What does it mean to be a Church?
The word "church" comes from the Latin ecclesia , which means "a gathering." Eventually it came to mean the gathered people of God. Later still, it came to be associated with the building used by the gathered church.
The church is the "gathering" where Christians pray, sing and celebrate the sacraments together. The church is at once human and divine, just like Jesus Christ. Of course, there is lots of sinful humanity in church history but we believe God is immersed in that history, calling, forgiving, and redeeming.
What does it mean to be an Episcopal Church?
The word "episcopal" comes from the Greek episcope, which means "oversight." As a result, it means that the Episcopal church is "overseen" or led by bishops. Each parish belongs to a larger geographical area called a diocese, which is led by a bishop. All the dioceses together make up the national church across the country, and they, in turn, are overseen by another elected bishop, called the Presiding Bishop.
A bishop is a priest who has been elected by a diocese and approved by the other bishops. Bishops are consecrated to their life-long calling by three other bishops who trace their consecrations all the way back to the apostles. However, all of the people of the church participate in the administration of the church family.
The governing body of the church is the General Convention, which meets every three years. General Convention has two houses, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, made up of lay and clerical representatives chosen by their dioceses.
Its espousal of a gracious, tolerant and--we believe--wise form of Christianity.
There are churches that say, "We have the truth!" and there are churches that argue "you must believe this in order to be saved" and there are churches that claim "those other churches have it wrong!"
While we respect all faith journeys because we believe that God meets people where they are, we like to think that our branch of the Christian tradition has learned over the centuries to look to the Holy Spirit for truth and not our own humanly-framed claims.
That often means we choose silence when we are tempted to shout our version of the truth. It occasionally means that we are more saddened than edified by all the competing religious claims. We often imagine God saying in the face of the cacophany that is the religious scene today, "Will you be quiet for just a few minutes so you can hear me?" Sometimes you can hear a pin drop in Episcopal worship.
We believe that God is fully in our midst as an Episcopal Church, but we also believe that God is fully active in every human life on the planet. That's the God we worship.