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The word “Episcopal” comes from the Greek word “episcope,” which means oversight. To be an “Episcopalian” is to be governed by bishops. Modern day bishops continue the work of the first apostles in the Church by guarding the faith, unity and discipline of the Church and ordaining people to continue Christ’s ministry on earth. An Episcopalian is a person who belongs to The Episcopal Church, the branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion in the United States and 16 other countries.

As Episcopalians, we are followers of Jesus Christ, our Lord, and we believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We strive to love our neighbors as ourselves and respect the dignity of every person.

Our faith is based on the “three-legged stool” of scripture, tradition, and reason. We acknowledge the Bible as containing the Word of God and all that we need for our salvation, but at the same time we realize that the Bible speaks to us in our own time and place. We respect the past two thousand years of experience of God and Christ by the body of faithful people called the Church as a connection among all believers — and a starting point for our own understanding.

But we also believe that every Christian must build their own interpretation, based on our God-given reason (or intellect) to take the text of the Bible itself, and what Christians have taught us about it through the ages, to sort out our own understanding.

The Episcopal Church celebrates diversity. We come in all ages, gender and sexual identities, races, and ethnicities. We are married, single, divorced, widowed, employed and unemployed. What unites us is our common worship, our desire to study and ask questions, and our willingness to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

We are known best for our beautiful worship. We respect tradition and maintain a sense of awe and wonder at the power and mystery of God. Whether our services are more traditional or more contemporary, we all follow the same form found in the Book of Common Prayer.

You do not need to do or be anything to become a part of the Episcopal Church. Just show up! Everyone is welcome.

We value the middle way, as we have always walked the middle line between protestant and catholic traditions.

The Episcopal Church has about 2 million members in about 7,500 congregations in the United States, the Virgin Islands, Haiti, Europe and other areas in North, Central and South America. The Diocese of Maine, which encompasses the entire state, has 58 year round congregations, 18 summer chapels and several other communities of faith.

For a Dictionary of anything Episcopalian, please click here: A Dictionary of the Episcopal Church

The Information in this section and the pages connected to it are adapted from the websites of The Episcopal Diocese of Maine and The Episcopal Church.

1. A Brief History of the Church of England

The Church of England officially came into existence during the time of the Protestant Reformation, however the Church has been in England much longer. After the Romans left England in the 5th Century a unique and vibrant Christianity remained in the western regions of England and in Ireland, Celtic Christianity. In the central and western parts of the British Isles, Christianity disappeared for a time and was returned to the Anglo-Saxons with the arrival of St. Augustine, a monk in Rome chosen by Pope Gregory I to lead a mission to the Anglo-Saxons. Augustine arrived in England in 597, and within 90 years, all the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England had accepted Christianity.

For the next 5 or so centuries, English Christianity was connected to Roman Christianity, but kept much of the character of Celtic Christianity. With the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the church in England was reformed according to Roman ideas; local synods were revived, celibacy of the clergy was required, and the canon law of Western Europe was introduced into England.

In the 14th century, the English church shared in the religious unrest characteristic of the latter Middle Ages throughout Europe. John Wycliffe, the 14th century English reformer and theologian, became a revolutionary critic of the papacy and is considered to be a major influence on the 16th century Protestant Reformation.

Officially, the official Church of England break with the Roman papacy came during the reign of Henry VIII of England (1509-1547). Pope Clement VII refused to approve the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, so the English Parliament, at Henry’s insistence, passed a series of acts that separated the English Church from Rome. In 1534 the English monarch became the head of the Church of England. The monasteries were suppressed, however few other changes were made, as Henry intended the Church of England to remain Catholic, though separated from Rome.

Henry’s heir, Edward VI, made many Protestant reforms to the Church. When he died, his half-sister Mary, a Roman Catholic, succeeded to the throne, her repression and persecution of Protestants created sympathy for their cause. In 1558, Elizabeth I, Henry’s daughter, became queen. She reestablished an independent Church of England. The Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles (1571) became the standard for liturgy and doctrine. The Church of England has remained a church independent from Rome ever since.

During the 18th century there was an Evangelical Movement in the Church of England that emphasized the Protestant heritage of the Church. In the 19th century the Oxford Movement emphasized the Catholic heritage of the Church. These two perspectives have persisted in the Church, and are sometimes described as “Low Church” and “High Church.” Since the 19th century, the Church has been active in the Ecumenical Movement.

From the time of the Reformation, the Church of England followed explorers, traders, colonists, and missionaries into the far reaches of the known world. The colonial churches generally exercised administrative autonomy within the historical and creedal context of the mother church.

