The word “Episcopal” refers to government by bishops – from the Greek episcope, meaning oversight. 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 Episcopal Church, the branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion in the United States and 13 other countries. 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 the world.. (http://www.creeds.net/ancient/nicene.htm)
- The two great sacraments of the Gospel, given by Christ to the Church, are Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. At Baptism we affirm the Baptismal Covenant: Found in the Book of Common Prayer, it is the pledge we make (or that is made on our behalf by parents, godparents, and all members of the congregation) at baptism. The operative phase that qualifies the promises is “I will, with God’s help.” 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: (http://www.bcponline.org) 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 over the 39 national churches. We are a confederation of equals. Collegiality among bishops is the substitute for authority, and communal discernment is the substitute for decision-making power.
Each bishop, the clergy, and the lay representatives of each congregation in a diocese, operating through an annual diocesan convention, determine the character of life and work in that diocese. Each diocese lives within a set of general decisions made by the 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 which meets every three years.
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 2.1 million members in about 7,500 congregations in the United States, the Virgin Islands, Haiti, Europe and other areas in North, Central, and South America. The Diocese of Maine, which encompasses the entire state, is home to 63 year round congregations and several other communities of faith. We are also home to 17 summer chapels along the coast. Since 2003 we have partnered with the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti as a Companion Diocese. More than a dozen Maine congregations have permanent partnerships with particular parishes and schools in Haiti.