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Anglican and Episcopal churches have the same origins, and they are more alike than different. Separated by the American Revolution, the Episcopalians are a division of the Anglicans.

As the name implies, the Anglicans are the Church of England. Christianity came to England sometime in the 2nd century, and the British church developed as a part of Roman Catholicism until the 16th century. In 1534, King Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Church in Britain, and refused to acknowledge the authority of the Pope. Next, he dissolved the Roman Catholic religious orders and confiscated their property. Theologically, the Church remained much as it had been. While King Henry VIII remained alive, the British Church remained Catholic, much as the Eastern Orthodox Church is separate, yet Catholic.

Upon his death in 1547, King Henry VIII was succeeded by his son, Edward VI. Since Edward was only eight, the actual leadership was in the hands of a Council of Regency. The Archbishop of Caterbury, Thomas Cranmer, held way over the Council in matters of the Church. During the reign of King Edward VI, Protestant influences were incorporated into the Church. Although Edward never reached the age of maturity, dying of what is now believed to have been lung cancer at the age of fourteen.

He was succeeded by his half-sister, Mary, who became known as Bloody Mary for the vengeance in which she attempted to reverse the English Reformation of the Church. After her five-year reign, she was succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth I, who developed a middle road between Catholicism and Protestantism, which is how the Anglican Church is often described.

Over the next century, the balance between Catholicism and Protestantism fluctuated, as the Puritans demanded more Protestant reforms and other sought a return of traditional Catholic practices. King James I ordered the translation of the Bible that was named for him. The English Civil War began under King Charles I, and ended with his execution and and the exile of King Charles II. The English monarchy was repladed with the Commonwealth, and then a Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. Although the war was more about politics than religion, the new government ended the monopoly of the Church of England on Christian worship. When Parliament restored Charles II, the Church of England was no longer the only church.

The Church of England now occuped the middle ground in England, with the Puritans and Protestants on one end, and Roman Catholicism on the other, although official suspicions and legal restrictions continued into the 19th century.

As England established a colonial presence in North America, Anglican bishops were placed over communions throughout the British Empire. As New England was colonized, many of the colonists were dissenters seeking a land where they could establish their own brands of Christianity, the Puritans being notable. However, Anglican sentiment prevailed in much of the New World.

The American Revolution brought about a split in the Church. Most Anglican ministers in America returned to England or fled to Canada, and those who remained were left to their own devices. Many of the leaders of the Revolution were Anglicans so the Church still had a constituency. However, the Church of England was associated with the British Crown, which was opposed to independence.

By the end of the war, the Anglican Church in America had no bishop and no association of churches. The remaining clergy reorganized the church, and adopted a new name, the Protestant Episcopal Church. Samuel Seabury was elected bishop. Refused in England, he was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Scotland, along with two other bishops.

In recent years, the Episcopal Church has adopted liberal policies on such issues as the ordination of women, gay rights, and abortion. It has also experienced separations and a sharp decline in membership.

Many of those who left joined the Continuing Anglican movement, claiming alignment with overseas Anglican provinces that have rejected new liberal policies. Others joined the Anglican Church in North America, prompting litigation against departing dioceses and parishes. In 2012, the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina withdrew from the Episcopal Church, becoming an autonomous Anglican diocese, then voted to associate with the Anglican Church in North American in 2017.

A congregation or Anglican service are sometimes referred to as Low Church or High Church. High Church refers to an Anglo-Catholic movement in the church, and tends to be more ritualistic and formal, while Low Church might incorporate informal praise and worship music, having more of a Protestant feel. Broad Church is the middle ground, and are the most common, while Low Church services are the rarest. The Episcopal Church publishes its own Book of Common Prayer.


Church of England

Episcopal Church



Feature Article

Who Are the Anglicans?


The Anglicans are the third largest body of Christians in the world, and the largest Protestant denomination, yet there are many, of which I was one, from the other Protestant denominations who are unfamiliar with the Anglican Communion.

What sets the Anglicans apart from the other flavors of Christianity? That can be a difficult question to answer, as there are few distinctives which, taken individually, cannot be found in other Christian denominations. Yet, the Anglicans are very different from other Christian denominations. What do they believe?

Scripture -- Anglicans believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that, together, the Old and New Testaments contain everything that is necessary for salvation. Anglicans believe in preaching the entirety of the Bible.

Trinity -- Anglicans believe in one God, who exists, and has always existed, in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Anglicans also believe that Jesus Christ is fully God, and that He is also fully human.

Salvation -- Anglicans believe that everyone is in need of salvation through Jesus Christ, and that salvation comes through Christ, by grace alone, and through faith alone.

Sacraments -- Anglicans recognize only two sacraments - Baptism and the Eucharist - as being ordained by Christ, and that the sacraments are external signs of internal grace, commanded by Christ for the development of His church.

Common Life -- Anglicans believe in the importance of liturgical disciplines of prayer, worship, and repentance, as well as the recognition of seasons, hours, fasts, and feasts.

Christian Mission -- Anglicans believe that they were called to proclaim the Gospel, and to live it out. Thus, they place great importance in establishing new churches, evangelization, and ministering to the poor.

Apostolic Succession -- Anglicans believe in Apostolic succession, and that its bishops were consecrated by other bishops, who were consecrated by other bishops, all the way back to the Apostles.

Semper Reformanda -- Anglicans believe that they are never finished, but that they are always reforming, or looking for ways to do an even better job of proclaiming the Gospel.

Via Media -- Anglicans believe that their tradition is the Middle Way, or one that is at the center rather than at the extremes.

Through its organizational structure, theology, and forms of worship, Anglicanism is often presented as navigating a path that is halfway between Catholicism and Protestantism. It is perhaps important to understand something about the origins of the Anglican Church in order to understand the place that it holds in Christianity.

For one thing, the Anglican Church began as a religion of geography rather than theology. While other Protestant denominations arose from theological differences with Catholicism, the Anglican Church came from the Church of England, which was formed on February 11, 1531, when King Henry VIII proclaimed himself to be the head of the Church in England.

On that day, regardless of their individual theological beliefs, every Christian living in England became Anglican, a denominational identity that had nothing to do with what they believed or the manner in which they wanted to worship God.

As England established a worldwide empire, the church followed. Away from England, it became known as the Anglican Church, which simply meant the English Church or the Church from England. As the English settled North America, they established Anglican churches.

After the American Revolution, having just won a war against England, the Anglican churches in the newly formed United States of America began referring to their churches as Episcopalian, thus forming a new branch of the Anglican Church.

Today, of course, there are all manner of Christians in England, and there are more Anglicans in Africa than in England. There are millions of Anglicans, living on every continent, and in nearly every country. While the Anglican Church was formed through a proclamation by the king, it has developed into a Christian denomination with its own beliefs and practices.

There are, of course, differences between different Anglican groups, but there are also commonalities. All Anglican branches accept the Bible as the basis for their faith, and hold to the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds, as well as recognition of the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and the continuity of the line of bishops from the time of Christ.

The chief difference between the Anglican Church today, and the Roman Catholic Church, is that the Anglicans allow much more autonomy on the part of the individual churches, while maintaining a hierarchy of priests and bishops. While the basics of their beliefs are fixed, there may be differences in their style of worship from one parish to another.

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