It was probably not until the first meeting of the Lambeth Conference in 1867 that there emerged among the various churches and councils a mutual consciousness of Anglicanism. Although its decisions do not bind the autonomous churches of the Anglican Communion, the Lambeth Conference has constituted the principal cohesive factor in Anglicanism.

2. A Brief History of the Episcopal Church

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. The Church as we know it today dates from the English Reformation of the 16th century when the Church of England separated from the Church of Rome. With the advent of British colonization, the Church of England was established on every continent. In time, these churches gained their independence, just as the various colonies gained independence, but retained connections with the mother church in the Anglican Communion.

The first recorded celebration of Holy Communion in the “New World” was in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. The establishment of Church of England parishes spread throughout North America with the spread of English immigrants across the continent. All clergy in the colonial Church of England were ordained in England by English bishops. There were no bishops in colonial America.

As you might imagine, the American Revolution brought great problems to the Church of England in the colonies. Church of England clergy in the north tended to maintain ties with the English Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) and to support England, while the southern clergy tended to be more sympathetic to the Revolution. When the revolution ended, many clergy had to make a choice between King and country, as all clergy in the Church of England were required to take an oath to the King. Many Church of England clergy fled the country when the war ended.

The “American Revolution left the Anglican parishes shattered, stripped of most of their financial support, weakened by the flight of many clergy and thousands of members, with a number of buildings destroyed and property lost,” wrote Powell Mills Dawley, in Our Christian Heritage (Morehouse-Gorham, 1959).

After the war the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, an English organization, was cut off, and public support of churches was withdrawn because of the newly accepted principle of separation of church and state.

It was unclear for some years whether or not the Anglican Church would survive in the newly forming nation. By 1784 representatives from various regions of the new country agreed on the need to (1) draft a binding constitution for the whole church; (2) revise the English Book of Common Prayer to make it appropriate for use in the American church; and (3) obtain consecration of bishops in Apostolic Succession (the uninterrupted transmission of spiritual authority from the Apostles through successive bishops all the way to the present), to give the American Church proper episcopal oversight and ministry. They were divided over how they should seek to have someone consecrated into this succession.

On March 25, 1783, ten clergy from Connecticut elected Samuel Seabury as their bishop. Seabury traveled to England, but English canon law prevented the consecration of any clergyperson who would not take the Oath of Allegiance to the English Crown. Seabury then travelled to Scotland where he sought consecration there in the Scottish Episcopal Church, which was independent from the Church of England and the Church of Scotland. On November 14, 1784, Seabury was consecrated bishop in Aberdeen. Thus, Seabury became the first bishop of the American Episcopal Church.

In 1786 England changed the law so the Church of England could offer episcopal consecration to those churches outside England. On February 4, 1787, the Archbishop of Canterbury and three other English bishops consecrated William White as Bishop of Pennsylvania and Samuel Provoost as Bishop of New York. Soon after, James Madison was consecrated in England as the Bishop of Virginia and President of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.

In 1790, Seabury, White, Provoost, and Madison joined together to consecrate Thomas Claggett in Trinity Church in New York City. Now the American Church could declare its independence from England.

In 1789 an assembly of the American Church met in Philadelphia to unify all Episcopalians in the United States into a single national church. A constitution and set of canon laws was adopted. The English Book of Common Prayer was revised (principally in removing the prayer for the English monarch). The first American Book of Common Prayer was based almost entirely on the English Book of Common Prayer of 1662.

The new constitution set up a system that resembled in many ways the newly formed government of the United States of America. The country would be divided up into Dioceses which would be governed by elected bishops and annual diocesan conventions. A national General Convention was established, composed of two legislative houses. A system of checks and balances were incorporated into the Church’s constitution.

As the United States began its westward expansion, the church followed. Missionary bishops went into the new territories to minister to the far-flung and sparsely populated western parishes and congregations.

With the advent of the Civil War came division in the church. In the states that seceded from the union, 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 slavery and the Confederacy. The Northern church declined to recognize any separation. Seven months after the fall of Richmond in 1865, the Confederate group quietly disbanded following the national convention, which had been held just a month before.

Throughout the history of the Episcopal Church, the tri-annual General Conventions have maintained the democratic, lay-dominated parish structure that lives in tension with an episcopally dominated central governance structure.

Conventions of the 1950’s and 1960’s ignored 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. These ordinations were not recognized as valid until 1976, 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 February 11, 1989.

