And just what *do* Episcopalians believe?

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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?

h/t Amy Real Coultas (@MoAmy) via Twitter. (Amy is a co-moderator of Ask the Priest.)

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Murdoch Matthew
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Murdoch Matthew

It is the community's Faith, not mine.

As a Baptist in my youth, I often heard preachers proclaim, "Give God the glory!" Funny how they managed to get a lot of it all over themselves while handing it over.

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Bill Carroll
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Bill Carroll

Absolutely. The primary locus of Christian formation is the Sunday liturgy. I don't really envision a separate time, though that's great when you can get people to do it.

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FrSimmons
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FrSimmons

"It's the community's Faith, not mine." An important point, and why I am not bashful in saying the creeds are an irreducable minimum. Instead of thinking as the creeds as a limiting statement used to sort out who has intellectual difficulty with some Christian doctrine and who does not, the creeds are a statement of what we as a church believe - even in the "I" form. They are poetic, minimalist, and elegant, and form a starting point rather than an ending point for theological discussion.

To say a creed in the context of liturgy is not to say, "I have this all worked out in my head," it is to affirm our place in the church and in the apostolic kerygma. It is more like singing a hymn that writing a personal mission statement.

Bill, I agree that more than osmosis is desired, but we need to strive to teach within the liturgy through preaching, bulletin inserts, and through whatever else works. In my experience, there will always be people who will not come to Christian Formation time for various reasons. The time where we could assume everyone in the service knows the basics of Christian faith is long past.

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Bill Carroll
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Bill Carroll

In representing the teaching of the Church, I deliberately avoid that qualifier, which is superfluous even when we are in the realm of private opinion (which we aren't here). I don't apologize for exercising the authority to teach the Faith. It is the community's Faith, not mine.

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tgflux
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tgflux

I am very clear with people about where the boundaries are

In what context, Bill? (And do you preface your definitions w/ "In my opinion..."?)

IMO (!) any lack of admission of human subjectivity leads to Power-Over (always a sin).

JC Fisher

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