Episcopal Diocese of Washington

Engaging a changing world with
an enduring faith in Jesus Christ

What Episcopalians Believe

The Episcopal Church has many influences, but three stand out: Scripture, tradition and reason. Our beliefs are succinctly captured in the Baptismal Covenant.

Scripture

Our beliefs and worship flow from the Holy Scriptures. We use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, along with the Book of Common Prayer. Every Sunday we read and preach from a 3-year cycle called The Lectionary—it provides a lesson from the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Psalms, and the Gospel every week.

While the Bible is our sacred text, we acknowledge that it is an ancient human document, full of all the contradictions and inconsistencies of humanity. We seek in Scripture spiritual inspiration, historical grounding for our faith, the teachings of Jesus and of the Hebrew prophets before him, and guidance for our own life of prayer and service.

Tradition

We are part of the ancient lineage of Christianity and members of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Our principal celebration, the Eucharist, is modeled on Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples and the communal meals of the earliest Christian communities.  In our governance, we recognize both the ministry of bishops, who serve in the line of apostles,  but we also believe in “the priesthood of all believers,” the teaching that divine wisdom and inspiration are equally accessible to every Christian.

While our bishop is our chief pastor, priests, deacons and lay people participate in the most important decisions about our life together. This is true from the congregational level, where the parish vestry (or council) holds significant authority, through diocesan conventions—which meet yearly, to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, consisting of a House of Deputies and a House of Bishops—which meets every three years, and is the highest temporal authority in the church.

Reason

We do not believe the Spirit stopped speaking when the last page of the Bible was recorded. We believe that God granted us the gift of reason to see the influence of the Holy Spirit through our own experiences, the experiences of our community and the experiences of Christians down through time. We also believe the natural sciences play a role in making clear the divine design.

Our church has reasoned its way to several decisions that were controversial when first made, but some of which have become less so over time.  We believe that issues such as whether to use birth control are matters best left to the informed individual conscience. We know that there is grace after divorce and we do not deny the sacraments to those who have been divorced and remarried. We ordain women as deacons and priests. We believe that same-sex relationships can show forth God’s love as truly as relationships between a man and a woman. We believe that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression are made in the image and likeness of God.

While we are committed Christians, we are deeply respectful toward other faiths and committed to inter-faith dialogue and witness. While we feel called to follow Jesus, we don’t presume that all people are called to the same path.

The Baptismal Covenant

Perhaps the best short, comprehensive summary of the Episcopal faith is contained in the Baptismal Covenant in which Episcopalians profess their belief in the Holy Trinity and their willingness to follow the church’s teachings and repent of their sins. We also pledge to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

Adapted from Saint Barnabas, Scottsdale, Arizona,  St. John’s in Minneapolis and the I am an Episcopalian page of the Episcopal Church’s website.

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