The name derives from the Greek word "episkopos", which literally means "overseer" (epi-skopos, one who looks over), and which means (in the church context) a bishop.

Contrast "Presbyterian" (from "praesbuteros", which means "elder", and from which the word "priest" descends). Never mind that Presbyterians have ministers and not priests. Etymology is funky like that.

The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States


The American Episcopal Church was organized in 1783 when it became clear that it wouldn't make any sense for the Church of England to have a presence in the United States. Remember that the monarch of England is the official head of the CoE.

The Episcopal Church keeps many of the traditions of the CoE. The church uses a Book of Common Prayer derived from original produced by Thomas Cranmer and friends during the Reformation.

Most importantly, the Episcopal church traces the lineage of its bishops directly back to the Apostles. Before the American Revolution, the American colonies had no bishops:

ALL the English colonies were assumed to be a part of the Diocese of London. The Bishop of that Diocese administered the affairs of the Church in the colonies by Commissaries, who supplied to some extent the office of a bishop, although they could not administer the rite of confirmation, or ordain or depose priests or deacons. No person could be confirmed in the Anglican or Episcopal Church in America until after the consecration of Bishop Seabury in 1784. If a person desired confirmation, or if the ordination of a priest or deacon was required, it could be accomplished only by crossing the ocean to a bishop in England. This caused many of the clergy to omit that part of the baptismal service which required the sponsors to take the baptized child to the Bishop for confirmation at a suitable age. (1)

The English bishops refused to consecrate any bishops who did not take an oath of allegiance to the English monarch as head of the church, so the first American bishop, Samuel Seabury had to go to Scotland to be consecrated. Later, the English government changed its mind and allowed foreigners to be exempt from the loyalty oath. But in the end, the apostolic succession was preserved. The apostolic succession is the main thing that sets the Episcopal Church apart from other protestant denominations.


Officially, the Episcopal church's beliefs are very close to that of any other protestant church. The Church holds the scripture to be the literal word of God, but no individual in the church really believes this.

For instance, it is a commonly held heresy that no God that is all-powerful and all-loving could ever let anyone burn in hell forever. Therefore: There is no hell, and purgatory is like a rehab clinic for unrepentant sinners.


The governing body of the Episcopal Church is the General Convention, which is made up of two parts, the House of Bishops and House of Deputies (sound familiar?). The House of Deputies consist of eight representatives from each diocese, four laymen and four clergy. The House of Bishops is made up of all Bishops in the church.

The General Convention meets every three years.

The primate of the church is the Presiding Bishop, who serves a nine year term of office. The General Convention elects the Presiding Bishop.

The Episcopal Church is a member of the Anglican Communion, but is completely autonomous.

The church is made up of many dioceses. Each is run by one or more bishops and is made up of many parishes. Each parish is run by a rector who may be assisted by assistant and associate rectors (all priests) and deacons (clergy of a lesser order than priests). The rector and other clergy answer to the vestry, a group of laymen elected by the members of the parish.

All very democratic.

Works cited:

(1) The Book Of Common Prayer: Its Origin And Growth By J. H. Benton, LL.D.

Other Sources:

Episcopal Church E2 Writeup, Copyright 2002 Frank Grimes.

This writeup is dedicated to the public domain. Do with it what you will. (For details, see )

--Frank Grimes, 2007

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