When looking at churches many questions come to mind.
Who are we?
The Episcopal Church is a member of the world-wide Anglican Communion; people seeking to understand God’s ongoing work in the world knowing that we may not know it in its entirety, yet still striving to know it as best we can. We are a diverse community that remains bound together by our belief that Holy Scripture reveals the will and love of God through the ancient stories and the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, by the wisdom and traditions of our ancestors in the faith, and by the insights and experiences of each person as we grow in our knowledge and love of God through our life together.
So, what do Episcopalians believe?
The short answer is that we believe lots of different things because we come together with diverse experiences and perspectives. However, there are two important elements that bind us together. First, we believe in a God who is an all-powerful intelligent being, existing independently of the physical Universe and responsible for its creation. We also believe God cares deeply about the Universe and ALL its inhabitants. Second, we believe that the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth (c. 6 BC to AD 27) as recorded in the Bible give us direct insight into God’s wishes for humanity. With this as the basis of our theology, we seek to live out the commandments to love God and also to love our neighbors.
What do you mean by “theology”?
Theology literally means “thoughts about God”, and yes, we know, the theology of the Episcopal Church may be difficult to get some times. But basically, we have a very broad theology that came as a result of the English Reformation. We stand between the extremes of 16th century Roman Catholicism and the Protestant reformists. We respect the history and traditions of the church while also balancing them against the ongoing revelation of God in our own time. By doing so, we acknowledge that although no single person or group has all the answers, we can still gather together and fulfill the Gospel imperative by being a place of hope and healing for all.
Do Episcopalians Read the Bible?
You bet we do. In fact, we typically read sections from it four times during our worship services, with readings from the Older Testament (ancient writings of ancestral stories, prophetic texts, wisdom, interpretations of God’s ongoing work in the world and more) the Psalms (poetry and songs of worship, praise, lament and instruction of our early ancestors of faith), Newer Testament (pastoral and evangelical letters) and always the Gospel (the life and teachings of Jesus Christ). In fact, if you look closely (or just did a Google search) you would find that a large portion of the prayers and blessings of our prayer book are taken directly from passages in the Bible and on a regular basis a lot of us even get together to study the Bible to reflect on and discuss its meaning in our lives.
Okay, but do you believe the Bible?
Of course we do. We are a biblical church, but not biblical literalists. Rather than seeing the Bible as simply a dogmatic textbook, we let its stories become our stories as we become a new embodiment of the Word of God. The Bible connects us to our spiritual ancestors from two to four thousand years ago, writing their experience of God and the meaning of life. We believe that every generation asks questions of meaning and we must respect and learn from those who have wrestled with the same questions in the past. So those ancestors share their spiritual lives with us and we share ours with each other. And though we recognize that different parts were written for different audiences and not all was intended as literal history, we take its consistent message of God’s love and concern for all very seriously.
Yeah, but do you believe in Jesus?
Absolutely! We see the most perfect representation of God’s love in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus, through his obedience to God and his willingness to sacrifice his life for all of humanity by dying on the Cross, has conquered death forever and has promised eternal life for all that follow him, so we strive to pattern our lives on Jesus’ teaching of love for all rather than simply “those like us”.
Who can attend?
That’s an easy one. Everyone is welcome! Being made in God’s image and welcomed in God’s church is not dependent on race, color, sexual orientation, age, social status or any other designation. As we say in our invitation to communion, “all are welcome at the Lord’s table”. And by the way, don’t worry, you won’t be embarrassed or singled out. You will be a welcomed and respected guest, participating at whatever level is comfortable for you.
What about LGBT people?
We are all brothers and sisters made in the image of God, no exclusions. We are an open and affirming congregation that supports and participates in the annual St. Cloud Pridefest (stop by our booth next time you are there). We are also delighted by the establishment of a more just society through changed legislation that allows same-sex marriage in Minnesota that allows us to celebrate and bless the marriages of our LGBT brothers and sisters. For more information, or to arrange for your wedding, give us a call.
But I’m not really sure and going to church seems a little weird.
Don’t worry. We believe that everyone is on a journey of faith and that we are all at different points that must be respected (that’s part of the “grace of God” thing). Wherever you may be, we will do our best to support you in what you need so that you may know God’s love. But please understand that we are also on the same journey, so when some of us don’t show our love as well as we should, we ask your forgiveness as well.
But I have squiggly kids that may disrupt.
No problem. Children are in integral part of what Christian living is all about. Parenting is the perfect example of what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews meant in describing the Christian faith as: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not yet seen.” Though we encourage children to be a part of the worshipping community, we do also have a nursery for those who may need a break.
But what do I do when I’m there?
First of all, simply relax. For those unfamiliar with Christianity or the Episcopal Church some things may seem confusing, but there is a purpose and history behind them. We have a common prayer book and/or service bulletins to guide you through the service. When in doubt, just ask the person next to you.
Why does the priest wear funny clothes?
Like many of the details of our worship, this is a historical accident. A priest’s robes are based roughly on the garments worn by Roman officials in the early days of the Church. We’ve added Christian symbols to them, but (being Episcopalians) we haven’t actually changed anything much.
Do I need to wear anything special?
Well, we don’t believe Jesus ever required a particular dress code, so neither do we. What matters is who you are, not what you wear.
So, what does this word “Episcopal” mean?
Yeah, that’s a goofy one. But it comes from the Greek word for “Bishop,’ and simply means that we are a religious denomination with Bishops as part of our ministry.
What’s a Bishop?
A bishop is a special role of leadership in the church. However, we believe that all baptized persons are ministers of the church. Our local clergy are usually priests, but they, along with Bishops and deacons, exist to help or assist the whole group in our ministries. We all are ministers together. The clergy are simply support staff, with education and attitude.
How do I learn more?
To learn more about our local church, just try coming some Sunday or call the office to find out when the next study or prayer group meets. For more information on the Episcopal church in general check here: http://www.anglicansonline.org/basics/what_believe.html
Can’t I grow close to God by solitary prayer and study?
We believe humans are made for relationship, and that we grow in community, not as isolated individuals. We learn to love each other by being with a wide variety of people, not simply those most like “me” or “us.” That’s why we gather for worship. Jesus promised that whenever we do so, he would be there with us even if we do not know it. So we live in the tension of learning to love in community and carrying that love with us into our daily lives.