Who are we? What is our faith?
The Anglican Church in America is a branch of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church instituted by Jesus Christ. The word ‘Anglican’ refers to our spiritual heritage and roots in the Church of England.
Traders, merchants, and soldiers seem to have brought the Christian Faith to Britain shortly after it became part of the Roman Empire in the middle of the First Century AD. Sixteen hundred years later, during what we call the Reformation, the Church of England emerged as a unique institution. It retained its ‘Catholic’ heritage enshrined in the Creeds, the decisions of the General Councils, its liturgy and sacraments, and in the threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons in Apostolic Succession. It ‘reformed’ itself by eliminating some nonessential accretions of the later medieval Church, by restoring much of the practice of the earliest Christians, and by insisting upon the authority of Holy Scripture as the rule and guide of Faith.
Members of the Church of England came to America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In many of the original colonies, the Church of England was the established or official Church. After the Revolution, American Anglicans established an autonomous branch of the Church, which became known as the Episcopal Church.
Catholic and Reformed
The Anglican Communion affirms its ‘Catholic’ heritage. That term is used to affirm our fidelity to the whole Faith as revealed by Jesus Christ (without either additions or subtractions) as proclaimed by the Apostles, evangelists, saints, scholars and martyrs of the Early Church and taught in Holy Scripture. At the same time, Anglicans give thanks for the witness of those pastors and teachers, who in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sought to “reform” the Church, some of whom gave their lives in witness to the authority of the Bible as the principle rule of Faith and Practice.
What is this Faith we have sought to preserve?
Anglican faith is thoroughly grounded in Holy Scriptures. Anglicans believe “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the authentic record of God’s revelation of himself, his saving activity, and moral demands” – a revelation valid for all men and for all times. We hold that the ancient creeds – the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian – express the faith of the Church and are to be understood as they are written. The Anglican church is a credal church, not a confessional one. The creeds, which come from the earliest years of Christianity, summarize the “faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). By them, we are taught that God is one God in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; that God the Son became man, born of a virgin as our Lord Jesus Christ; that by our Lord’s sinless life, death and resurrection he gained access for us to God the Father and opened the way for us to be children of God and to live with him for all eternity.
On Christian morality, we believe that “every Christian is obligated to form his conscience by the Divine Moral Law of the Mind of Christ as revealed in Holy Scriptures, and by the teachings and Tradition of the Church.” Such teaching is especially seen in the Sermon on the Mount (St. Matthew 5, 6, 7) and in our Lord’s Summary of the Law, which states that we must first love God with our heart, soul and mind, and also love our neighbors as ourselves, as well as in his teaching on the sanctity of all human life, and of marriage and the family.
What about our Worship?
Our Faith and Worship are set forth in the Book of Common Prayer of 1928. This treasure of English language, scriptural spirituality and Catholic worship has shaped the lives of countless faithful Christians through the centuries and is the basis of our services of worship.
Anglicans are expected to pray. When we pray in private, each of us prays in his own way (although guidance and instruction are available for those who wish to grow in the life of prayer). When we pray together in services of worship, our “common prayers” are ‘liturgical,’ that is, they are structured. Only in this way can we truly share our worship of God. Our liturgical worship involves the whole person, body, mind and spirit. We are active participants rather than just listeners. Worship to us is not “show business.” It goes from us to God rather than from a preacher to us. We come to church to give God the praise and worship which, as His creatures, we owe Him; not to get something for ourselves.
The Holy Eucharist
The center of our worship is the Holy Eucharist. Other traditional names for this service are: the Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper, and the Divine Liturgy. It is the service specifically commanded by Jesus in the New Testament. The Eucharist joins our offering of worship to Christ’s offering of Himself upon the altar of the cross. As He promised (Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 6; I Corinthians 11) Jesus is truly, spiritually present under the outward forms of the consecrated Bread and Wine, to infuse our lives with the spiritual strength of His life.
Receiving Holy Communion
By receiving Holy Communion, we give our Solemn Assent, our “Amen,” to the entire Anglican Eucharistic Service. We express our belief that the Eucharist is a spiritual sacrifice which must be administered by a bishop or a priest whose ministry derives in succession from the Apostles themselves. We express also our faith in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. Because of the seriousness of these affirmations, this Church does not presume to invite those who in good faith cannot yet accept these beliefs to compromise their conscience by receiving Holy Communion at our Altar. It is for these reasons that we are not an “open Communion” Church. Those who do so believe, and who have been confirmed by a Bishop in Apostolic Succession, and who are spiritually prepared, are welcome to receive Holy Communion.
