In dialogue with the Rev. Patton Boyle, rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Wenatchee, Washington, this article lays out five things to know about being an Episcopalian (the parts in quotation marks are from Fr. Boyle):
1. Worship is at the core of the Episcopal Church
Episcopalians are united by their worship. The service is done in nearly the same way every week. If you're the kind of person who wants a lot of variations in the service, then there are other churches that might suit your needs better. "The central and organizing function for the Episcopalian Church is going to worship. Episcopalians tend to get spiritual needs fulfilled in the traditional Episcopalian worship." All churches use the Book of Common Prayer in worship services, and in most churches, communion is performed every Sunday as a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Morning prayer is common across Episcopal churches.
2. Worshipers don't follow a strict code
The Episcopal Church approaches the faith from three basic standpoints: Scripture, reason and tradition. Episcopalians aren't expected to accept everything they are told or always agree with the priest or other leaders. "They take what is of value and use it. I expect them to disagree with me at times. ... The church expects people to make their own moral and ethical decisions." Parishioners are asked to explore issues thoughtfully and prayerfully and to come to their own decisions. The approach is more like, "I respect your opinion, and I will think deeply about that, but that may not be, in the end, what I decide is right for me." Parishioners make decisions based on thorough study, reason, prayer and examining one's own conscience rather than having them prescribed to them.
3. Parishioners encompass a wide range of views
Episcopalians think differently about a wide range of issues, policy and politics. "We disagree often, politically and doctrinally. ... But we have a sense of unity. We respect the fact that we don't agree. Some people wish we would agree. I, personally, don't want a church where everyone agrees. I'm not looking for a church where everyone sees things the same way I do."
4. It has elements of Catholic and Protestant traditions
The Episcopalian church split off from the Catholic Church in the 16th century as part of the Protestant Reformation. In structure and worship, the Episcopal Church continues to be similar to the Catholic Church in many ways, but there's no Episcopal equivalent to a pope or a cardinal. Also, clergy can marry and women clergy are accepted. Even the U.S. presiding bishop is a woman. Private confession is an option, but not required in the church.
5. Episcopalians are part of the Anglican Communion
The Anglican Communion began with the Church of England separating from the Roman Catholic Church in the middle of the 16th century as part of the Reformation. It is now found in 160 countries throughout the world. The Episcopal Church is the American branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Although Anglicans share in a fairly similar form of liturgical worship, not all Anglicans think alike. "There are vast cultural and theological differences within the church. ... To us it's normal to have differences of opinion. For us, our unity isn't found in thinking alike. It is found in our common worship."
There are some errors of fact here (for example, the concept of an "Anglican communion" is relatively recent and not a term used in the 16th Century), but there is some truth to Episcopal Cafe's portrayal of this piece as reading "almost like a rebuttal to media portrayals of the Episcopal church."
Even so, the article gives me the impression that, in the Episcopal Church, what one believes is pretty much up for grabs. When it comes to theology and ethics, the individual Episcopalian gets to decide for him or herself. And that's okay, because what really matters is not the content of our beliefs, but that we worship together.
Is that a faithful depiction of who we are as a Church? Should it be?