The Episcopal Church is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, a collection of national and regional churches that are all descended from the Church of England. Anglican churches share a common theological and liturgical heritage that weaves a via media or “middle way” between Catholic and Protestant beliefs and practices.
Our name “Episcopal” means that we are governed by bishops who are ordained in “apostolic succession” which we believe stretched back to the original Apostles. During the Reformation, the English bishops incorporated elements from conversations with Continental Reformers. Most notable of these was worshipping in the vernacular, using the Book of Common Prayer. In the centuries since, the various editions of the Book of Common Prayer have anchored our common life and belief, reflecting our evolving identity in a changing world.
The Episcopal Church gained independence as an autonomous “province” after the American Revolution, because American clergy were no longer willing to swear allegiance to the Crown. Scottish bishops ordained the Rt. Rev. Samuel Seabury as the first American bishop. Influenced by American democratic values, the Episcopal Church incorporated strong lay leadership in our governance. This has made the American more adaptable, enabling us to lead the way on social issues in the Anglican Communion.