January 30, 2024

From the Rector…

I am often asked what it means to be an Episcopalian. The answer is not a simple one. I have heard people say that it means we don’t have to “check our brains at the door”, others have said it means we have a bishop and are in some sort of relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury, still others have said it means we are inclusive and as long as we believe in Jesus then all the other stuff really doesn’t matter. There is some truth in all of these things and they all inform, at least in part, something of what it means to be Episcopal. Being Episcopalian is all of these things and more.

There are layers to our particular expression of faith. Those layers interweave through liturgy, structure, governance, and theology. The particulars are important and complex and each is intricately part of the whole. It is difficult to boil down what it means to be Episcopalian in one sentence or thought, but I do think we have one interaction that quite deftly speaks to our identity. We say it every Sunday when we pray and lots of other times as well. You are probably very familiar with it. It is the way we greet one another. 

The Lord be with you. 

And also with you.

This greeting is not the only way we are Episcopal, but it is laden with a depth that brings us to the root of our faith—God. As Episcopalians we are called to be God-centered in all that we do beginning with how we are connected to one another. The language of this particular greeting requires us to wish goodness…God-ness upon one another. And in return, that same God-ness is offered back to us. Maybe that is at the root of every Christian tradition, but we are acutely aware of it as Episcopalians.

There is more to being Episcopalian than our greeting, but all other things stem from that interaction. Our Eucharistic Prayer begins with those words and then invites us all to the table to feast upon Jesus even and especially in our differences. To be Episcopal is to be willing to lay aside our judgments and hold onto love of God, our fellow man, all of creation in such a way as to put aside those things which threaten to divide us and instead, unite in One Lord, One Body. That is deeply rooted in our tradition.

Other aspects of what it means to be Episcopalian invite us to consider a belief structure known as the three-legged stool: Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. These three things ground our common life and invite us into relationship with God and one another. As the church considers her path forward, she weighs out theological concern based on what the Bible might offer, how we have faced particular events and experiences of our past, and what our God-given brains might offer us in terms of insight and inspiration. The three-legged stool is helpful as a guide in our decision making and process, but it is not the only thing that defines us as Episcopalians.

Being Episcopal means operating under an ecclesial structure of bishop, priest, and deacon. Though we hold up the priesthood of all believers (I Peter 2:5-9), we also set aside those who are ordained and task them with certain responsibilities of the church. Those responsibilities are governed by the canons of the church and hearken to a tradition that stretches back to St. Peter himself. Apostolic Succession is the chain of presbyters, specifically the ecclesial authority aka bishops, that can trace their lineage through the church to Christ’s first apostle, Peter. Each bishop in The Episcopal Church must have three other bishops lay hands upon her or him in order to ensure the line of Apostolic Succession. In that way, each member of the church must also have hands conferred upon them in order to receive membership in the parish. Ultimately, we are all in line with Peter, all in apostolic succession.

Governance is also a way of understanding what it means to be Episcopal. Our governance is rooted in the very democratic ideas of our Founding Fathers (as many were Episcopalians). The governance of the church knows a system of checks and balances that connect it not only to itself but to the diocese and the broader church. We have a representative system in which lay members are set aside for the ministry of leadership in a parish as a vestry. We also have representation of leaders on a diocesan and national level. Each level of governance is formed and informed by canon law (aka church law) that offers us grace in how we are in relationship with one another. 

The working out of our faith is not simply an act of pew worship it is also a system of structure and governance grounded in God. For this reason, when we say, “The Lord be with you and our met with the reply, “And also with you.” We have offered the penultimate expression of what it means to be Episcopal—the desire and hope that we are all grounded in God.

Light and Life (and also with you),