What We Believe
We Episcopalians believe in a loving, liberating, and life-giving God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As constituent members of the Anglican Communion in the United States, we are descendants of and partners with the Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal Church, and are part of the third largest group of Christians in the world. We believe in following the teachings of Jesus Christ, whose life, death, and resurrection saved the world. We have a legacy of inclusion, aspiring to tell and exemplify God’s love for every human being; women and men serve as bishops, priests, and deacons in our church. Laypeople and clergy cooperate as leaders at all levels of our church. Leadership is a gift from God, and can be expressed by all people in our church, regardless of sexual identity or orientation. We believe that God loves you – no exceptions.
The 39 Articles, a 1536 foundational document of Anglican theology, relates that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation.” The Scriptures, comprised of the Old and New Testament, as well as some apocryphal texts, were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is of extraordinary importance to Episcopal worship; during a Sunday morning service, the congregation will usually hear at least three readings from Scripture, and much of the liturgy from The Book of Common Prayer is based explicitly on the Biblical texts.
The Book of Common Prayer
Since its first publication in 1549, The Book of Common Prayer has served as a treasure chest full of devotional and teaching resources for individuals and congregations, and it is also the primary symbol of our unity. We, who are many and diverse, come together in Christ through our worship, our common prayer. The prayer book, most recently revised in 1979, contains our liturgies, our prayers, our theological documents, and much, much more.
Creeds are statements of our basic beliefs about God. The term comes from the Latin credo, meaning I believe. While we will always have questions about God, the Church, and our own faith, we have two foundational creeds that we use during worship: the Apostles’ Creed used at baptism and daily worship, and the Nicene Creed used at communion. In reciting and affirming these creeds, we join Christians across the world and throughout the ages in affirming our faith in the one God who created us, redeemed us, and sanctifies us.
Offered in a question-and-answer format, the Catechism found in the back of The Book of Common Prayer (pp. 845-862) helps teach the essential truths of the Christian faith and how Episcopalians live those truths. It is also intentionally organized so as to “provide a brief summary of the Church’s teaching for an inquiring stranger who picks up a Prayer Book,” with headings such as Human Nature, God the Father, The Old Covenant, The Ten Commandments, Sin and Redemption, God the Son, The New Covenant, The Creeds, The Holy Spirit, The Holy Scriptures, The Church, The Ministry, Prayer and Worship, The Sacraments, Holy Baptism, The Holy Eucharist, Other Sacramental Rites, and The Christian Hope.
Our Anglican tradition recognizes sacraments as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 857). Holy Baptism and the Eucharist (or Holy Communion) are the two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church.
In the Case of Baptism, the outward and visible sign is water, in which the person is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; the inward and spiritual grace is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit. In the case of the Eucharist, the outward and visible sign is bread and wine, given and received according to Christ’s command. The inward and spiritual grace is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith.
In addition to these two, there are other spiritual markers in our journey of faith that can serve as means of grace. These include Confirmation (the adult affirmation of our baptismal vows), Reconciliation of a Penitent (private confession), Matrimony (Christian marriage), Orders (ordination to the diaconate, priesthood, or episcopacy), and Unction (anointing those who are sick or dying with holy oil).
In the waters of baptism, we are lovingly adopted by God into God’s family, which we call the Church, and given God’s own life to share and reminded that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ. Holy Baptism, which can be performed through pouring of water or immersion in it, marks a formal entrance to the congregation and wider Church; the candidates for the sacrament make a series of vows, including an affirmation of the Baptismal Covenant, and are baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are marked as Christ’s own for ever, having “clothed [themselves] with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
All people of any age are welcome to baptized; we believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, as the “bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 298).
It goes by several names: Holy Communion; the Eucharist (which literally means “thanksgiving”); the Lord’s Supper; the Mass. But whatever its formal name, this is the family meal for Christians and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. As such, all persons who have been baptized, and are therefore part of the extended family that is the Church, are welcome to receive the bread and wine, and be in communion with God and each other. Before we come to take Communion together, “we should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 859).
The Baptismal Covenant
The baptismal covenant, found on pp. 304-5 of The Book of Common Prayer, is a small catechism for use during the rite of initiation into the Church and “is widely regarded as the normative statement of what it means to follow Christ” (p. 37). In these questions and answers, the congregation expresses the ways each of the faithful will live their faith both inside and outside the church walls.
The first four questions are patterned on the Apostles’ Creed, with the liturgy’s celebrant asking the people about their beliefs in each of the members of the Trinity, along with a concise understanding of their natures. Following these questions, the covenant includes five questions regarding how we, as Christians, are called to live out our faith: with firm commitment and a reliance on God’s help.