The word that describes this branch of Christ’s Church is “Episcopal” which simply means “having bishops.” Bishops are the sign for us of the unbroken line of succession between Christ and the Apostles to the Church of today. The Episcopal Church in the United States is part of the Anglican Communion, a worldwide fellowship of independent churches with a membership of more than 70,000,000. These churches are in communion with one another, all sharing a common origin: the Church of England. While Anglican Churches share a common heritage, their worship is expressed in a variety of languages and customs. All accept the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed as sufficient statements of the Christian faith, the two great sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion as instituted by Christ, and a ministry comprised of the laity, deacons, priests, and bishops. Anglicans share a heritage that includes both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Although these three communions remain separated, all are working toward understanding and cooperation. By seeking the middle way (or “via media”), Anglicanism bridges both Protestant and Catholic traditions. The Episcopal Church in the United States became the continuing Anglican Church in America following the American Revolution. Certain changes in church governance had to be made, however, since Americans could no longer pledge allegiance to England and English bishops as had been formerly required. It was no accident that the governance of the Episcopal Church followed that of the United States Government since two-thirds of the signers of the Declaration of Independence as well as George Washington were committed Episcopalians. The first bishop of the Episcopal Church, Samuel Seabury of Connecticut, was consecrated in Scotland by three Scottish Episcopal Bishops who were not subject to the authority of the Church of England. Our next two American bishops, however, were consecrated in England because the laws were changed. This led the way to what was to become the Anglican Communion of Churches throughout the world.
Worship in the Episcopal Church is “liturgical.” The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people” or “common prayer.” Although it has been revised several times during the past 500 years, the Book of Common Prayer remains the basis for Episcopal worship, providing for beauty and dignity in which all persons may take part. More than two-thirds of the Book of Common Prayer is from the Holy Bible. The worship of the Church also relies greatly on music to lift up our hearts to God’s presence. Central to our worship is the regular celebration of Holy Communion and the receiving of the Sacrament. At Christ Church, all who seek God and are drawn to Christ are invited to partake. Though it is preferred that those who receive Holy Communion have been baptized, we choose to leave the decision of whether or not to receive before being baptized up to the individual. Anyone who chooses not to receive the Sacrament (for whatever reason) is encouraged to come to the altar rail to receive a blessing. In this way, all of God’s children are included.
The origin of and need for a Book of Common Prayer goes back to the Lord’s Prayer. "The disciples asked Jesus, ´Lord, teach us to pray…´" Throughout the history of the Church, there have been a number of service books required for the conduct of worship: one for Holy Communion, one for Daily Prayer, another for Instruction in the Faith, and on and on. In England in the 16th century, these were mostly in Latin. It was difficult for people to participate fully in the worship of the Church. The first Book of Common Prayer was introduced in 1549, and it and its successors rank with both the King James Bible and the writing of Shakespeare in shaping English language and literature. The Prayer Book is called “Common Prayer” because through it ALL may take part in the worship of God. Furthermore, the Prayer Book is a great spiritual guide. As one Episcopal Bishop put it, “Its round of services presents the great events of the Master’s life in logical sequence. Its creeds express the faith of Christendom. Its canticles lift the soul to loftiest praise. Its Psalter, in portions for daily use, sweeps the whole range of experience. Its catechism instructs, in the elements of religion, and its various offices, fitting the changes of life, carry solace to the sick, the aged, the troubled, and sanctify the varying conditions of human existence. It is a great treasury of devotion, an incentive to right living and right thinking.”
The Prayer Book teaches that a Sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. As Christians and members of the Episcopal Church, we have two great Sacraments in which we pledge loyalty and allegiance to Jesus Christ, namely Baptism and the Holy Communion.
Baptism is often referred to as Christian initiation. It is the door through which one enters into full membership in and participation in the Body of Christ. It is important to remember that one is baptized a Christian, not an Episcopalian, a Baptist, a Methodist, or a Roman Catholic. We are all Christians. Children, as well as adults, are baptized in the Episcopal Church, a practice that dates back to the earliest days in Christian history. The Episcopal Church teaches that regardless of age, all are children in the faith, growing “into the fullness of the stature of Christ.” If baptism is the door to full membership, then the Church provides a path to follow after baptism, through Christian education, fellowship, and worship. Sponsors or Godparents, as well as the whole family of God, are committed to doing all in their power to support those who are baptized in their life in Christ.
If Baptism is the door to full membership, some argue today that Holy Communion — by virtue of its place in our weekly worship — is the door to belonging in the Church. This is a topic that is much-debated in the Episcopal Church today since traditionally, the teachings of the Church have been that only baptized members were allowed to receive the Sacrament. This is still the case in many Episcopal Churches today, though (as explained above) it is not the case at Christ Church. Whether we call it the Holy Communion, the Holy Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, or the Mass, this Sacrament is at the heart of our life as a Christian community. It recalls Jesus’ offering of himself for the whole world. It is a feast through which we believe Christ continues to nourish and sustain us with his life-giving Presence (his Body and Blood). Moreover, it is a “family feast” — the gathering of the community, the sharing of the love of God in communion with one another and with God. The more we come to the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”), the more we grow together with Christ and with one another.
