What is an Episcopalian?
The word “Episcopal” refers to government by bishops. The historic episcopate continues the work of the first apostles in the Church, guarding the faith, unity and discipline of the Church, and ordaining men and women to continue Christ’s ministry. An Episcopalian is a person who belongs to the Protestant Episcopal Church, the branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion in the United States. As Episcopalians, we believe:
- The Holy Scriptures are the revealed word of God, which inspired the human authors of the Scripture, and which is interpreted by the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- The Nicene Creed is the basic statement of our belief about God. It was adopted in the 300s by the early church founders and is said every Sunday in Episcopal and Anglican churches around the United States and world.
- The two great sacraments of the Gospel, given by Christ to the Church, are Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. In Baptism we renounce Satan, repent of our sins, and adopt Jesus as our Lord and Savior. In the Holy Eucharist, the center of our worship life, we remember and participate in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ until his coming again.
- Catechism: The teachings and beliefs of the Episcopal Church are articulated in this "Outline of the Faith." It is designed in a question and answer format.
How Does the Episcopal Church Differ From Other Denominations?
Historically, bishops oversee the Church in particular geographic areas, known as dioceses. In the worldwide Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who oversees the Diocese of Canterbury, occupies a special position by virtue of history and tradition but he does not hold a governing position. We are a confederation of equals. Bishops from the Anglican Communion meet every 10 years for the Lambeth Conference, at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, but the resolutions coming from that Conference do not hold authority over all members of the Communion. Collegiality among bishops is the substitute for authority, and communal discernment is the substitute for decision-making power.
Each bishop and diocese, operating through an annual council, determine the character of life and work in that diocese within a set of general decisions made by a triennial General Convention of The Episcopal Church as a whole. These decisions are formalized as canons—rules that govern—by The Episcopal Church and subsequently by each affected diocese. Each diocese elects and sends clergy and lay representatives—deputies—to the General Convention. The annual convention of the Diocese of Tennessee takes place each January.
The Episcopal Church celebrates diversity. We are young and old, male and female, gay and straight, single, married, divorced and widowed, Anglo, African American, Latino, African, Asian, CEO and unemployed, student and teacher, rich and poor. We worship together, study and ask questions as we move more deeply into the mystery of God.
We honor tradition and strive to live by the example of Jesus Christ, welcoming the stranger and the outcast, helping our neighbors and offering love and forgiveness. We want our communities to be better because The Episcopal Church is here.
We are known for our engaging and beautiful worship services. For those who have grown up Roman Catholic, the service, known as the Mass, Eucharist or Holy Communion, will be very familiar. For those of reformed tradition or no religious tradition at all, we think you may find a spiritual home in a church that respects its tradition and maintains its sense of awe and wonder at the power and mystery of God. Some services are more contemporary, some more traditional but all follow the same form found in the Book of Common Prayer.
There are no prerequisites in the Episcopal Church … Everyone is welcome.
We walk the "middle way" between Protestant and catholic traditions. We often talk about the Episcopal Church as following the “via media” or middle way in our theology and discussions because we believe that, whether or not we agree on a particular topic, we all are children beloved by God and we can have thoughtful and respectful discussions.
The Episcopal Church has between 2-3 million members in about 7,500 congregations in the United States, the Virgin Islands, Haiti, Europe and other areas in North America. In the Diocese of Tennessee , we have more than 16,000 members in 45 congregations. We also have numerous social service agencies that reach out to help make our communities better and more caring places to live. We are part of the global Anglican Communion, which has 70 million followers.