What is the Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church strives to live by the message of Christ, in which there are no outcasts and all are welcome. Walking a middle way between Roman Catholicism and Protestant traditions, we are a sacramental and worship-oriented church that promotes thoughtful debate about what God is calling us to do and be, as followers of Christ.

The Episcopal Church includes 2 million members in some 7,100 congregations in 16 countries/territories that are home to 110 dioceses and, in Europe, one similar convocation of parishes. We are governed by a two-tier General Convention, which dates from 1785. Legislation is adopted by vote of both the House of Deputies (elected clergy and laity from each diocese) and the House of Bishops.

The Episcopal Church's constitution was ratified in 1789, and the Church's roots on North American soil date back more than 400 years to the First Landing of English settlers on April 26, 1607, at what is now Virginia Beach. The establishment of the Jamestown Colony followed within weeks. The Episcopal Church affirms ministry and leadership shared by laity and clergy. Principal overseers are bishops, who are elected by the diocese in which each serves.

Anglican Christianity dates back more than 520 years to the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, and the Elizabethan Settlement that combined both Catholic and Protestant faith expressions into one tradition.

The Episcopal Church has a long history of affirming spiritual growth and civil rights. The Church is no stranger to conflict, dating from the time of the American Revolution, through several liturgical eras, the Civil War, and later strides for civil rights. The path for women's ordination as deacons, priests and bishops was formalized 30 years ago by the General Convention meeting in 1976. Significant strides have also followed for the full inclusion of all the baptized without regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background.

The chief pastor of the Episcopal Church is its Presiding Bishop and Primate, elected to a nine-year term by the House of Bishops; the vote is then confirmed by the House of Deputies. The position is currently held by the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, former bishop of the Diocese of Nevada, who was elected June 18, 2006, at the 75th General Convention, and instituted as Presiding Bishop in a service at Washington National Cathedral on November 4, 2006. Jefferts Schori is the first woman to serve as Presiding Bishop.

The Presiding Bishop is one of 28 Primates, or principal bishops, who lead Provinces — or nationally based churches — of the Anglican Communion, of which the Archbishop of Canterbury is recognized as spiritual leader and first among equals.

The Episcopal Church includes all sizes of congregations, from small, rural missions to large corporate parishes such as New York City's Trinity Wall Street and a historic cadre of cathedral churches, including the century-old Washington National Cathedral. Church life occurs in at least 17 languages, notably English, French and Spanish. For more about the Episcopal Church visit www.episcopalchurch.org.