While deeply rooted in tradition, there are plenty of terms in the Episcopal Church that might be brand new to newcomers. Click on a term below to read it's definition and explore more.
Episcopal Glossary of Key Terms
The Episcopal Church
The Episcopal Church is known for its liturgy and sacramental approach to the world. While there are many diverse theological views within the denomination, what we hold in common is prayer and worship. Prayer and worship of God shapes the lives of Episcopalians.
The Anglican Communion is a communion of churches throughout the world who hold to Anglican theology, structure, and tradition and who hold a symbolic relationship with the Church of England. The Anglican Communion is present in over 165 different countries and is comprised of 41 regions, also known as provinces. The Episcopal Church is one province within the Anglican Communion. Unlike many Christian traditions, Anglicanism is not held together by a single governing structure. Each province is relatively autonomous and able to make their own decisions. What holds us together is the decision to walk together in prayer. Even when we disagree with one another, we are committed to walking the road together learning from the teachings of Jesus Christ.
The Episcopal Church is committed to the full inclusion of all humanity within the faith community as expressed in the lived teachings of Jesus Christ. This especially includes LGBTQ+ individuals as full participants in the life of the Church, including the sacraments of the Eucharist, Baptism, and Marriage.
Book of Common Prayer
The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is the official book of worship of the Episcopal Church. The BCP provides liturgical forms, prayers, and instructions so that all members and orders of the Episcopal Church may appropriately share in common worship. The current version of the BCP is the 1979 edition. While commonly used for worship within the community, the BCP is also full of resources for individuals and families to use on a daily basis. The current 1979 prayer book is part of long line of editions and revisions stemming from the original Church of England Book of Common prayer from the 1500s. Versions of the BCP are used by Anglicans throughout the world as part of our commitment to sharing in common prayer and worship.
Liturgy is a common term in the Episcopal Church used to define the church’s public worship of God. Our corporate acts of worship, like the Eucharist or Morning Prayer, are all liturgies. The Book of Common prayer lays out the structure of many of our liturgies, but liturgy itself is performed by the community coming together and worshiping. Liturgy is best thought of as an action of the community.
Middle Way (Via Media)
The Episcopal Church and Anglican Tradition are often referred to as a “Via Media,” or “Middle Way.” In part, this represents the Anglican tradition’s historical founding during the Reformation in the 1500’s. The newly formed Church of England was able to hold together aspects of Roman Catholicism with many of ideas stemming from the Reformation forces at play in Europe at the time. Today, the idea of the “Middle Way” is still very much part of the Episcopal Church’s DNA. We hold fast to many Christian traditions, especially those which connect us with earliest Christian communities, while being open to the where the Holy Spirit is calling us to changes and challenges.
The term “Disciple” is used throughout the Bible to describe the closest followers of Jesus. There are traditionally 12 disciples, or apostles, found within the biblical narrative. From these 12 individuals’ devotion to their teacher, we find our own understanding of discipleship. Christians practice discipleship when they discern ways to better follow the teachings of Jesus Christ in their own lives. Discipleship is not a one-sized-fits-all model. We believe that each Christian is able to live a communal and distinct life of discipleship by listening to the Holy Spirit and participating in ministry according their own God given gifts, skills, passions, and desires.
The Book of Common Prayer says that the ministry of a Christian is to “represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church (BCP pg. 855).”
The Book of Common Prayer defines as a sacrament as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace (BCP pg. 857).” The two main sacraments in the Church are the Eucharist and Baptism.