What is an Episcopalian?

This Episcopal Church Welcomes You!

This Episcopal Church Welcomes You!

Christ’s Church, Rye is a parish within the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The Episcopal Church is a member of the world-wide Anglican Communion, with 70 million members in 164 countries. We are a community of Christians bound together by our belief that Holy Scripture contains the very core of all Christian faith and thought, by the many ancient and modern stories that connect us to Jesus and his teachings, and by discovering daily God’s hope and call to us through our life together.

The precise beliefs and practices of Episcopalians can be a puzzle to those raised in more rigid traditions—and even sometimes to Episcopalians themselves! We are not fully Protestant, but at the same time are not Roman Catholic either. We offer no unquestioning obedience to a central authority—instead debating doctrine among ourselves and often agreeing to differ on it. Yet we also have splendidly dressed bishops and priests and deacons, just as the Roman Catholics do (except, of course, that many of ours are women, and our senior bishops are all elected), and we center our worship on the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.

The connections that bind us can sometimes get lost in the smoke of debate, but they are there nonetheless, have deep historical roots, and are much more powerful than they sometimes seem.

Learn more about the uniquely Anglican approach to Holy Scripture

At the heart of all Episcopal worship is the Book of Common Prayer, and within it the principal weekly service is the Holy Eucharist—also known as Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper or Mass.

For each Christian season, the Book of Common Prayer lays out the form that the service should take, and provides the text for most of the prayers. A calendar of readings from the Scriptures, called the “Lectionary,” lays out which biblical passages should be read each day. Typical services will mix readings, prayers, hymns and a sermon. In every case, while a priest leads the service, the congregation participates extensively—singing hymns and speaking or singing prayers, the creed, responses and psalms.

Exactly what one does when—should you be kneeling, sitting or standing? Should you sing or speak the responses? When do you say Amen? —can be a bit of a puzzle to a newcomer (and in some details even when an existing Episcopalian visits a different church), but it should not be intimidating. In any event, because the essential form of the service remains the same from one Sunday to the next, you soon get used to it—and after that you will begin to experience what Episcopalians find so satisfying: the mental space that the familiar rhythm opens up to commune more profoundly with God.