WHY IS THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH THE WAY IT IS?
The Episcopal Church and Good Shepherd are different from most other churches because of history. We are who we are because of events that transpired in the 1500s, 1600s, and 1700s. With us history is not just a subject to study, but it defines who we are.
The Protestant Reformation occurred in the first half of the 16th century (1500s). This reformation took many different forms but it largely defined what mainline Protestant denominations became, and has had a major influence on Pentecostals, and the newer community churches. There are significant differences between these churches but they can all trace important elements of their theology to the time of the Reformation.
While the Protestant Reformation was going on in mainland Europe, the Church in England wanted to retain all the form and substance of the Roman Catholic Church, but wanted to rid itself of the influence of the Pope. During the reign of Henry the VIII, this separation occurred.
After existing as the English branch of the Catholic Church through the reign of Henry VIII and several successors, the Protestant Reformation that by that time had swept over parts of Europe found its way to England. While hardly smooth or peaceful, the Church of England converted to Protestantism in the late 1500s and early 1600s. The history of this conversion is really quite exciting and there are many books that discuss the transition in detail. The end result of all this was that the Church of England converted to Protestantism while still Catholic, but free of the influence of Rome and the Pope. What evolved was a church that was apostolic and liturgical like the Catholic, and Orthodox churches, but had much of the theology of the Protestant churches. In the Anglican Church we call this the "via media" or "middle way". We are between the Roman Catholic Church and most Protestant denominations.
History is not over yet however. When the United States was formed, the Church of England came along with many of the early settlers. The Colony of Virginia, in particular, actually had the Church of England as its state church, but because of the distances involved was not under close control of the church hierarchy back in England. The Church of England in America became quite congregational during this period. When the Revolutionary War was over, the Church of England was troubled about how to deal with the church in the colonies. In particular, it refused to ordain (install) ministers in the new church, because its rules required ministers to swear allegiance to the crown. With help from the church in Scotland, the Episcopal Church was established in the United States. Many of the people who wrote the Constitution of the United States wrote the rules (or canons) of the Episcopal Church of the United States. Not surprisingly, some of the divided legislatures and checks and balances that we find in the Constitution have found their way into the structure of the Episcopal Church; the hierarchical influence of the Church of England was partially restored in the Episcopal Church, but the congregational influence from pre-revolutionary days also can still be seen.
So every Sunday that you participate with us you are living a history lesson. We don't look like other Protestant churches because we evolved differently. We look at lot like a Roman Catholic Church, but if you examine our theology and our governance you will see significant differences. We think we have the best of both worlds, the rich tradition and liturgy of the Roman church, and the bible based theology of the Protestant world.
One last caution: a church steeped in history can easily become focused on the past. That is not true of Good Shepherd. See the menu item on the history of Good Shepherd, but especially see the menu item "Helping in the Community". We are proud of our past, but use it to spur us to do better in the future - not to rest comfortably, resisting change.