Preparation for Holy Communion generally takes the form of private prayers. In many Anglican parishes, those physically able to do so refrain from eating ordinary food prior to morning Communion, or for three hours prior to an evening Communion.
Morning and Evening Prayer
The Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer are prayer services derived in many ways from the Synagogue worship of the Old Testament. They consist of readings from the Psalms, other Bible readings, canticles (songs), and prayers. They are provided in the Book of Common Prayer in a manner that makes their discipline of prayer, psalmody, and Holy Scripture the daily spiritual diet of the Church, clergy and lay folk alike.
If you are new to Anglican worship you may find some of the customs in our services unfamiliar. You will also find some variation of customs from parish to parish. The priest in your local parish will be happy to explain to you the symbolism of our worship. One general rule of thumb for Anglicans is that we stand to praise God, sit for listening to instruction, and kneel humbly to pray.
Worship is the prime responsibility for all Christians. Anglicans believe that the life of Christian service is possible only through a full life of worship, through which we receive God’s love and express our love to Him. Hence, we believe it is our obligation not only to worship God together every Lord’s Day (Sunday) but also to have a daily life of prayer. A number of parishes are able to offer the Daily Offices and the Holy Communion during the week, as well as on Sunday.
The first Christians regarded the Church as the Sacrament, Jesus, Who is God, became truly human in the Incarnation, in the same manner as we are human, except that He was without sin. The Church is truly his Body. It is the outward and visible sign of God’s presence with his people. Gradually, teachers identified certain outward and visible signs as “sacraments”, that is as actions of the Church which gave the grace of God’s presence and blessing. The Anglican Church believes that the Sacraments are “sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s goodwill toward us, by the which He doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in Him” (The Articles of Religion). Anglicans regard the two Gospel Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist as being “generally necessary to salvation”. Five other sacramental rites, in their Biblical sense, are also termed sacraments.
Holy Baptism by means of water and in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19) conveys new birth (John 3:5; Romans 6:4) and forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; I Peter 3:21).
The Holy Communion also called the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy and the Mass, was instituted by our Lord at the Last Supper when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (I Corinthians 11:24, Matthew 26:20-28; Mark 14:17-25; Luke 22:14-20). By this Sacrament, He feeds His people with His Body and Blood (John 6:41-59)
Confirmation conveys the strengthening gifts of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17; 19:1-7; Ephesians 1:13) for life as a mature Christian.
Penance conveys the forgiveness of sins (John 20:23; James 5:16) and the assurance of that forgiveness.
Holy Unction is the anointing with oil for healing (James 5:14; Mark 6:13) of body, mind, and soul.
Holy Matrimony is the union of one man and one woman for life before God. The relationship, St. Paul tells us (Ephesians 5:31-32), is like that between Christ and His Church.
Holy Orders denote the Apostolic Ministry of bishops, priest and deacons, instituted by Christ, and male in character (John 20:19-23; Matthew 16:18; Acts 6:1-6). Our Lord commissioned the Apostles and their successors, the bishops, to proclaim His work and salvation which He accomplished on Calvary. When Anglicans speak of Apostolic Succession, we mean an unbroken line of consecrations and commissions from our Lord to the present bishops, continuing the same teachings and ministry established by Jesus Christ Himself.
Baptism and Confirmation
Anglican parents who have a child to be baptized should contact their priest. Some preparation is involved. Selection of Godparents is important. For Anglicans, this office is not just “honorary” it creates a real spiritual responsibility towards the Godchild. Two Godparents of the same sex as the child, and one of the opposite sex, are required. Adult candidates for baptism and/or Confirmation undergo a period of instruction. Holy Confirmation is often administered at the same service as Holy Baptism in the case of adults. Adult candidates do not require Godparents but they may elect to have sponsors to “stand up” for them.
The Sacrament of Holy Confirmation, which completes and “seals” our Baptism, is administered by a bishop. By the imposition of the bishop’s hand on our head, we come into sacramental unity with the Successors in Office to the Holy Apostles commissioned by Christ himself to govern His Church. A period of considerable instruction usually precedes the administration of this Sacrament.