Looking at the Episcopal Church

Looking at the Episcopal Church

by William Sydnor


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In this simple yet comprehensive account, William Sydnor provides essential material for persons who are beginning to discover the Episcopal Church.

The book also includes a leader's guide in the appendix to assist in conducting confirmation instruction. Also covered are the church's symbols, customs, practices, its history, creed, sacraments, and mission.

In addition to the author's extensive knowledge on the subject, Looking at the Episcopal Church draws on the insights of several other leading experts. The result is an essential book for any student of Episcopal faith and practice.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819212795
Publisher: Church Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/01/1990
Series: Religious Series
Pages: 142
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

William Sydnor is a retired Episcopal priest and the author of several books.

Read an Excerpt

Looking at the Episcopal Church

By William Sydnor

Church Publishing Incorporated

Copyright © 1980William Syndor
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8192-1279-5



How the Church Looks to Outsiders

That church on the corner is no ordinary building. It is a "special place" to those who worship there on Sunday and participate in other activities there during the week. Inside, its furniture, its walls, its windows are decorated with symbols and pictures, carvings and needlework, all of which have meaning for those who belong. The people who worship there take part in services from which they gain inspiration and guidance, a sense of forgiveness, comfort and inner peace. "Take part" is an accurate description because the participants sing and recite and read. They do not just sit and listen—sometimes they stand, sometimes kneel. Those who conduct their services wear peculiar uniforms that are also decorated with symbols and have special meaning. In addition, the church has other kinds of services, services related to life's special times—a new baby in the family, a marriage, the death of a loved one. And to some extent those who take part in the ongoing life of the Church carry over its influence and its message into their everyday pursuits.

What is the meaning of all of this? Why is the Christian Church the way it is in looks and in worship, in belief and witness?

Episcopalians, as well as other Christian bodies, think of themselves as the Family of God. How do you get acquainted with a family, any family? Perhaps you are invited into the family's home, or you may just wander in because you are lost and have no home of your own. That home is decorated in their special way—there are pictures treasured by the family and little things here and there which have particular meaning for family members. You see that its members have different roles in the life of the family. Their jobs are different as are their responsibilities. You notice that family members have customs and practices peculiarly their own—they hold hands to say grace at meals, or the kids always whistle when they come home from school and enter the house. You find out that there are certain days and occasions which have family importance. When you begin to inquire about family practices they are likely to begin to tell you some family history. "Grandpa was this kind of man and we try to live up to our past." Now you have begun to discover what the members of that family really believe, what it important to them—deep down. If you are an orphan and have no family, perhaps you are attracted to this family you have discovered and would like to be a part of it.

In the following pages we are going to try to tell you those same things about that part of the Family of God known as the Episcopal Church or to use its historical and legal name, The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. We shall look at its building, its worship, its ministry, its history, and its beliefs. Then we shall describe how a person becomes a member, and what difference that can make in his or her life.


The House of God

The name "church" has a long history. In time, it came to mean "the house of the Lord" or God's house. And another word came to be associated with the people who worshiped in God's house—the Greek word ecclesia, from which we get ecclesiastic. Ecclesia, means, literally, "the called out assemble of people," and "those who are called to assemble" (as by the town crier) in the Lord's Name. So "church" has come to mean both God's house and God's people.

Usually, the architecture of the building adds to our awareness that it is a place of Christian worship. There is a cross on the building and some sort of spire which raises our eyes toward heaven. It may have gothic arches which also point upward, and a tower that tells of God's protection of his people.

Even the position of the building on the lot has Christian significance. From ancient time, churches have been built with the altar at the east end so that the worshipers would be facing the rising sun, symbolic of the Lord's resurrection from the dead. This continues to be a practice even today; the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., is an example of an eastward orientation. Also, the east is thought of as the direction from which Jesus shall come on the last day. "For as the lightening comes out of the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man" (Matthew 24:27). For this reason, it was once a custom in Christian burial grounds to lay the dead to rest with faces toward the east.

The church building as God's home has been especially set apart for worship. This "setting apart" is called consecrating or dedicating, and takes place in a service performed by the bishop. A consecrated church building is used as a place to worship God and for no other purpose. In the consecration service, the building is given a Christian name. It may be named for our Lord or one of the apostles or saints—Christ Church ... St. Matthew's Church ... or St. Patrick's Church—or it may be named for a great doctrine of the Christian faith—the Church of the Incarnation ... Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

There is a variety of kinds of churches. Within the Episcopal Church, the principal church of the diocese where the bishop has his official seat or throne (a symbol of his authority) is called a cathedral. (The Greek word cathedra means seat or throne.) Most churches where the people of the community worship are called parish churches. In earlier times the parish was a geographic area within which the people lived who worshiped at the local church. This is less true today because people have greater mobility. Also, there are smaller churches called "missions" which have been started by a parish or the diocese, but which are not yet self-supporting.

In addition to the Episcopal churches of the community there are a number of other churches where Christian people worship—Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Greek Orthodox to name only a few. There are also non-Christian places of worship—Jewish synagogues, Islamic mosques.

Now let's open the door and step inside that church on the corner.


The House Within

The interior of the building is divided into several parts. First there is the porch or vestibule or narthex. Then there is the main body of the church called the nave. This is occupied by those who assemble to worship God. The name nave comes from the Latin word navis, meaning ship. The church is the ship of salvation which bears us safely over the stormy seas of life.

Some churches are cruciform, that is, built in the form of a cross, with two transepts, one extending north, the other south, at the head of the aisle.

The front part of the church beyond the transepts is raised a few steps above the nave and is called the chancel. Sometimes it is separated from the nave by an open screen (Latin cancelli, hence the name chancel) which, nowadays, is called the rood screen because it is surmounted by a cross or rood. The front part of the chancel is called the choir simply because those who lead the singing sit there. Finally, at the east end of the building behind the chancel rail is the raised and most prominent part of the building, the sanctuary.

Many modern churches are circular with the sanctuary in the middle of the congregation and the choir off to one side. However, regardless of the pattern of the building—cruciform, rectangular, or round—every church has an entrance way, a nave, and a sanctuary, and each section has its own appropriate furnishings.

In many churches the baptismal font is the first thing one sees upon entering the

Excerpted from Looking at the Episcopal Church by William Sydnor. Copyright © 1980 by William Syndor. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents



PART ONE: First Appearances          

1. How the Church Looks to Outsiders          

2. The House of God          

3. The House Within          

4. Symbolism          

5. The Symbolism of Worship          

6. The Worship of the Church — The Book of Common Prayer          

7. The Worship of the Church — Morning and Evening Prayer          

8. The Worship of the Church — The Holy Eucharist          

9. The Worship of the Church — Other Services          

10. The Worship of the Church — Pastoral Offices          

11. Church Customs and Practices          

PART TWO: Essential Meaning          

12. The Church's Long Past — Early Beginnings          

13. The Church's Long Past — The Church of England          

14. The Church's Long Past — The Reformation          

15. The Church's Long Past — The Church in America          

16. The Characteristics of the Church          

17. Holy Scriptures          

18. The Faith of the Church — The Creeds          

19. The Faith of the Church — The Church Year          

20. The Sacraments          

21. The Ordained Ministry          

22. The Mission of the Church          

PART THREE: Commitment          

23. The Ministry of the Laity          

24. Our Ministry of Prayer          

25. Our Ministry of Witness          

26. Our Wider Ministry          

APPENDIX: Leader's Guide          

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