church belongs to the National Council of Churches, the World
Council of Churches, and Christian Churches Together in the USA. Episcopal
dioceses are also members of state and local councils of churches.
What is prayer? Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds,
with or without words. Christian prayer is “response to God the Father,
through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit” (BCP, p. 856).
What is the Lord’s Prayer? In Matthew 6:9b-13 and Luke 11:2-4 Jesus
taught his disciples the following prayer, which is called the Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen (BCP, p. 364)
What are the four types of prayers? According to the Book of Common
Prayer (BCP, p. 856), the four principal kinds of prayer are adoration,
confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (ACTS). Adoration means praising
God for what and who God is. Confession is expressing sorrow for sins and
asking God’s forgiveness, mercy, and pardon. Thanksgiving is thanking God
for all the blessings received and giving thanks to God in all circumstances.
Supplication is asking God to provide for our needs and the needs of the
BECOMING AN EPISCOPALIAN
Who is welcome in the Episcopal Church? All are welcome. Anyone can
join an Episcopal parish or mission and be received by the bishop.