There are many ways in which God's grace is imparted to us, but five have been traditionally called Sacraments:
- CONFIRMATION: A rite through which one renews the promises of baptism and, through the laying on of hands by a Bishop, receives strength from God to live the Christian life as a responsible adult.
- UNCTION: Healing has long been a part of Christian ministry and is biblically commanded. Services of healing are noted in the Prayer Book, and the clergy frequently anoints and prays with those who are ill. Unction is not only provided for healing of the body but healing of the soul as well.
- RECONCILIATION (also called Penance or Confession): As Episcopalians, we make our confession during most worship services, and we receive priestly absolution (the assurance of God's forgiveness). There are times, however, when people desire to make a specific confession, and a Prayer Book service is provided, which may take place either in an informal or a formal setting. There is an old Anglican adage regarding private confession: "All may. Some should. None must."
- HOLY MATRIMONY: Two people are joined together within the community of the Christian family, pledge faithfulness to one another, and receive God's blessing pronounced by a priest of the church.
- HOLY ORDERS: The setting apart by the church of men and women called to serve as deacons, priests, or bishops is commonly referred to as ordination. Only a bishop can ordain, and three bishops are required for the consecration of another bishop.
There are two creeds in the Prayer Book: the Apostles´ Creed and the Nicene Creed. In a simple and direct way, both state the belief of the Church. The creeds bear witness to the Holy Trinity — that is, God has revealed the Nature of God in three ways, as “God the Father,” creator of heaven and earth, as “Jesus Christ, God’s only Son,” our Lord and the one who redeemed us, and “the Holy Spirit, God” that sanctifies our lives, working through history in the lives of men and women, strengthening, inspiring, and helping. When we recite the creeds of the Church, we are expressing the faith of the whole Church as held through the centuries. Some of the language of the creeds is symbolic rather than literal (“…the right hand of God,” for example) since figurative language is often the only way to express spiritual concepts. Traditionally, the Apostles’ Creed is the creedal profession of faith at baptism, and the Nicene Creed is the Church’s profession of the ongoing faith of the Church in the world.
Modern life often glosses over the Ten Commandments, yet they are the basis of morality in our Judeo-Christian culture. The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God: obedience, honor, and worship. The last six concern our relationship with others. Jesus summed up the meaning and intent of these commandments when he said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength …,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” While the Ten Commandments take on a negative form (“You shall not...”), Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.”
Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples in response to their request that he teach them to pray. It is the great prayer of the Church and is used at every service. Besides serving as a perfect prayer in itself, it is also a guide to prayer, expressing petition, adoration, confession, and thanksgiving. Prayer is central to our life at Christ Church and in all Episcopal churches. Not only is every service one of prayer and praise, but the opportunity is given for personal prayers for healing and other needs. Names of persons in need are placed on a prayer list at Christ Church that has a rotating list of names that are read aloud each week in worship. All members of Christ Church are asked to be committed to praying for all members of the congregation. Prayer is more than asking: it is the basis of a relationship with the God who loves us. It enables us to rise above our fears and anxieties and offers us a sense of inner joy, serenity, and peace.
The Episcopal Church is “bible centered.” In addition to full and complete scripture readings at its services, two-thirds of the Book of Common Prayer is taken from the Bible. The Holy Bible is a library of books reflecting every aspect of life, and while they were written and compiled over many centuries, they reflect life as we live it today, with all of its joys and sorrows, hopes and dreams. Principally, the Bible reflects humankind’s search for God and God’s response. Through the stories of real people, we can discern our own need to experience God in our lives, especially in the supreme act of God’s entering the world and dwelling among us in the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Book of Common Prayer provides a guide to reading the Bible on a daily basis (page 934-995).
To be an official member of the Episcopal Church, one must be baptized with water in the name of the Trinity (in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit) and contribute to the life of the community in tangible ways (time, talent, and treasure). Belonging to an Episcopal Church, however, has become more broadly defined in recent years, and many people belong to Episcopal churches who are not full baptized members. The reason we emphasize baptism in the definition of a member is that baptism brings us fully into the life of the family of God. It is through baptism that we open ourselves up (often in ways we never fully understand) to the work of God in our lives. As an Episcopalian, one also becomes a part of the Anglican family of churches throughout the world, “The Anglican Communion.”
