- What is the Episcopal Church?
- What is an ‘Episcopalian’? Are ‘Episcopalians’ the same as ‘Anglicans’?
- What is ‘Anglicanism’?
- What is the Anglican Communion?
- Where is Canterbury? What is its significance?
- Who is the Archbishop of Canterbury?
You don’t get a much better answer than the one our bishop, Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, offers here:
The Episcopal Church (TEC) is a province of the Anglican Communion.
A conference of three clergy and 24 lay delegates met at Chestertown, Kent County, Maryland, on November 9, 1780, and resolved that “the Church formerly known in the Province as the Church of England should now be called the Protestant Episcopal Church.” On August 13, 1783, the Maryland clergy met at Annapolis and adopted the name “Protestant Episcopal Church.” At the second session of the 1789 General Convention, September 29-October 16, 1789, a Constitution of nine articles was adopted. The new church was called the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America” (PECUSA). The word “Protestant” noted that this was a church in the reformation tradition, and the word “Episcopal” noted a characteristic of catholicity, the historic episcopate.
The church has grown from 13 dioceses to more than 100 dioceses. It is divided into nine geographical provinces. It is governed by a bicameral General Convention, which meets every three years, and by an Executive Council during interim years. The General Convention consists of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. The House of Bishops is composed of every bishop with jurisdiction, every bishop coadjutor, every suffragan bishop, every retired bishop, every bishop elected to an office created by General Convention, and every bishop who has resigned because of missionary strategy. All members of the House of Bishops have seat and voice in the House of Bishops. The House of Deputies is composed of up to four lay and four clerical deputies from each of the dioceses. The two top leaders of the church are the Presiding Bishop, who is also called Primate and Chief Pastor, and the president of the House of Deputies.
The 1967 General Convention voted to add a preamble to the Constitution, which states, “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church)….” The title page of the 1979 BCP states that the Book of Common Prayer is “According to the use of The Episcopal Church.”
Anglicans — also known in some places as Episcopalians — are Christians who practice their faith in the context of the 38 autonomous member churches, or provinces, of the Anglican Communion, which spans 164 countries worldwide with 77 million members. One of these provinces is the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, with 2.4 million members in 112 dioceses, or geographic regions. Anglicans and Episcopalians are persons of many ethnic and cultural heritages. Anglicans are known for welcoming diversity of opinion and inquiry.
Clergy within the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion are men and women who are ordained as bishops (after being elected in local dioceses), priests and deacons. Clergy often have spouses while others are single.
Many church members, or laity, hold various leadership positions that range from election to local parish vestries (or boards of directors) or as deputies to General Convention, the Episcopal Church’s bicameral legislative structure.
Anglicans and Episcopalians practice a faith that is liturgically and theologically a bridge between Catholicism and Protestant traditions. Anglicans and Episcopalians value a balance of scripture, reason and tradition as set forth by 16th-century English theologian Richard Hooker.
Anglicanism is the system of doctrine and approach to “polity,” or experience, of Christians in communion with the See of Canterbury. The term derives from the word that, in a variety of forms, refers to the people of the British Isles, and especially the English. Anglicanism reflects the balance and compromise of the “via media,” or middle way, of the Elizabethan settlement between Protestant and Catholic principles. Anglicanism also reflects balance in its devotion to scripture, tradition, and reason as sources of authority. The “via media” of Anglicanism is expressed frequently in terms of a “golden mean” between extreme positions on either side of various issues. Anglicanism is both traditional and dynamic in the discovery of new expressions. It retains the ancient authorities of scripture and tradition. It also allows for development of new understandings of Christian faith and practice in continuity with the historical church.
Until the 20th century, Anglicanism was largely defined in terms of its English origins and preservation of the language and customs of English-speaking peoples. At the end of the 19th century, however, Anglicanism began to take on a new identity. The national churches that derived from the Church of England became more conscious of their own identity while remaining in communion with the See of Canterbury. They also retained a common Anglican theological and ecclesial identity. Anglicanism is now a worldwide family of churches that share a common theological heritage and polity.
The Anglican Communion is composed of churches, or provinces, in communion with the See of Canterbury throughout the world. Member churches — of which there are currently 38 provinces as well as extra-provincial churches — exercise jurisdictional independence but share a common heritage concerning Anglican identity and commitment to scripture, tradition, and reason as sources of authority. Churches in the Anglican Communion continue to reflect the balance of Protestant and Catholic principles that characterized the “via media” of the Elizabethan settlement. Unity and cooperation in the Anglican Communion are encouraged by the assembly of Anglican bishops every 10 years at Lambeth Conferences. The work and vision of the Lambeth Conferences are continued between meetings by the Anglican Consultative Council, which includes representatives from Anglican churches throughout the world.
Before the sixteenth-century Reformation in western Europe, the Christian church in a given country or region was customarily described as the church of the region, such as the Gallican Church, the Spanish Church, the English Church (Latin ecclesia anglicana), or the Church of England. After the Reformation, the English national church continued to be called the Church of England, but it repudiated the supremacy of the Pope. It retained, however, its ancient episcopal polity. By the 1534 Act of Supremacy, King Henry VIII became “Supreme Head of the Church of England,” and by the 1559 Act of Supremacy, Elizabeth I became “Supreme Governor of the Church of England,” supplanting the Pope. To this day the Church of England is episcopal in polity, with the sovereign, who still bears the Elizabethan title, as its legal administrative head. The Church of England is divided into the Province of Canterbury and the Province of York. The Archbishop of York is the Primate of England and Metropolitan, and the Archbishop of Canterbury is the Primate of all England and Metropolitan. The Province of Canterbury consists of thirty-one dioceses and the Province of York consists of fourteen dioceses. The Episcopal Church derives much of its doctrine, discipline, and worship from theChurch of England.
Canterbury is the city in southeastern England that became the ecclesiastical center for England and, eventually, the Anglican Communion. The Benedictine monk Augustine founded the church in Canterbury on his mission from Rome in 597 A.D. From there Christianity spread throughout England. Canterbury has had preeminence from the beginning of the English church. The churches of the Anglican Communion may be defined as the churches in communion with the See of Canterbury.
The current and 104th Archbishop of Canterbury is the Most Reverend and Right Honorable Rowan D. Williams., who was appointed by the crown in 2001 after serving one year as Archbishop of Wales. He was enthroned in Canterbury Cathedral on February 27, 2002. (The correct title for the Archbishop of Canterbury is “The Most Rev. and Rt. Hon.”)
The Archbishop of Canterbury is “Primate of All England” and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Canterbury in southern England. The Archbishop of Canterbury likewise holds a position of honor in the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury convenes the primates when they gather and sits with them as “first among equals” (Latin: primus inter pares). In addition to a palace at Canterbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury also has a residence at Lambeth Palace in London.
The Archbishop of Canterbury holds a position of honor and preeminence as spiritual leader in the Anglican Communion but holds no official authority over the churches of the Communion or its individual members. This may be contrasted with the Roman Catholic understanding of papal authority and the authority of the church. While no one is recognised as the head of all the churches that make up the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury is regarded as its titular leader, and exercises considerable spiritual authority beyond the province of Canterbury. The Archbishop of Canterbury presides over the Lambeth Conference, the decennial meeting of the bishops of the Anglican Communion, and is president of the Anglican Consultative Council.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, among the 26 senior English bishops, is a member of the British House of Lords. Retired Archbishops of Canterbury retain the title of Lord.
The first Archbishop of Canterbury was St. Augustine who was enthroned in 597 AD.
The above FAQs come from The Episcopal News Service.
For more, see The Episcopal Church’s ‘Glossary of Terms‘.