The beginnings of the Church of England, from which the Episcopal Church derives, date to at least the second century, when merchants and other travelers first brought Christianity to England. It is customary to regard St. Augustine of Canterbury's mission to England in 597 as marking the formal beginning of the church under papal authority, as it was to be throughout the Middle Ages.
CIVIL WAR PERIOD: When South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1860, she was followed by ten more southern states. In 1861, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America was established, in every way the same as before except for its name change and its loyalty to the Confederacy. But the northern church declined to recognize any separation. Throughout the war, churchmen on both sides maintained their old friendships and bonds of Christian union with each other, according to Dawley (Our Christian Heritage, Morehouse-Gorham, 1959).
Seven months after the fall of Richmond in 1865, the Confederate group quietly disbanded following the national convention, which had been held a scant month before.
AMERICAN CHURCH POLITY: Subsequent general conventions have added to, but not substantially changed a basic polity in which a democratic, lay-dominated parish structure exists in tension with an episcopally dominated central governance structure. Each self-supporting congregation (parish) elects its lay governing board (vestry) for temporal affairs and its rector as spiritual leader. Congregations that are not self-supporting (missions) are directed by the bishop of the area. In a given area, the parishes and missions make up a diocese, headed by a bishop. All clergy and lay representation from all congregations meet annually in convention to conduct the business of the diocese. The convention elects the bishop to serve until death or retirement.
GENERAL CONVENTION: The dioceses and missionary districts in the United States meet triennially in General Convention. All bishops are members of the House of Bishops, and the House of Deputies is made up of equal numbers of clergy and laity. The Executive Council, the administrative agency of the General Convention, is headed by the Presiding Bishop (elected by the House of Bishops and confirmed by the House of Deputies). The Presiding Bishop also presides over the House of Bishops. Decisions at General Convention are made by joint-concurrence of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops.
PROVINCES: The 109 dioceses of the Episcopal Church and three regional areas are organized into nine provinces, each governed by a synod consisting of a House of Bishops and a House of Deputies. The Episcopal Church is a part of the Anglican Communion.
MODERN PERIOD: Conventions of the 1950s and 1960s tended to ignore increasing pressure from women to demand ordination as deacons and priests in the church. The General Convention of 1970 allowed women ordination to the diaconate.
In 1974, eleven women presented themselves for ordination to the priesthood in Philadelphia. The House of Bishops declared the ordinations invalid, saying that the 11 women remained deacons.
After 1976, the eleven ordinations were regularized when the General Convention allowed women to be eligible for ordination to both the priesthood and the episcopate. Barbara Harris, the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion, was elected as Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts on Feb. 11, 1989.
A completely revised Book of Common Prayer was adopted in 1979, and an updated Hymnal was adopted in 1982.
(Copyright 1999, Diocese of Oregon. All rights reserved.)
1517: Martin Luther publishes 95 Theses, sparking the Protestant Reformation.
1521: Pope designates Henry VIII "Defender of the Faith." English monarchs to this day retain the title.
1529-36: Henry VIII and Parliament take over the administration of the Church in England. Destruction of monasteries ensues.
1547: Henry dies. He is succeeded by Edward VI, with Edward's uncle as Lord Protector.
1549: The first Book of Common Prayer is aproved, with Thomas Cranmer as principal author.
1552: The second Book of Common Prayer is approved.
1553: Edward VI dies at age 16. Mary becomes Queen, restores Roman Catholicism, and burns Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley at the stake. She marries Philip II, the Roman Catholic monarch of Spain.
1558: Elizabeth I becomes Queen upon Mary's death and re-establishes the Church of England, with the English monarch as its highest earthly authority.
1559: The third Book of Common Prayer is approved. Puritans protest.
1563: The Thirty-Nine Articles are prepared; they are approved by Parliament in 1571.
1579: The first English-language Communion service is held in the Western Hemisphere (California) by Sir Francis Drake's chaplain.
1603: Elizabeth I dies at age 70; James I, of Scotland becomes king and authorizes a new translation of the Bible.
1607: The Church of England is established in the first permanent English-speaking settlement in the New World, Jamestown, Virginia. The Church of England is then also established in other mid-Atlantic and southern colonies.
1611: King James Version of the Bible is published.
1620: Pilgrims (Puritan religious refugees) land at Plymouth Rock.
1636: Harvard College is founded to train Congregational (Puritan) clergy.
1645: The Book of Common Prayer is outlawed by Puritan-controlled Parliament.
1649: King Charles I is executed in a revolution led by Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell, who became Lord Protector in 1653.
1658: Oliver Cromwell dies, and is succeeded by son Richard.
1660: Richard Cromwell is overthrown, and Charles II becomes king.
1662: The fourth Book of Common Prayer is approved, which is still in use by the Church of England.
1693: The College of William & Mary (Williamsburg, Virginia) is started by Church of England.
1699: The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) is founded.
1701: Yale College is founded to educate Congregational clergy.
1701: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts is founded.
1607-1785: The Church of England in New World is overseen by the Bishop of London. The vestry system develops. Clergy are paid from taxes. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson serve on vestries.
1776: The Declaration of Independence is signed. Most Anglican clergy, who have sworn loyalty to the King in their ordinations, stay loyal.
1783: The Treaty of Paris ends the Revolutionary War.
1784: Samuel Seabury of Connecticut is consecrated the first overseas Anglican bishop by Scottish non-juring bishops, after being elected in Connecticut and rejected by Church of England bishops, who, legally, could not ordain him. Seabury promised to use the Scottish 1764 Communion service, based on the Eastern Orthodox service.
1785: The First General Convention of Episcopal Church is held, with clergy and lay representatives from Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia. The General Convention authorizes the preparation of an American Prayer Book and names itself the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
1786: The proposed American Book of Common Prayer is approved for use on a state-by-state basis.
1787: Samuel Provoost of New York and William White of Philadelphia are consecrated bishops by the Church of England. Seabury's Scottish consecration helped motivate Parliament and the Church of England to do this. Both continue to be rectors. The second General Convention adopts basically the present Episcopal Church structure. A revised Book of Common Prayer, prepared by White, is adopted; this version of the Book of Common Prayer is based on the 1662 Prayer Book with the exception of the 1764 Scottish Communion Service.
1804: Absalom Jones is ordained the first black priest in the Episcopal Church.
Early 1800s: Bishop Provoost of New York secures for New York a fair share of inheritance left by Queen Anne (d. 1714). Methodism gains strength in England and United States.
1817: General Convention authorizes the founding of the General Theological Seminary in New York City.
1823: The Diocese of Virginia establishes a second Episcopal seminary, Virginia Theological Seminary, in Alexandria.
1839: The Diocese of Virginia establishes the first high school in Virginia, Episcopal High School (adjacent to Virginia Theological Seminary).
1833: The Oxford Movement (Anglo-Catholic) begins in England. In the following decades, many new Religious Orders (i.e., monastic communities) were formed.
1861-65: During the American Civil War, Southern Episcopal dioceses join the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Confederate States of America, but are welcomed back after war ends. Other denominations experience long term (100+ years) splits.
1873: Evangelical, "low church"-oriented Reformed Episcopal Church is founded.
1885: The House of Bishops adopts the Chicago Quadrilateral. General Convention approves the Quadrilateral in 1886.
1888: The Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops adopts the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.
1892: Minor revisions are made to the Book of Common Prayer.
1919: The National Council (now the Executive Council) is established by General Convention. The Office of the Presiding Bishop is established to oversee national church programs.
1928: The revised Book of Common Prayer includes language updates and a new translation of Psalms. "Love, honor, and obey" is dropped from the bride's vows in the service of Holy Matrimony.
1940: A new Hymnal is approved.
1944: Henry St. George Tucker becomes the Episcopal Church's first full-time Presiding Bishop.
1961: John Hines of Texas is elected Presiding Bishop. Strong social justice commitments elicit negative reaction from conservatives.
1970: The first authorized women members join the House of Deputies.
1973: John Allin of Mississippi is elected Presiding Bishop for 12-year term.
1974: The first eleven women are ordained to priesthood in an “irregular” service in Philadelphia.
1976: General Convention approves the ordination of women, and "regularizes" 1974-75 ordinations. First reading on new Prayer Book.
1979: Second reading approves new (present) Book of Common Prayer.
1982: A new Hymnal is approved.
1985: Edmond Browning of Hawaii is elected Presiding Bishop for a 12-year term.
1989: Barbara Harris is consecrated the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion.
1995: $2.2-million embezzlement by the church's treasurer, Ellen Cooke, is uncovered. She is subsequently imprisoned.
1997: Frank Griswold of Chicago is elected Presiding Bishop for a 9-year term.
2000: General Convention approves "Called to Common Mission," a revised version of the Lutheran Concordat, establishing full communion between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Episcopal Church, effective January 1, 2001.
2003: General Convention approves the Diocese of New Hampshire's election of the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest in a long-term committed relationship, as Bishop Coadjutor.
2006: Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada is elected the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church for a 9-year term. She is the first and only woman to be a churchwide leader in the Anglican Communion.
2009: General Convention charges the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to develop theological and liturgical resources for same-sex blessings and report back to the General Convention in 2012.
2011: The Episcopal Church inaugurates a full-communion relationship with the Northern and Southern provinces of the Moravian Church in North America.