Rev. J. Wesley
Worship With Us
How can I learn about Episcopal worship practices?
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 and
I'm planning on visiting an Episcopal Church. May I take communion?
All baptized Christians,
regardless of denomination, may take communion in the Episcopal Church.
Your own denomination may have some restrictions on where you may or may
not communicate, however, so it would be wise to check with a
clergyperson in your own church first.
How do I join the Episcopal Church? Do I need to be confirmed?
If you are coming from a church in the Apostolic Succession (i.e., Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox), 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 hold "inquirer's courses" for people interested in reception or confirmation prior to the bishop's visitation. You will want to speak to the rector of your church 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?
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.
What does "Episcopal" mean?
"Episcopos" is the Greek
word for "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."
The Book of Common Prayer
(the "Prayer 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 lay people. 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 occured 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). Each national
church in the Anglican Communion has its own adaptation of the Prayer
Book. The American version, used by most churches in ECUSA, was last
revised in 1979 (some Episcopal churches prefer to use the 1928
version). 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, 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
How do Episcopalians worship?
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
(aka "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 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, 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: The modern and less-formal Rite
II is usually used for most of the year, with the older and more formal
Rite I being used during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent.
Does the church celebrate other rites?
Other public rites of the
church include Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer and Evensong or Evening
Prayer, Baptism (we occasionally celebrate some of these at special
times, but not regularly), Confirmation/Reception (held during the main
Sunday service during the Bishop's annual visitation) and Ordinations
(these are scheduled by the bishop's office, and held at various
churches throughout the diocese).
What are the sacraments of the Episcopal Church?
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?
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?
A 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?
Yes. The Episcopal Church
has ordained women to all orders of ministry since 1976.
What is the significance of the Episcopal Seal ("The Shield") and Flag?
This symbol, which you will
see at virtually every Episcopal Church and website, is the official
"logo" of ECUSA, and depicts our history. It is red, white and
blue...the colors of both the U.S. and England. 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 is the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. It
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 nine dioceses that met in
Philadelphia in 1789 to form the Protestant Episcopal Church of the
What is the church year?
The Episcopal Church
observes the traditional Christian calendar. The season of advent,
during which we prepare for Christmas, begins on the Sunday closest to
November 30. Christmas itself lasts for twelve days after which we
celebrate the feast of Epiphany. (Jan 6) Lent, the forty days of
preperation for Easter, begins on Ash Wednesday. Easter season lasts
fifty days concluding with the feast of Pentecost. During these times,
the Bible Readings are chosen for the appropriateness of the season.
During the rest of the year, the season after Epiphany and the long
season after Pentecost (except for a few special Sundays), the New
Testament is read sequentially from Sunday to Sunday. The Old Testament
lesson corresponds in theme with one of the New Testament readings.
How did the Episcopal Church get started?
There have been Anglicans in
what was to become the United States since 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 rocky periods, especially in the early
days of the church, when bishops of the established Church of England
were reluctant to consecrate new bishops who would not recognize the
reigning monarch as the head of the church. That's all water under the
bridge, however, and the Episcopal Church is now fully "in communion"
with the Church of England, and with other Anglican churches throughout
So is the Episcopal Church Protestant or Catholic?
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 of the two extremes.
Isn't it true that the Church of England was founded by Henry VIII?
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?
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?
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" (i.e., a person who handles physical maintenance of the church building 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." ECUSA does not have archdioceses or archbishops. Instead we give primacy to a "Presiding Bishop," who is elected to serve a nine-year term.
For information about the Diocese of Western North Carolina, visit the website at http://diocesewnc.org/