After many years of work and struggle, in 2003 Gene Robinson was elected and consecrated as the first openly-gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. In 2012 the canons of the Episcopal Church were amended to prohibit discrimination in the ordination process based on gender identity and gender expression. In 2015 the General Convention amended the canons of the Episcopal Church to permit any couple the rite of Holy Matrimony.

A completely revised Book of Common Prayer was adopted in 1979, and an updated Hymnal was adopted in 1982.

3. The Anglican Communion

Historically, bishops oversee the Church in particular geographic areas, known as dioceses. In the worldwide Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who oversees the Diocese of Canterbury, occupies a special position by virtue of history and tradition, but does not hold a governing position over the 39 national churches. We are a confederation of equals. Collegiality among bishops is the substitute for authority, and communal discernment is the substitute for decision-making power.

It was probably not until the first meeting of the Lambeth Conference in 1867 that there emerged among the various churches and councils a mutual consciousness of Anglicanism. Although its decisions do not bind the autonomous churches of the Anglican Communion, the Lambeth Conference has constituted the principal cohesive factor in Anglicanism.

Today the Anglican Communion comprises more than 80 million members in 44 regional and national member churches in more than 160 countries.

4. Episcopal Church Governance

We are a democratic and lay-dominated structure that 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 their diocese. 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 once a year in convention to conduct the business of the diocese. The convention elects the bishop to serve until death or retirement.

The convention of the Diocese of Maine is held each October. Each diocese lives within a set of general decisions made by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church as a whole. These decisions are formalized as canons-rules that govern—by The Episcopal Church and subsequently by each affected diocese. Each diocese elects and sends clergy and lay representatives—deputies—to the General Convention.

The dioceses and missionary districts in the United States meet every three years 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.

The 109 dioceses of The Episcopal Church and three regional areas from 16 nations are organized into nine provinces, each governed by a synod consisting of a House of Bishops and a House of Deputies. The Diocese of Maine is in province 1.

Following in the tradition of the Church of England and going back to the earliest days of the church, the Episcopal Church adheres to the threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons.

5. The Episcopal Church in Maine

The Episcopal Church in Maine (also known as the Diocese of Maine) is more than 10,000 people in 58 churches and ministries across Maine. We are also home to 18 summer chapels on the coast. We seek to build and support strong communities of faith for God’s mission. We strive to be good stewards of the natural beauty where we live and work. We are called to welcome and serve all people in our midst.

On June 22, 2019 we welcomed the Rt. Rev. Thomas J. Brown and his husband the Rev. Thomas Mousin as the 10th Bishop of the Diocese of Maine.

For more information about the Episcopal Church in Maine please go to

6. The Bible

The Holy Scriptures, the Bible, are the revealed word of God, which inspired the human authors of the Scripture, and which is interpreted by the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible is of extraordinary importance to Episcopal worship: during a Sunday morning service, the congregation will usually hear at least three readings from Scripture, and much of the liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer is based explicitly on the Biblical texts.

There are several translations of the Bible authorized for use, including:

King James

English Revision (1881)

American Revision (1901)

Revised Standard Version (1952)

Jerusalem Bible (1966)

New English Bible with the Apocrypha (1970)

Good News Bible/Today’s English Version (1976)

New American Bible (1970)

Revised Standard Version, an Ecumenical Edition (1973)

New International Version (1978)

New Jerusalem Bible (1987)

Revised English Bible (1989)

New Revised Standard Version (1990)

Common English Bible (2012)

7. The Creeds

Creeds are statements of our basic beliefs about God. The term comes from the Latin credo, meaning I believe.

While we will always have questions about God, the Church, and our own faith, we have two foundational creeds that we use during worship: the Apostles’ Creed used at baptism and daily worship, and the Nicene Creed (adopted in the 300s by the early church founders) used at communion. In reciting and affirming these creeds, we join Christians across the world and throughout the ages in affirming our faith in the one God who created us, redeemed us, and sanctifies us.

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
    creator of heaven and earth;
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
    He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
        and born of the Virgin Mary.
    He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
        was crucified, died, and was buried.
    He descended to the dead.
    On the third day he rose again.
    He ascended into heaven,
        and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic Church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
    the Father, the Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made,
    of one Being with the Father.
    Through him all things were made.
    For us and for our salvation
        he came down from heaven:
    by the power of the Holy Spirit
        he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
        and was made man.
    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
        he suffered death and was buried.
        On the third day he rose again
            in accordance with the Scriptures;
        he ascended into heaven
            and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
   He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
        and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, 
    who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
    With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
    He has spoken through the Prophets.
    We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
    We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
    We look for the resurrection of the dead,
        and the life of the world to come. Amen.

