EPISCOPAL CHURCH FAQs
These questions are focused toward the Episcopal Church in the United States and 16 other countries of the world. The answers are generalized and intended to give insight into the ethos, history, and worship of the Episcopal Church as a whole.
I am considering attending St. David’s…when should I come?
On Sunday mornings, we worship together at 9:00 AM. The service includes music with both traditional hymns and contemporary ones and lasts about an hour. The service includes readings from Holy Scripture, a sermon by a member of the clergy, and the Sacrament of Holy Communion. There is always a coffee hour after church.
Who is welcome in the Episcopal Church?
All are welcome to participate in our worship because it is in worship that we are challenged and find support in our life as a Christian family together. Anyone can join an Episcopal congregation who desires to follow Christ.
What is an Episcopalian?
A person who belongs to the Episcopal Church is called an “Episcopalian.” The word “Episcopal” means a church governed by bishops. We call our local churches “parishes,” which are governed by an elected “vestry” of laypeople who help lead the church and make important day-to-day decisions. An ordained minister of an Episcopal congregation is usually called a “priest.” In the Episcopal Church, priests are allowed to marry and women may also serve as priests.
Do you have to be an Episcopalian to go to an Episcopal Church?
No. All people are welcome regardless of background. Many of our members come to us from other faith traditions or Christian communities, or without a faith background of any kind. In the Episcopal Church, you can find a community of people united by their faith in God and eagerness to serve others.
What’s an Episcopal Church service like?
The Episcopal Church worships in the “liturgical style,” which means all Episcopal churches follow a relatively common order of service. Being with a community of believers inspires us, nurtures us, encourages us, and comforts us. Scripture and the Eucharist (Holy Communion) are the foundations of our worship. The service follows an order found in our worship book called the Book of Common Prayer; however, a service leaflet is distributed every Sunday to help you follow along. Our Sunday services throughout the year usually include an opening procession, singing, Bible readings, prayers for ourselves and others, time for meditation, a sermon, and Communion (Holy Eucharist) where we share bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus Christ and the Last Supper.
What if I don’t know what to do during a service?
Don’t worry. You won’t be embarrassed or singled out. At St. David's, as with most Episcopal churches, we provide a “service bulletin” during each Sunday service. It guides you through the service and provides basic instructions for participation. Once you’ve been to a few services, it will seem like second nature to you. The Book of Common Prayer can also serve as a guide to our Sunday worship service (sometimes called our “liturgy”), as well as a wide range of other services for everything from baptism to funerals.
How do I know when to stand or kneel?
Practices vary - even among individual Episcopalians. The officiant of the service will offer direction to stand, sit or kneel.
Am I allowed to come forward for Communion if I'm not an Episcopalian?
Yes. All people are welcome to approach the front of the church during the Communion portion of the service, even if you’re not an Episcopalian. Anyone who has been baptized (in any tradition) is invited to share in the bread and wine.
Will the clergy or anyone else in authority tell me how to think, how to act, or how to vote?
Absolutely not. In the Episcopal Church, we know that every journey toward God is unique and highly personal. You won’t be forced to think a certain way or “get in line” with everyone else. In fact, you’re welcome to bring your questions, doubts, hopes and dreams with you. There’s a good reason why the Episcopal tradition is sometimes called “the thinking person’s church.” You’ll be encouraged to think for yourself and seek guidance from God through prayer, worship, meditation, reading and any other method that works for you. Each one of us is precious to God and we all find God in different ways.
How do I join the Episcopal Church?
If you are of age to speak for yourself and have never been baptized, a priest in an Episcopal church would gratefully prepare you for baptism in the church. Baptisms are typically held several times per year during the Sunday services. Once baptized, you will be a fully-initiated member of the Body of Christ and an Episcopalian with a membership in the local congregation.
What does the Episcopal Church believe about Baptism?
Holy Baptism is the initiation rite of the Church. It conveys God’s grace so that the initiate may grow in Christian strength and brings the initiate into the family of Christ, where he or she can be nurtured in the process of that Christian growth.
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 adults. Every human being is in relationship with God. We honor that relationship from the moment of birth and infancy is not a barrier to full initiation into the Body of Christ.
I'm already baptized. If I become an Episcopalian, do I need to be re-baptized?
