Episcopalians are just Catholics without the Pope, right?
That's a reasonable question. We have bishops and cathedrals and liturgy and a lot of fancy decorations. (By the way, several other traditions also have liturgy and fancy vestments too.)
The Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church about the same time the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anabaptist movements were beginning. The modern Episcopal Church in the USA separated from the Church of England as a result of the American Revolution (and our own Diocese of Ohio celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2017), so there has been a lot of time for distinct theology and practices to develop, and Protestant thinking has been a very strong influence on our theology.
If you look at the way the Roman Catholic Church is governed, decisions come from the top down; the decision-making process in the Episcopal Church resembles the way the US Government works, a representative democracy. Another important distinction is the way the two churches look at sacraments: The Roman Catholic church has more of them than we do and sees the role of sacraments very differently from the way we see it.
We do, however, see ourselves as part of the Holy Catholic Church, in the sense that Christ's church, extended throughout space and time, includes all Christian believers. (The old definition of catholic is "universal.") Our theological grounding is in the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, which are accepted by virtually all Christian bodies, and every Sunday we reaffirm our faith in the words of one of these creeds.
Is the Episcopal Church a "Bible Church"?
On any normal Sunday, you will hear us read a chapter from the Old Testament, a reading from the New Testament (usually from one of Paul's letters), and a selection from one of the Gospels. In addition to those readings, the congregation will read one of the Psalms in unison. We follow a lectionary, which is a plan that gets us through the whole Bible in about three years.
On a different note, we look to three sources of authority for our decisions: scripture, tradition, and reason. These together are sometimes called the "three-legged stool," because you need all three for it to be stable. Without Scripture, we are just doing what we have always done, and we would not be open to God's voice in our midst.
Female clergy, gay people in church—you're just doing these things to be politically correct, aren't you?
No, we do these things because we believe they are God's will for our church. We arrive at major decisions through a long process of discussion, prayer, and debate, and there are often very strong feelings on both sides. We don't just "go with the flow." (And that "three-legged stool" illustration above has moved us to accept female clergy and sexual minorities.)
To take a different example, modern American culture is very hostile toward immigrants and homeless people, at least in some places, but we believe it's God's will for us to reach out and help these strangers among us. Political correctness might lead us to keep quiet, but instead we put out the welcome mat, and in some places our churches have suffered for it.
What about "Evangelical"? Does that term fit you?
The modern Evangelical movement has come out of Protestant Fundamentalism, and focuses on a very narrow set of biblical and political issues. That is not our historical background, and we have a much broader set of concerns.
In a different sense, though, we really are evangelical. The Greek word ευαγγελιον (good news) became the modern English word "evangel," and our history is very tightly involved with telling the good news of Jesus Christ. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, likes to refer to us as The Episcopal Branch of The Jesus Movement. But we are not part of the political movement known as the Evangelicals.
What is "Apostolic Succession"?
We hold that there is an unbroken line of authority, bishop to bishop, going all the way back to the Apostle Peter. Thus, when a bishop visits our little parish to confirm a new member, there is a direct line going back to the very earliest days of the faith. On the other hand, we recognize that many fine Christians are in churches that do not have this historic tradition, and we are very unwilling to "unchurch" them. We recognize the validity of their baptism and we welcome them to participate in Eucharist with us.
How is our parish governed?
What are the people like?
About 30–40 people show up on an average Sunday morning. We are very near Ashland University, so (as you would expect) we have several faculty members, both current and retired. We also have a couple of other teachers, several people who own their own businesses, a fireman, a farmer, and a couple of health care professionals. Politically, we have several extreme Conservatives and several extreme Liberals. You will even meet a couple of nuns!
As an Episcopal Church, St. Matthew's fits into a well-defined "chain of command." (That's because we are a hierarchical church. The word "Episcopal" comes from an old term that means we are governed by bishops.)
Copyright © 2019 St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Ashland, Ohio
This page was updated 3/6/19