I think I’m finally coming to a decision after years of sitting on dozens of issues with the Catholic church.
An Anglican here. Ask me anything.
Fantastic! For years I’ve thought on and off about attending an Episcopal service (mass?) but have been too afraid to step out of my comfort zone. But for various cultural, political, and theological reasons (I won’t go over them all here, they’ve been discussed enough!), I feel like the Episcopal church is a better fit for me. I’m not getting any younger (I’m 39) and I feel that I need to get on with it instead of living with the feeling of biting my tongue when I’m around other (increasingly zealous) Catholic peers.
So…what can I expect at an Episcopal service? Do I speak with the reverend first, or do I simply attend? Catholic masses are usually pretty large congregations and no one approaches or notices if you are new or not. Is it the same in your church?
Good one, GKC
Also–Indifferently, if you know of any Episcopal message forums that are similar to Catholic Answers, I’d love to know! Feel like I’m posting in the wrong audience!
You’ll be welcome to just attend. Observe the service. Participate if you wish. The problem is, that congregations that call themselves “Anglican” can vary wildly in both doctrine and practice. My church is Reformed evangelical with a traditional Protestant liturgy; other Anglican churches look more like a Roman Catholic mass (and you can find pretty much everything in between and outside of this range). I’d advise checking the website first.
The service will be liturgical, though.
That’s very helpful, thank you! I did check out my local congregation’s website, they are a part of a larger local network of Episcopal churches and seem to be of the moderate/Catholic leaning style.
Episcopal churches are usually quite small, and typically visitors are noticed, and of course are always welcomed. Episcopalians have a reputation (at least among themselves–i.e., they are always castigating themselves about this) for not being very warm and welcoming to visitors, but that is not my experience and if true at all is true only by comparison to evangelical churches. My wife was drawn to the Episcopal Church precisely because Episcopalians aren’t too pushy. Compared to Catholics, though, they are warm and bubbly:p
All baptized Christians are welcome to receive communion in the Episcopal Church. You certainly don’t need to talk to the priest before visiting and participating. In fact, if you choose to attend for a while without formally joining, you will probably find yourself invited to read Scripture or participate in other ways (at one church I was invited to take the bread and wine up at the offertory the first time I attended, but that was an extreme case). The only thing you actually need to be a member for is formal participation in church governmnt (including ordination, obviously!). In other words, Episcopalians have very open, porous boundaries, although in my experience the tight-knit nature of the generally small Episcopal parishes actually encourages a high degree of commitment. (I.e., once you start volunteering for stuff you can very easily get to the point where you feel as if you are needed quite badly). I lay stress on this because it has been one of the huge factors in keeping me Episcopalian. I moved to Kentucky with the full intention of becoming Catholic, and at first insisted that I was only attending the Episcopal church because my wife was. But within a few weeks I said to her in mock complaint, “They are sucking me in!” I don’t mean that anyone put pressure on me, just that I was immediately made to feel as if I was a member of the community, and it was hard not to respond to that by signing up for potlucks and service projects and reading at the Easter Vigil and so on.
Theologically, the Episcopal Church adheres to the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, practices the Sacraments, is governed by bishops, acknowledges Scripture as the Word of God (though with very wide disagreement about what that means and how Scripture is to be interpreted), and treats pretty much everything else as open to debate. (This was formalized in something called the “Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral” about a century ago, though the Quadrilateral was originally intended as an ecumenical statement and I don’t think it actually has any more binding status than, say, the Elizabethan 39 Articles, which Episcopalians tend to treat fairly lightly. Both documents are found in the “Historical Documents” section of the 1979 Prayer Book. However, the Quadrilateral summarizes the things that in fact Episcopalians hold to, whatever its formal authority or lack thereof.) Of course you can find plenty of Episcopalians who question the Nicene Creed and just about everything else, but for the most part these are laypeople. I don’t deny that there are heretical priests and sometimes bishops (even by our own very loose standards), but in my experience they are becoming less, not more, common, and they are nowhere near as common as conservative Christians think.
LIturgically, our worship is very similar to that of post-Vatican-II Catholicism. Episcopalians are a bit more willing to go without Communion on a Sunday if they have to (i.e., if they can’t get a priest they are likely just to have Morning Prayer rather than a “communion service” as Catholics sometimes do, and they don’t go to as many lengths to make sure that parishes do have a priest every week), but no parishes that I’m aware of forego weekly Eucharist if they have a priest available. Some of the more low-church parishes have weekly communion at an early service and only monthly or every other week at the main service, but that’s not very common. We do, however, cherish our tradition of congregational celebration of the Daily Office, and while only a few parishes actually do it every day, many have Evening Prayer at least once a week (weekday Eucharists are also common, though nowhere near as common as in the Catholic Church).
Private confession/reconciliation is an option but is not required, so relatively few people practice it regularly. The standard cliche is “all may, none must, some should.” Some priests, in fact, are a bit surprised if you ask for it, although in principle they are supposed to be prepared to do it. I think that confession in the Episcopal Church is probably a bit more like counseling/spiritual direction than in the Catholic Church–less focused on listing sins.
I’m trying to provide a "middle-of-the-road’ picture as much as possible. There are Anglo-Catholic parishes that are much more like Catholicism, with regularly posted confession times (sometimes even confessionals in the older parishes in large cities), daily Mass (called Mass), Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, etc. But the full package is relatively uncommon these days–most parishes are more toward the “middle” of the spectrum. Generally speaking the Midwest is quite Anglo-Catholic and the South, especially the Southeast, is much less so.
I am coming to all of this from almost exactly the opposite perspective to yours, but like you I feel as if I need to “fish or cut bait” (I’m 40!). In my case, it’s a matter of deciding whether I ought to become Catholic.
