The Office of Public Affairs

The Public Affairs Office provides statistics, biographies, photos, background information, and other resources to media representatives reporting on the mission and ministries of The Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church: Its History and Heritage

February 16, 2010
Office of Public Affairs
The Episcopal Church, its History and its long Heritage
  • The Episcopal Church boasts a long history. The Episcopal Church, a hierarchical church, traces its heritage to the beginnings of Christianity.
  • The Episcopal Church is an independent church which is a constituent member of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Its origin is in the planting of the Church of England in the colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
  • The earliest known celebrations of the Eucharist on North America were near San Francisco, CA in 1579 by Sir Francis Drake”s chaplain and in 1607 at Jamestown, VA, an English settlement. Since those long ago days, our liturgy retains ancient structure and traditions, and is celebrated in many languages. We uphold the Bible and worship with the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Since the end of the American Revolution (when American Episcopalians became independent from the Church of England), The Episcopal Church has been organized on three levels: with a General Convention on the national level, individual dioceses, and parishes.
  • General Convention, made up of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, has ultimate legislative authority. It authored (and continues to amend) the Church”s Constitution, establishes the Book of Common Prayer, sets out rules for the ratification of bishops, and through its canonical actions sets forth governance of the Church.
  • New dioceses are “formed with the consent of General Convention.” Each diocese offers “unqualified accession” to the Constitution and Canons of the Church. Dioceses, in turn, require that individual congregations must accede to the Constitution and canons in order to be members of the diocesan convention.
  • Dioceses govern themselves through conventions (sometimes called councils), and in turn also pass canons, but these are subservient to the national canons.
  • All clergy swear loyalty to “Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship” of The Episcopal Church.
  • Today the Episcopal Church has members in the United States, as well as in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Haiti, Honduras, Micronesia, Taiwan, Venezuela, and the Virgin Islands (both US and British).
  • William White said that the Church of which he was a prime architect was to contain “the constituent principles of the Church of England, and yet independent of foreign jurisdiction or influence.”

The Episcopal Church: