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What is an Episcopalian?


The name “Episcopal” comes from the Greek word episcopos which means "bishop" or "overseer." The Episcopal Church is lead by Bishops and we are called Episcopalians.   Each individual church is lead by a priest who is under the authority of a bishop.   A bishop is responsible for a number of churches that make up what we call a diocese, of which there are hundreds throughout the country and abroad.


What do we believe?

There are three important things that characterize our church:

  • The Bible.  The Bible, sometimes called the Scriptures, is the written word of God.  All that is needed for life and salvation can be found in the pages of the Bible.
  • Tradition.  Just as any family has traditions that are passed on from generation to generation, so too the church has passed down many traditions that enrich our worship and help us to understand our heritage.
  • Reason.  The Episcopal Church is often called the “thinking person’s church” because it does not have a man-made set of rules to help us find our salvation.  God gave us minds to think and we should use those minds to seek the truths that are found in Holy Scripture.


How does the Episcopal Church work?

The Presiding Bishop.  The overall head of the Episcopal Church is call the Presiding Bishop.  He or she simply a bishop, elected by other bishops, to preside of the House of Bishops when they meet at assigned times during the year.  The Presiding Bishop does not command the church; he leads the church with other bishops.

Bishop.  A bishop leads a diocese.  A bishop is a priest who  has been elected by the people of a particular diocese.  A diocese is a geographical area, like a state or a county.  Each diocese has at least one bishop.  A diocese is made up of many churches which are called parishes or missions.

Priest.  A priest who leads a parish is called the rector; a priest who leads a mission is called the vicar. 

Vestry.  The council of people who make decisions for a parish is called the vestry.  With the rector, these people take care of the business of the church.

Diocesan Convention.  Once a year representatives of all the churches in a diocese meet together with their bishop to make decisions for that particular diocese.

General Convention.  Just as with a diocese, a convention is held every three years.  At this convention, elected representatives from each diocese, along with their bishops, meet to make decision for the whole of the Episcopal Church.


The Book of Common Prayer

Traditionally, Episcopalians have been known as “a people of the book.”  The intention of the book was to put the worship of the God into the hands of the common people;  God is a God of all, not just those who were ordained.  So, the book became known as The Book of Common Prayer.  It belongs to everyone in the Episcopal Church. In this book you will find the words for the many different ways that Episcopalians worship God. Some of the worship services are used every day, like Morning Prayer and the Holy Eucharist. There are other worship services that are used for special times, like weddings and funerals. Also, you will find prayers written there. There is a prayer for almost any situation in the Book of Common Prayer. There is even a section of songs called Psalms.  Psalms are songs used by God's people for thousands of years to give God worship and praise. The Book of Common Prayer is at the center of the Episcopal Church as a church that worships God.  You can find this book in any Episcopal Church, no matter where you go!