Anglican: An adjective describing the worldwide communion of autonomous churches in communion with the Church of England. The Episcopal Church is part of that communion. Anglican can also be a noun, a member of the Anglican Communion.
Apostolic Succession: Episcopalians, along with other Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and some other Christian bodies, trace their bishops’ spiritual heritage in an unbroken line back to the first apostles of Jesus. The importance of the historic episcopate is a major point in ecumenical discussions.
Book of Common Prayer: The primary guide for worship in the Episcopal Church. The first Anglican Book of Common Prayer was written in English in 1549 by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, drawing on material from a number of Latin books and manuals then used to conduct services. The Book of Common Prayer provides a variety of services for individual and corporate worship. The most widely used, other than the Holy Eucharist, the central act of corporate worship, are Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, both of which may be used for private devotions or public worship. An online version of the Book of Common Prayer can be found here.
Canons: The written rules governing church policy, structure and procedure. There are national canons and each diocese has its own.
Cathedral: A diocese’s cathedral is the church where the bishop makes his headquarters. The city in which the cathedral is located is the “see city.” Some dioceses have no cathedral.
Catholic: This word comes from a Greek word meaning “universal” and may, therefore, be used to apply to all Christians. When it is used this way, it usually begins with a little c. Sometimes it is used with a capital C when the writer means the Roman Catholic Church.
Diocese: A diocese is made up of several local congregations with a bishop as its chief pastor. Since only a bishop can consecrate other bishops, ordain priests and deacons and confirm, the diocese is the basic local unit of the church. Depending on the number of Episcopalians, a state may have one or several dioceses. The legislative body of the Diocese is an annual convention of clergy and lay deputies from each congregation.
Episcopal: An adjective derived from the Greek word, episkopos, meaning overseer or bishop. Episcopalian is the noun. Episcopalians attend the Episcopal Church.
General Convention: The General Convention is the highest legislative body of the Episcopal Church. It meets every three years and is made up of a House of Bishops and a House of Deputies. Half the deputies are clergy and half lay persons.
Sacrament: According to the catechism in the Book of Common Prayer sacraments are the “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive grace.” The Episcopal Church recognizes the two sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist as both biblically grounded and essential to the church. It also recognizes five other sacramental rites: confirmation, ordination, marriage, reconciliation and anointing or unction (For more on each of these see the Sacraments and Services section below).
Vestry: Lay members of the vestry are elected at a parish’s annual meeting. The rector presides at meetings of the vestry, which handles the parish’s business matters and serves as a council of advice for the rector.