I’ve been a part of another Christian church or tradition. What can I expect?
First of all, welcome! Episcopalians consider themselves only one part of the universal church, and should you choose to sojourn with us, your experience as a Christian from another tradition will be considered a strength. We accept the sacraments of other churches as valid, including baptism and confirmation.
We are a western liturgical church, descended from the Church of England but completely self governing. The association of daughter churches of the Church of England is called the Anglican Communion and is the third largest family of churches in the world. We are often thought of as a “Bridge Church” between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, because our history means we combine historic liturgical and sacramental practices with a more Protestant approach to theology, authority and governance. Lutherans and Roman Catholics, and some Methodists and Presbyterians, will find our services at least somewhat familiar.
Our central act of worship is the Holy Eucharist, also called Holy Communion or The Mass. The Episcopal Church’s formal policy is that all baptized Christians are welcome to receive the bread and wine. Episcopalians believe that the true presence of Christ enters the bread and wine during the Eucharistic prayer, but we do not subscribe to any particular philosophical definition of how this happens, such as transubstantiation or consubstantiation.
People of any gender may be ordained to all three orders, and may be married. LGBTQIA people may also be ordained to any of the orders. We also emphasize the importance of the ministry of laypeople (those not ordained to any order), and their important voice in our governance and leadership at all levels.
The Episcopal understanding of authority is based in the Anglican sources of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. We hold Scripture to be the Word of God as mediated through human authors, but that requires interaction with the church of the past and our own God-given mental faculties and life experiences to interpret. We seek, and often find, meaning and direction in the texts of Scripture, but we are also free to wonder, wrestle, and argue with the Scripture.
Episcopalians have a lot of theological diversity. You will find Episcopalians whose theology is similar to Roman Catholics, or to Eastern Orthodox, or to Evangelicals, or to Pentecostals. You will also find a diversity of political opinion in the Episcopal Church. We are united in our common worship of God in the holy and undivided Trinity.
Text adapted from St. Matthias Episcopal Church in Waukesha, WI.