A (Very Brief) History of the Episcopal Church
(adapted from the national church website)
The Episcopal church has its roots in the Church of England which King Henry VIII formed when he wanted to divorce his wives (in pursuit of a male heir) but the pope wouldn’t let him. He created the Church of England (Anglican Church) in its stead, which had royal, not papal, authority. The Anglican Church had a strong following in colonial America, but when the colonies won their independence, the majority of America’s Anglican clergy refused to swear allegiance to the British monarch as was required. As a result, they formed the Episcopal Church.
At the head of the Episcopal Church, which has 109 dioceses in 16 nations, is Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. At the head of the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a member, is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
“Being a Christian is not essentially about joining a church or being a nice person, but about following in the footsteps of Jesus, taking his teachings seriously, letting his Spirit take the lead in our lives, and in so doing helping to change the world from our nightmare into God’s dream.”
― Michael Curry, Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus
Women’s Ordination in the Church
(adapted from this timeline)
In 1976 the General Convention approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate in the Episcopal Church and stated that such ordinations might begin on Jan. 1, 1977. Similar resolutions had been narrowly defeated at the 1970 and 1973 General Conventions. A 1967 General Convention resolution had opened the diaconate to women and recognized that women currently serving as deaconesses were members of the diaconate. On July 29, 1974, three bishops, claiming that “obedience to the Spirit” justified their action, ordained eleven women deacons to the priesthood in Philadelphia. The ensuing controversy surrounding these irregular ordinations highlighted divisions evident in the church over this issue. After the 1976 vote, most dioceses accepted the ordination of women, and ordinations of women proceeded at a rapid rate. The 1997 General Convention revised the canons to prevent any diocese from denying access to the ordination process, or refusing to license a member of the clergy to officiate, solely on the grounds of gender.
In 1988, The Rev. Barbara C Harris of Philadelphia (right) was elected suffragen bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts (our diocese!) as the first woman to be elected bishop in the Anglican Communion. Her election came just weeks after the Lambeth Conference of Bishops rejected a resolution opposing ordaining women as bishops.
People of African Descent in the Episcopal Church
John Melville Burgess was consecrated on December 8, 1962 in the Diocese of Massachusetts and was the first Black diocesan bishop in the US. Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he served as Chaplain at Howard University, First Black Canon of Washington National Cathedral, Archdeacon of Boston and Superintendent of the Episcopal City Mission, then Bishop Suffragan and later Bishop Coadjutor of Massachusetts. He was a member of the Church Workers Union and National President of the Union of Black Episcopalians, a champion of the ecumenical movement and active in National Church and World Councils of Churches.
LGBTQ+ People in the Episcopal Church
(adapted from this page)
In 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church declared that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church” (1976-A069). Since then, faithful Episcopalians have been working toward a greater understanding and radical inclusion of all of God’s children.
Along the way, The Episcopal Church has garnered a lot of attention, but with the help of organizations such as Integrity USA, the church has continued its work toward full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Episcopalians. In 2003, the first openly gay bishop was consecrated; in 2009, General Convention resolved that God’s call is open to all; in 2012, a provisional rite of blessing for same-gender relationships was authorized, and discrimination against transgender persons in the ordination process was officially prohibited; and in 2015, the canons of the church were changed to make the rite of marriage available to all people, regardless of gender.
The Book of Common Prayer
The BCP is the official document detailing all the services and sacraments of the Episcopal Church and can be found online here.