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Episcopal Church in the United States of America

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The Episcopal Church or the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America is the American national church of the Anglican Communion. It includes 108 dioceses in the United States, the US Virgin Islands, Haiti, Taiwan, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Honduras, and has an extra-provincial relationship with the dioceses of Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

In the United States the Church has a membership of approximately 2.3 million, and has counted among its members more than a quarter of all presidents of the United States (see: List of U.S. Presidential religious affiliations).

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, but this name is rarely used. It is sometimes known as the Episcopal Church in the USA, abbreviated ECUSA.

The church has its national offices in New York City but its leader, the Presiding Bishop, is installed ceremonially at Washington National Cathedral. Its governing body, the general convention, has no fixed home today, meeting at a different site each time it convenes. The incumbent Presiding Bishop is the Most Rev. Frank Tracy Griswold III.

Like many other Anglican churches, it has entered into full communion with Lutherans, in this case with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.


Colonies and Revolution: 1607-1789

File:Episcopal Church USA Shield.png

The first congregation of what would become the Episcopal Church in the United States was founded in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 as part of the Church of England. From there, the church spread throughout the American colonies.

The Church of England became the established church in Virginia in 1609, in the lower part of New York in 1693; in Maryland in 1702, in South Carolina in 1706, and in Georgia in 1758. This was a matter of local taxes being given to the vestry for church use. Virginia attempted to make requirements about attendance, but with a severe shortage of clergy, they were not enforced. These vestries were part of the Church of England, whose clergy reported to the Bishop of London (from 1635) through appointed "commissaries" especially James Blair, who served 1685-1743. After 1702 the "Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts" (SPG) began missionary activity throughout the colonies. The ministers were few, the glebes small, the salaries inadequate, and the people quite uninterested in religion, as the vestry became in effect a kind of local government. One historian has explained the workings of the parish [Olmstead p 45]:

The parish was a local unit concerned with such matters as the conduct and support of the parish church, the supervision of morals, and the care of the poor. Its officers, who made up the vestry, were ordinarily influential and wealthy property holders chosen by a majority of the parishioners. They appointed the parish ministers, made local assessments, and investigated cases of moral offense for referral to the county court, the next higher judicatory. They also selected the church wardens, who audited the parish accounts and prosecuted morals cases. For several decades the system worked in a democratic fashion, but by the 1660's, the vestries had generally become self-perpetuating units made up of well-to-do landowners. This condition was sharply resented by the small farmers and servants.

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, with the support of the Bishop of London, wanted a bishop for the colonies. Strong opposition arose in the South, where a bishop would threaten the privileges of the lay vestry. Opponents conjured up visions of "episcopal palaces, or pontifical revenues, of spiritual courts, and all the pomp, grandeur, luxury and regalia of an American Lambeth." (New York Gazette or Weekly Post Boy, March 14, 1768.) John Adams later explained, "the apprehension of Episcopacy" contributed to the American Revolution, capturing the attention "not only of the inquiring mind, but of the common people. . . . The objection was not merely to the office of a bishop, though even that was dreaded, but to the authority of parliament, on which it must be founded." (Bonomi, 200) On the eve of Revolution a large fraction of prominent merchants and royal appointees were Anglicans--and were Loyalists. About 27% of Anglican priests nationwide supported independence, especially in Virginia. Almost 40% --approaching 90% in New York and New England--were loyalists. Out of 55 Anglican clergy in New York and New England, only three were Patriots, two of those being from Massachusetts. In Maryland, of the 54 clergy in 1775, only 16 remained to take oaths of allegiance to the new government. (McConnell 2003) William Smith made the connection explicit in a 1762 report to the Bishop of London. "The Church is the firmest Basis of Monarchy and the English Constitution," he declared. But if dissenters of "more Republican . . . Principles [with] little affinity to the established Religion and manners" of England ever gained the upper hand, the colonists might begin to think of "Independency and separate Government." Thus "in a Political as well as religious view," Smith stated emphatically, the church should be strengthened by an American bishop and the appointment of "prudent Governors who are friends of our Establishment." (Bonomi 201)

By 1775, about 300 independent congregations were reported throughout the colonies. The church was disestablished in all the states during the American Revolution. 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. When the clergy of Connecticut elected Samuel Seabury as their bishop, he sought consecration in England. The Oath of Supremacy proved too difficult a problem, so he went to Scotland; the non-juring Scottish bishops there consecrated him in Aberdeen on November 14, 1784, making him the first Episcopal bishop outside the British Isles. The American bishops thus descend in the Apostolic succession through the non-juring bishops of Scotland, and to this day the nine crosses which symbolise ECUSA's nine original dioceses in its arms form a Saint Andrew's Cross, commemorating the Scottish link. The Church originally took the name of the "Protestant Episcopal" Church in the United States of America so as to distinguish itself from the other major episcopal Church present in the states at the time, the Roman Catholic Church.