At the heart of it is the question, “What is the difference between attending Christ Church, and belonging to Christ Church?” To some degree, we are all “newcomers” in the sense that membership in a Christian community — or any faith community for that matter — is less about membership and more about the journey that we are all on. But within the context of our faith community at Christ Church, there is a difference between those who attend and those who belong. That difference is mutual ownership and participation. Contrary to some opinions, membership (or belonging) is not about entitlement or tenure. Belonging means that we appreciate the gift that this church is to us and thus are called to be good stewards of it and to share it with others. Belonging is an individual experience; it’s not a membership status. When one becomes a member of the Episcopal Church, he or she becomes a part of the whole Church, the parish (in our case, Christ Church), the Diocese (in our case, the Diocese of California), the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA), and the worldwide Anglican Communion. Each member is also called to mission, to reach out to others wherever we might be. This concept is so central to the thinking of the Episcopal Church that each baptized member automatically becomes a member of the church's foreign and domestic missionary society. Unlike a club or society which is an organization, the Church considers itself a living organism of which each individual is a part and bears responsibilities, which include regular worship, individual prayer, and stewardship of time, talent, and treasure. As in any family, each family member has a part to play in the totality of family life. It has been said that the Church exists principally for those who are outside its doors. Our concern is not so much for ourselves as for others. Here are seven suggestions for ways to enter more fully into the life of Christ Church:
- Cultivate the habit of praying — for yourself, for others, for the world. Set aside a time each day for reflection, Bible reading, and prayer.
- Worship regularly. Our motivation should be from the love of God, not guilt. God wants us to come to worship so that we can be made more aware of the gifts of love and strength we have been given.
- Enter as much as possible into the life of the Parish. There are an increasing number of opportunities for service at Christ Church and all are important — hospitality (Coffee Hour, for example), leading book groups or Bible studies, serving as usher, choir member, altar guild member, volunteering for one of our outreach ministries, or serving on our pastoral care (inreach) team. It is so true that the more we give of our time, the more we receive.
- Give toward the work of the church by making a yearly pledge. There is no requirement as to the amount one should give, but the biblical standard is tithing (10%), and many members of Christ Church are working toward a tithe or have exceeded that amount.
- Keep learning about your church and what it means to live a Christian life.
- When you travel, plan to visit an Episcopal (or in other countries “Anglican”) Church and make yourself known (don't be afraid to take the initiative in introducing yourself). Meeting others from the same family increases our awareness of who we are and a deeper appreciation of what we have been given. While there are many similarities in worship styles, there are also differences ranging from very formal to very informal. Note: when traveling in the United States, you will also encounter “Anglican” or “Anglican Orthodox” churches. These are usually churches that have separated from the Episcopal Church over the past 20–30 years over issues like the publishing of the new (1979) Prayer Book or the Church’s changing teachings on sexual orientation. There is nothing wrong with attending worship in these churches, but being aware of the history will help you understand differences in their worship or what may be preached during the service.
- Let the love of God shine through, remembering that we represent Christ in the world by what we say and do, not just on Sunday morning, but every day. Try this simple prayer: "Dear Lord, if there is anything that I can do to help you in the work you are doing here, count on me."
As noted above, membership in an Episcopal Church can be defined in different ways. But at its most basic level, someone who belongs to (is a member of) an Episcopal Church participates regularly in worship, gives of their time, talent, and treasure to the work of the Church, and does what they can to grow in faith through study, reflection, and prayer. To become a full member of Christ Church (and of the Episcopal Church), one can
- Be baptized (if you have not been baptized in another denomination with water in the name of the Trinity).
- Be confirmed (if you have been baptized in another denomination but not confirmed in one of the recognized “apostolic” denominations – Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Lutheran).
- Be received (if you have been baptized and confirmed in another denomination but want to have your move to this denomination recognized liturgically and blessed by the Bishop).
- Reaffirm your faith (if you have done all these things but simply want to reaffirm your commitment to your journey of faith).
- Tell the Rector and fulfill the requirement.
All worshippers are invited to come forward and receive Holy Communion. Adults are asked to consume the bread and take a sip from the chalice (cup). Children may receive in the same manner if they and their parents desire. If you do not want to drink from the chalice, some choose to dip the bread (intinct) in the wine. If you don’t want the wine, cross your arms over your chest after consuming the bread. If you do not want to receive Communion, please cross your arms over your chest, and you will receive a prayer of blessing. Communion may be received kneeling at the altar rail or standing.
Though there are some exceptions to this rule, the general custom in most Episcopal churches is to “stand for praise, sit for instruction, and kneel for prayer.” On entering or leaving one’s pew, some people choose to acknowledge God’s Presence (represented in the altar) by bowing or, in some cases, genuflecting (dropping down to one knee), though this practice has become less common. Either of these simple acts helps to remind us that we are in a holy place dedicated to prayer and worship. Many people bow as the processional cross passes. The cross is the supreme symbol of Christianity, reminding us of how much God loved the world. Making the sign of the cross is one way of expressing one’s thankfulness when receiving a blessing, hearing the Gospel read, or accepting God’s forgiveness in the words of absolution. None of these customs is required, but many worshippers find them to be helpful means of deepening their spiritual awareness. Following the service is Coffee Hour (referred to by some as the eight sacraments). It is a time to greet friends and members of the church family and to extend a warm welcome to newcomers and visitors.