Because the Episcopal Church represents the diversity within Christianity, there are several groups within the church who have different approaches to worship and Scripture. The main groups within the Episcopal Church are: Low or Evangelical, High or Anglo-Catholic, charismatic, liberal, and Broad. At some point, I will provide detailed histories of these groups. This is not meant to label Episcopalians by any means, but to show the diversity that exists within the church.
Low Church, or Evangelical Episcopalians, place more emphasis on the Reformed nature of the Episcopal Church. Preaching and spreading the Gospel are heavily stressed, and many feel more in common with the Protestant churches than the Catholic ones. Many Low churches offer communion only once or twice a month. Typically, Sunday services are conducted simply, without much ceremony. The vestments worn are usually simple, often consisting of a long black garment called a cassock, a shorter, white garment worn over the cassock called a surplice, and a stole worn around both shoulders or over one shoulder, if the minister is a deacon. The clergy probably prefer not to be addressed as “Father” or “Mother”.
High Church, or Anglo-Catholic, Episcopalians emphasize the Catholic nature of the Church. A special emphasis is placed on the sacraments. Anglo-Catholic churches generally offer communion every Sunday, and possibly every day. Some Anglo-Catholics accept the belief of transubstantiation (change of the bread and wine into the actual Body and Blood of Christ). Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the other saints, and acceptance of Catholic Marian doctrine are common, but not mandated. The services are more elaborate, often with incense being used, bells rung at appropriate times during the service, and most of the service being sung. Elaborate vestments are often worn by the clergy, often consisting of a long, white vestment called an alb, a stole, and a sleeveless outer garment often finely decorated called a chasuble. It’s not uncommon to hear the the priests addressed as “Father” (or “Mother”, if the priest is a woman).
Within the Episcopal Church there are some who place an emphasis on the charismatic gifts of the Spirit. Their services may use praise music, and allow for more spontaneity. Charismatic Episcopalians might indentify themselves as Low, High, or anything in between. Historically, within all forms of Christianity, the charismatic movement has often been associated with an evangelical, fundamentalist approach to the faith. There is also a church known as the Charismatic Episcopal Church. However, this church is not affiliated with ECUSA and originates from a Pentecostal background.
This term should not necessarily be taken to mean that all liberal Episcopalians are liberals in the political sense, although many are. Liberals generally reject a literalist interpretation of the Bible and are open to modern Bible scholarship, are more open to reasonable change, and often believe social justice should play a key role in the Church. Liberal Episcopalians often vary in liturgical styles. Some liberal Episcopalians are very Low Church, while others consider themselves Anglo-Catholic.
Broad Episcopalians are probably what the majority are. Broad Church Episcopalians aren’t distinctively High, Low, Charismatic, or Liberal, but have elements of any or all of these. Like the Episcopal Church as a whole, the Broad Church tradition is inclusive of the various ways in which Christians worship and work out their salvation. Broad Episcopalians hold a variety of beliefs on what happens in the Eucharist, worship, etc.
Like any other Christian denomination, the Episcopal Church is made up of many kinds of people, all of which make up our part of the Body of Christ. Episcopalians are not restricted to one form of worship because the Body of Christ is made up of many parts (I Corinthians 12:12-31). This church is large enough to accomodate many kinds of Christians.
©2001. Written on July 29, 2001. May not be reproduced without permission of the author. Updated on March 11, 2007