The Church in the American Republic (1789-present)


As the United States grew, new dioceses were established, as well as the Convocation of American Churches in Europe.

Church Polity

The basic unit of governance in the Episcopal Church is the diocese. The ordained leader of the diocese is a bishop. Groups of dioceses constitute provinces but unlike in other Anglican Churches the provinces of the Episcopal Church do not have an archbishop with jurisdiction over the other bishops in his or her province. Other ordained leaders include priests (or presbyters) and deacons. Laity participate fully in the life and governance of the Church.

The Church holds its General Convention every three years. The General Convention is bicameral. There is the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, which is made up of priests, deacons, and lay persons. Each diocese elects four clergy and four laypeople as deputies. The head of the House of Bishops is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. The current presiding bishop is The Most Reverend Frank Tracy Griswold, whose term ends in 2006. The head of the House of Deputies is the president who is either a lay person or priest. The last General Convention was held in 2003. The next one will be held in 2006, in Columbus, Ohio.


The Episcopal Church in the United States has nine ecclesiastical provinces, numbered as follows (Divided by State, not Diocese).

  1. New England
  2. New York, New Jersey, Haiti, United States Virgin Islands, and Convocation of American Churches in Europe
  3. Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia
  4. Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, eastern Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee
  5. Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, eastern Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin
  6. Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming
  7. Arkansas, Kansas, western Louisiana, western Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas,
  8. Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawai‘i, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Taiwan, Washington
  9. Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela

Each province is subdivided into dioceses. However, the senior bishop of a province is not an archbishop nor are there any archbishops in the Episcopal Church in the United States. See: Dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America


Each diocese is composed of congregations of various kinds: cathedrals, parishes, missions and chapels.

A cathedral acts as the mother church of the diocese, and is often the home of a parish as well. The cathedral of each diocese is the seat of the bishop of that diocese. Most, but not all dioceses have a cathedral. A few have two cathedrals or a cathedral and a pro-cathedral. Others designate a conference or retreat centre chapel as a cathedral. Usually a cathedral is led by a priest called a dean. A cathedral's lay governing body is known as a chapter, although some cathedrals have a vestry as well.

Most congregations are parishes. A parish is a self-sustaining congregation, not financially supported by the diocese. The ordained leader of a parish is a priest, usually called a rector. The two primary lay leaders of each congregation are the wardens, sometimes referred to as senior and junior. In addition to the rector and wardens, there are additional lay persons elected to support the mission and ministry of the congregation. The rector, the wardens, and these laity comprise what is known as the vestry. The number of these additional laity vary depending on the size of the congregation.

A mission is a congregation supported in part by the diocese. It is governed similarly to a parish but is more directly responsible to its diocese and bishop. A mission is led by a clergyperson usually called a vicar. Instead of a vestry, a mission's lay leadership is called either a mission committee or a bishop's committee.

A chapel may be connected to another institution, such as a school or hospital or it may be a congregation that is active for only part of the year. The latter are usually found in resort areas and are often called "summer chapels". The clergyperson in charge of a chapel is usually known as a chaplain, but a summer chapel may instead have a vicar.

Beliefs and Practices


Many consider the Episcopal Church to follow the via media or "middle way" between Protestant and strictly Catholic practices. Indeed, the Episcopal liturgy explicitly affirms belief in "one holy apostolic" church. Thus, many Episcopalians will argue that Roman Catholics are not the only "catholics," but rather represent one of three branches of Catholicism--the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, and the Episcopal or Anglo-Catholic. Episcopal liturgy, or the practice of the people in worship, does resemble that of the Roman Catholic Church, with certain differences, most notably the use of the Book of Common Prayer (see below).

Within the Episcopal Church, varying degrees of liturgical practice prevail. Often a congregation or particular service will be referred to as "low church" or "high church". In theory, a "high church" congregation is "more Catholic," and thus inclined towards Sacramentals ("smells and bells") that embellish the basic worship with more specialized ritual. In contrast, a "low church" would have fewer of the so-called "Catholic" qualities, but may incorporate other elements such as praise and worship music, and tend towards a more "truly" Protestant or evangelical outlook. Though most Episcopalians refer to their churches by these labels, often there is overlapping, and the basic rites do not greatly differ--most notably, Bible readings from the Old Testament as well as from both the Epistles and the Gospels of the New Testament; in addition, every service will include the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, always using real wine, not water or grape juice. (Alcoholics or those wishing for whatever reason to avoid alcohol are entirely free to decline the cup.) Within the Episcopal Church one finds a variety of worship styles: traditional hymns and anthems, praise and worship music, Anglican chant, liturgical dance, charismatic hand postures, robed clergy, and clergy in street clothing. As varied as services can be, the central binding aspect is the Book of Common Prayer or supplemental liturgies.

