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"I know who you are"

“So, what do you do for a living?” she said to me. Not in my usual clerical garb, I needed to answer, “I am an Episcopal priest.”  “Oh right, you guys are like Catholic priests but can get married,” she exclaimed.  Not wanting to get into too elaborate a discussion, I acknowledged the capability and then shared a brief sentence or two describing the Episcopal church as not really Protestant and not Roman Catholic, but holding a “middle way” respecting Holy Scripture, Tradition and Reason. I then told her about some upcoming events at Caroline church and invited her to come. 

As an Episcopal priest here in the Three Villages for many years, and Rector of the historic Caroline Church of Brookhaven, I am no longer surprised how many people have a rather narrow understanding of just what the Episcopal Church is all about.  Yes, as with all Christian denominations, Jesus Christ is the head of our church: that Church being one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.  The Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament are the rules and ultimate standard of our faith, that is Trinitarian in nature.  Our communal nature is a reflection of this relationship of God, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we are Baptized and spiritually nourished at the Table of our Lord, we realize that we are called to follow the direction and teachings of Jesus Christ.   

From Medieval times there have been three separate general church divisions: Greek, Anglican, and Roman. Although the Reformation in the 16th Century became a time of Protest of the status quo, the Church in England, retained Catholic doctrine and practice, with Bishops and priests administering the sacraments, while eventually freeing itself from direct papal control. Many are familiar with Henry VIII’s reign and independent streak, although interestingly enough he died a Roman Catholic.   
The Episcopal Church in the United States which began after 1783 when the colonists won their independence is part of the Anglican Communion. Anglicans number about 80 million members worldwide in 38 different church organizations, including the Episcopal Church in America. Each Anglican Church is autonomous, interrelated and interdependent. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the recognized spiritual head of our branch of Christ’s church, though each church organization is self-governing under its own Presiding Bishop. 

In my rather brief response to the woman who asked me what I did for a living, I tried to sum up the essence of the Episcopal Church. I think what has given the Episcopal Church a unique flavor, is our understanding that life is often messy.  As an Anglian church, we have taken the middle way in policies and procedures. Meeting human needs and improving the human condition is a fundamental aspect of who we are as a church.  Centered in worship, with our Book of Common Prayer as our liturgical focus, we as a redeemed people live with and take seriously mystery, beauty, joy, love, suffering, goodness, sin, holiness, and all other human values and experiences.

I have been personally spiritually nourished over the years within this branch of the Christian faith as I have come to respect the diversity of all God’s people.
Cn. Richard Visconti


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