No. “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins,” says the Creed. Once you have been baptized in any Christian church with water in the name of the Trinity, you have been received into the family of Christ (not into a particular denomination). To make a public, adult affirmation of faith, you should to be confirmed, if appropriate. You also always have the option of publicly reaffirming your baptismal vows, even after confirmation, if you so choose.
What is Confirmation?
Confirmation is the opportunity for those who are baptized as infants, children, or adults to make a public confession and commitment of Christian faith. In the sacrament of confirmation, we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit for service to Christ and his church. In Confirmation, a bishop lays hands on the confirmed in a public ceremony as a symbol of support for their spiritual journey. The Episcopal Church is unique in Christianity in requiring that Confirmation be performed by a bishop. If you are coming from a church in the Apostolic Succession (e.g., Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or some others), and have already been confirmed, you would be “received” by the bishop of our diocese in a ceremony that normally takes place during the bishop's visit to our church.
What age can a child be confirmed?
We warmly encourage all youth (grades 6-12) who are either interested in being confirmed, or who feel drawn to explore what it means to be drawn more deeply into the life of Christ's Church, to join a confirmation class to decide for themselves if they are ready to make the public confession and commitment of the Christian faith.
I would like to be confirmed. How do I go about doing this?
Confirmation requires a period of study with a member of the clergy. These discussions will equip you to make a mature decision regarding Confirmation and a mature confession of faith. If you are interested in being confirmed, the first step would be to contact the clergy for more information.
Where did the Episcopal Church come from?
The Episcopal Church is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, derived from the Church of England and sharing with it traditions of faith and order as set forth in its Book of Common Prayer. Before the American Revolution, we were known as the Church of England in America. After the Revolution, we became the Episcopal Church – a self-governing faith community affiliated with the worldwide Anglican tradition. The word “Anglican” means in the tradition of the Church of England. Today, more than 80 million people around the world are part of the Anglican faith tradition: every continent except Antarctica has Anglican churches today. For example, if you travel to Australia or Argentina, you’ll find Anglican churches that worship in the same style as the Episcopal Church in America.
Does the Episcopal Church report to the Pope?
No. The head of the worldwide Anglican tradition is the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. He or she serves as the spiritual head of the Anglican Church. Unlike the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, the Archbishop serves only as a leader and guide, and does not make rules or laws for the Church to follow. The Episcopal Church is the term we use for that branch of the Anglican union located in the United States.
Are women allowed to serve as priests in the Episcopal Church?
Yes. Women serve as priests, deacons, bishops, and in many other positions in the Episcopal Church today.
Are Episcopal priests allowed to marry and have children?
Yes. Absolutely. It’s a personal decision on their part.
Does the Episcopal Church allow gay and lesbian persons to participate?
Yes. All of God’s children are welcome to participate in the Episcopal Church and answer God’s call to service in a wide variety of roles and missions. Gay and lesbian persons are warmly welcomed here at St. David’s and are deeply involved in the life of the parish.
Does the Episcopal Church perform same-sex marriages?
Yes. The Episcopal Church codified theological support for same-sex marriage by two decisions at the General Convention in 2015. The first formally approved gender-neutral and same-sex marriage ceremonies, while the second changed the current marriage “canons” to allow clergy to officiate same-sex marriages using the marriage rite from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.
What are the three levels of governance in the Episcopal Church?
The three levels of governance are the parish, the diocese, and the General Convention.
Who is responsible for the work of the church at the parish level?
The parishioners are responsible for work at the parish, through the leadership of their rector and their elected vestry
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. Other denominations call this a "parish council" or a "parish board."
What is a diocese?
A diocese is a geographical grouping of congregations 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, the 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 is 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. The House of Bishops meets concurrently with the House of Deputies during General Convention, and also holds interim meetings between conventions. The House of Deputies consists of clergy and lay representatives in equal numbers. The House of Bishops and the House of Deputies meet and act separately, and both must concur in identical language to adopt legislation. The General Convention alone has the authority to amend the Book of Common Prayer, to amend the church's constitution and canons, and to determine the program and budget of the General Convention, including the missionary, educational, and social programs it authorizes.
What is the Executive Council?
The Executive Council meets several times each year to carry out the policies and programs adopted by General Convention between its triennial meetings. The General Convention elects twenty-two of the forty-two members of the Executive Council.