I would encourage you to remain Catholic, personally. I don’t think “fit” is the most important thing when deciding Church questions. Don’t let the current wave of over-zealous ultra-conservatives persuade you that they have a lock on the Church. The Church works on a very long scale. The things you have problems with may turn out to be permanent part of Church teaching, or they may not. But why give up your place in the story?
(I don’t, in fact, think that non-Catholics are “out of the story” or in a different story. That is my strongest reason for not going through with becoming Catholic. But you are in full communion with Rome, and you have a place precisely as a questioner within the Catholic Church.)
I know I have no right to tell you what to do. I just know that many of the folks on this forum and other conservative Catholics are probably saying things to you that make you feel as if you have no place in Catholicism, and I wanted to offer a differing perspective.
God bless, whatever you decide,
Anglicanism is in a messy state at the moment, perhaps even more so in the US than in England. If I was in the US I would probably attend either a confessional Presbyterian or LCMS church.
Wow, that is incredibly helpful, Contarini! Thank you for taking the time to break it down. I’m learning a lot on my own and it really helps to hear it all in plain language. Funny enough, I live in a very liberal, progressively minded area (San Francisco bay area), yet I am in a parish that includes some seriously hard-core Catholics. I just think that I can’t belong to something that I disagree with on some fundamental topics that are never going to change.
Indifferently, Lutheranism (and its forms) is also something I’m looking into. Thanks for the tips!
Contarini pretty much sums it up.
I will add that there is nothing you can find in an Episcopal Church that you wouldn’t be able to find at a Roman Catholic parish, even if it took some looking.
Good luck on your journey.
That depends. If there are any US Episcopal churches resembling the Diocese of Sydney, that will not be a guarantee.
Any that were even remotely of that ilk left and are now part of the ACNA.
Gerald Bray, a low-church C of E scholar who lives and teaches in the U.S., told me a few years ago that in his view there were no true low-church Anglicans in the U.S. And by English standards, that’s pretty much right (hence Indifferently’s statement that he wouldn’t be Anglican if he lived in the U.S.).
Well, if you really want to bite the bullet, you should visit St. Gregory of Nyssa. It’s known throughout the Episcopal Church for its liturgical style. It’s one of the few Episcopal parishes that doesn’t use the Nicene Creed (which kind of makes its name a bit ironic). At the same time, I confess to finding them rather fascinating–they are, in their own way, very thoughtfully engaged with the Christian tradition, and I would love to visit them sometime.(I have never been to SF.)
For a more conservative take on Bay Area Episcopalianism, I’ll ask my friend Charis, who used to be a grad student at Stanford, what parish she attended. (She is now working in France and in fact is in RCIA and considering eventually joining a religious order. . . . )
I am not as sure either that the RCC will not change or that it is wrong as you appear to be. It seems to me that to leave one would need to be more convinced that it is wrong and that it won’t change than one is of the basic truth of Catholicism. I wouldn’t be able to leave, although after months of yet another stab at RCIA I’m not sure I can join either, so I’m not in any way speaking as if I know for sure what you should do. And we probably view a lot of the issues differently.
Again, I pray for God’s blessings on you whatever you decide.
my Episcopal Church has a greeter who will be glad to introduce you-you will feel remarkably at home as our service is very similar in outward appearance to a RC one-you will notice a general confession in the service ( private confession is available)
As stated all baptized Christians are welcome at the Eucharist which is take at the altar rail in both wafer and wine- ( you can do 1 or both or have the host dipped in the wine by the Priest
About a quarter of our Congregation are former Roman Catholics, a little higher than the average in other denominations
I call the service the mass but others call it the Eucharist-there is indeed variation in the emphasis of the service between Congregations-my Church is considered mainline and we feel that we are the via media between the Catholic Church and Protestants-you will find that many of the members view themselves as Catholics with a small c
no CHurch is without troubles-and in my Church issues of human sexuality are a potentila dividing issue-our Bishop has not yet approved same sex marriages but it is likely a matter of time before this happens-divorced members are encouraged to take the sacraments
It is a lovely loving Church that I love but am also worried about its future
When looking for the true Church, rather than looking for the church with the most greeters, a coffee shop, feel-goody sermons and worldly social teachings, one should look for the Church which will ultimately lead to salvation. There are four things to keep in mind.
Is the church “one”?
Did God promise that Hell would never overcome it?
Is the church in question universal?
Can its’ origins be traced directly back to the Apostles and Jesus Christ himself?
I think you’ll find the Episcopal communion lacks these basic pillars. It is not one-- there are many, many divisions and doctrinal differences. It is not holy, because it wasn’t the Episcopal Church that Jesus was speaking of back in 33 AD. It isn’t universal, and it isn’t apostolic, at least not anymore.
No one thinks that the Episcopal Church is the true Church. Nor, as a Catholic who accepts the authority of Vatican II, do you have the option of denying that baptized Episcopalians are in some sense members of the true Church. The question is: exactly what is the Episcopal Church’s relationship to the true Church? Episcopalians tend to see themselves as one constituent of the worldwide Anglican Communion (though that may be changing in some ways) which is in turn one part of the Catholic Church as a whole.
I don’t believe that the Episcopal Church, or even the Anglican Communion, is a single thing in any meaningful ecclesiological sense. If we do have apostolic succession, then we are a collection of local churches led by bishops but not in communion with Rome. If our apostolic succession is broken, as Rome claims, then we are a collection of communities of baptized people who believe in Jesus.
But whichever of these things is true, we participate in the four marks of the Church only insofar as other Christians do (other Christians with apostolic succession in the first case; all other baptized, Trinitarian Christians in the second).