Here’s a quick-read find that’s been passed around so much lately it’s practically become its own web-meme within The Episcopal Church. In it, The Rev. David Simmons of St. Matthias Episcopal Church in Waukesha, WI, and associate of the Order of Julian of Norwich, is asked to explain why suddenly shy Episcopalians don’t seem to have a straight answer to the question of what they believe.
It is indeed sometimes confusing for people outside the Episcopal Church to put their finger on who we are. The confusion comes from our self-definition, which is that we are a creedal, rather than a confessional church. What this means is that we do not have foundational doctrinal statements other than the Nicene and Apostles Creeds. Most other Christian denominations have some sort of confessional document, like the Ausburg confession for Lutherans or the Greater Catechism for Roman Catholics, that lays out exactly what the teaching of the church is on most matters. Instead, our central document is the Book of Common Prayer, which defines worship rather than doctrine as a unifying principle. The mark of an Episcopalian is that he or she attends Episcopal services, which includes recitation of the creeds. However, there are no requirements that a layperson believes particular doctrine in order to become an Episcopalian. This is why the friend who says, “You can believe pretty much anything you want, so long as you enjoy going to services together with us” is largely correct. My experience as a priest is that as people participate in the liturgy over the years, the doctrine included in our regular worship becomes part of them by an osmotic process.
Our advice: read the whole thing, then tell us what you think. What are the irreducible minimums?