8. Baptism

In the waters of baptism, we are lovingly adopted by God into God’s family, which we call the Church, and given God’s own life to share and reminded that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ. Holy Baptism, which can be performed through pouring of water or immersion in it, marks a formal entrance to the congregation and wider church; the candidates for the sacrament make a series of vows, including an affirmation of the Baptismal Covenant, and are baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are marked as Christ’s own for ever, having “clothed [themselves] with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

If we are baptizing a young child who is unable to take their own vows, the parents and godparents make the vows on their behalf.

All people of any age are welcome to be baptized; we believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, as the “bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 298).

The Baptismal Covenant, found on p. 304-5 of The Book of Common Prayer, is a small catechism for use during the rite of initiation into the Church. In the Covenant’s questions and answers, the congregation expresses the ways each of the faithful will live their faith both inside and outside the church walls. The first four questions are patterned on the Apostles’ Creed, with the liturgy’s celebrant asking the people about their beliefs in each of the members of the Trinity, along with a concise understanding of their natures. Following these questions, the covenant includes five questions regarding how we, as Christians, are called to live out our faith: with firm commitment and a reliance on God’s help.

The Baptismal Covenant

CelebrantDo you believe in God the Father?
PeopleI believe in God, the Father almighty,
    creator of heaven and earth.
CelebrantDo you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
PeopleI believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
    He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
        and born of the Virgin Mary.
    He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
        was crucified, died, and was buried.
    He descended to the dead.
    On the third day he rose again.
    He ascended into heaven,
        and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
CelebrantDo you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
PeopleI believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic Church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting.
CelebrantWill you continue in the apostles’ teaching and
fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the
PeopleI will, with God’s help.
CelebrantWill you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever
you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
PeopleI will, with God’s help.
CelebrantWill you proclaim by word and example the Good
News of God in Christ?
PeopleI will, with God’s help.
CelebrantWill you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
your neighbor as yourself?
PeopleI will, with God’s help.
CelebrantWill you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human
PeopleI will, with God’s help.  

9. Communion

It goes by several names: Holy Communion, the Eucharist (which literally means “thanksgiving”), the Lord’s Supper, the Mass. But whatever its formal name, this is the family meal for Christians and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. As such, all persons who have been baptized, and are therefore part of the extended family that is the Church, are welcome to receive the bread and wine, and be in communion with God and each other.

Before we come to take Communion together, “we should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 859).

10. The Catechism

Offered in a question-and-answer format, the Catechism found in the back of The Book of Common Prayer (pp. 845-862) helps teach the essential truths of the Christian faith and how Episcopalians live those truths. It is also intentionally organized so as to provide a brief summary of the Church’s teaching for an inquiring stranger who picks up a Prayer Book,” with headings such as Human Nature, God the Father, The Old Covenant, The Ten Commandments, Sin and Redemption, God the Son, The New Covenant, The Creeds, the Holy Spirit, The Holy Scriptures, The Church, The Ministry, Prayer and Worship, The Sacraments, Holy Baptism, The Holy Eucharist, Other Sacramental Rites, and The Christian Hope.

11. The Sacraments

The sacraments are the “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 857). Holy Baptism and the Eucharist (or Holy Communion) are the two great sacraments given by Christ to his church.

In the case of Baptism, the outward and visible sign is water, in which the person is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; the inward and spiritual grace is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit. In the case of the Eucharist, the outward and visible sign is bread and wine, given and received according to Christ’s command. The inward and spiritual grace is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith.

In addition to these two sacraments, there are other spiritual markers (also called sacramental rites) in our journey of faith that can serve as means of grace. These include:

  • Confirmation: the adult affirmation of our baptismal vows
  • Reconciliation of a Penitent: private confession. As the saying goes, “all may, some should, none must.”
  • Matrimony: Christian marriage. Episcopalians affirm that committed relationships are lifelong and monogamous. Episcopalians also recognize that there is grace after divorce and do not deny the sacraments to those who have been divorced.
  • Orders: Ordination to the diaconate, priesthood, or episcopacy. We have voted as a church that access to the discernment process “for any ministry, lay or ordained, cannot be denied because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons.”
  • Unction: anointing those who are sick or dying with holy oil

12. The Book of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer is the primary symbol of our unity. We who are many and diverse, come together in Christ through our worship, our common prayer. The prayer book, most recently revised in 1979, contains our liturgies, our prayers, our theological documents, and much, much more.

The Online Book of Common Prayer