The Episcopalians

The Episcopalians

The Episcopalians

The Episcopalians

Excerpt

A branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church in the United States possesses a character that may seem somewhat indefinite, especially as that identity has evolved over recent decades. No distinctive confessional statement—like the Augsburg (Lutheran) or the Westminster (Presbyterian)—identifies Anglican and Episcopal beliefs. No familiar phrase—like “inner light” (Quakers) or “strangely warmed” (Methodists)—comes to mind when someone says “Episcopalian.” Members of this denomination would have trouble naming their “founder” because, for various reasons, they do not look upon King Henry VIII as the Anglican counterpart to Martin Luther, Joseph Smith, or Mary Baker Eddy.

The name itself—“Episcopal”—does not tell the observer much about what distinguishes this denomination. The word points to a polity (form of church government) that Episcopalians share with the vast majority of the world’s Christians, for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians also have bishops. In addition, the Episcopal Church possesses a streak of Congregationalism in its actual laws and practice. Theologically and liturgically, the denomination is both Catholic and Protestant. And identifying markers that in the past might have proved helpful—the church’s establishmentarian cast, for example, or its disinclination to enter into substantial ecumenical agreements—by the 1990s were no longer reliable indicators of this denomination’s positions on key issues. Finally, the church’s once-distinctive liturgy is now offered in a wide variety of styles (from very traditional to virtually free-form), including a contemporary version that appears familiar to both Lutherans and Roman Catholics. How then to delineate the unique elements of a denomination that, one often hears, is most appropriately characterized in terms of an ethos, a vision, a sensibility?

One approach is by means of a book like this one, in which a distinctive pattern gradually emerges in the fabric of a long and rich history. Here the reader will find an account of a church that evolved into a denomination of the urban estab-

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