The Episcopal Church adheres to the Nicene Creed as the main statement of faith; however, the Church finds the Apostle's Creed sufficient in ecumenical matters.


The concept of "Saint" in the Episcopal Church is highly influenced by the Catholic tradition. The level of veneration given to Saints is, in general, much more Protestant. In general, Episcopalians do not pray to or invoke Saints as intercessors. The Saints are used as examples in history of good Christian men and women instead. With that understanding, one sees a wider variety of people thought of as "Saints" in the Episcopal Church, such as Martin Luther or Samuel Seabury. In addition, the Church holds that all members are Saints of God, and hold the potential to be an example to others. The Episcopal Church has a book called "Lesser Feasts and Fasts" which contains feast days for the various men and women the Church wishes to honor.

Liberal and Conservative

The theologies of various doctrines are often varied within the Episcopal Church. There are traditional standings held by the Church, yet theologians with more liberal interpretations. The Episcopal Church prides itself in allowing a place for both sides to be included. In general, however, members of the Episcopal Church tend to be moderate to liberal on most social issues, and mainline to liberal on some theological issues.

The Book of Common Prayer


The Episcopal Church publishes its own Book of Common Prayer (BCP), containing most of the worship services (or "liturgies") used in the Episcopal Church. Because of its wide-spread use in the church, the BCP is both a reflection of and a source of theology for Episcopalians. The current edition dates from 1979 and represents more than just a revision of earlier books. It is marked by an attempt to return to practices of the early church, full lay participation in all services, and the recovery of the Eucharist as the principal service of the 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.

See also

Colleges Affiliated with the Episcopal Church

Seminaries of the Episcopal Church

Further Reading

  • Addison, James Thayer. (1951). The Episcopal Church in the United States 1789-1931. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Albright, Raymond W. (1964). A History of the Protestant Episcopal Church. New York: Macmillan.
  • Butler, Diana Hochstedt. (1995)Standing against the Whirlwind: Evangelical Episcopalians in Nineteenth-Century America
  • Bonomi, Patricia U. (1988)Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America
  • Chorley, Edward Clowes. (1946). Men and Movements in the American Episcopal Church. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Gough, Deborah Mathias. Christ Church, Philadelphia: The Nation's Church in a Changing City (1995)
  • Hein, David. (2001). Noble Powell and the Episcopal Establishment in the Twentieth Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  • Hein, David, and Gardiner H. Shattuck Jr. (2005). The Episcopalians. New York: Church Publishing.
  • Holmes, David L. (1993). A Brief History of the Episcopal Church. Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International.
  • Manross, William Wilson. (1950). A History of the American Episcopal Church. New York: Morehouse-Gorham.
  • McConnell, Michael W. (2003) "Establishment and Disestablishment at the Founding, Part I: Establishment of Religion" William and Mary Law Review
  • Mullin, Robert Bruce. (1986). Episcopal Vision/American Reality: High Church Theology and Social Thought in Evangelical America. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.
  • Nelson, John (2001)A Blessed Company: Parishes, Parsons, and Parishioners in Anglican Virginia, 1690-1776
  • Prichard, Robert W. (1999). A History of the Episcopal Church. Rev. ed. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing.
  • Prichard, Robert W. (1997). The Nature of Salvation: Theological Consensus in the Episcopal Church, 1801-73. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  • Shattuck, Gardiner H., Jr. (2000). Episcopalians and Race: Civil War to Civil Rights. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.


  • Armentrout, Don S., & Slocum, Robert Boak. (Eds.). ([1999]). An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated.
  • Armentrout, Don S., & Slocum, Robert Boak. (1994). Documents of Witness: A History of the Episcopal Church, 1782-1985. New York: Church Hymnal Corporation.
  • Caldwell, Sandra M., & Caldwell, Ronald J. (1993). The History of the Episcopal Church in America, 1607-1991: A Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing.
  • Prichard, Robert W. (Ed.). (1986). Readings from the History of the Episcopal Church. Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow.
  • The Episcopal Clerical Directory. New York: Church Publishing.
  • Wall, John N. (2000). A Dictionary for Episcopalians. Boston, MA: Cowley Publications.
  • Articles on leading Episcopalians, both lay (e.g., George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Frances Perkins) and ordained, in American National Biography. (1999). Edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
  • Anglican and Episcopal History (articles, church reviews, and book reviews)

External links

This article was forked from Wikipedia on March 29, 2006.

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Episcopal Church in the United States of America. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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