Anglican or Episcopalian?

I became a practicing Christian in the 1980s when hardly any of the Christians I knew would dare call themselves by that name. The commonly received wisdom in the circles where I traveled was “the fundamentalists are giving Christians a bad name.” What this meant to me what that people who identified themselves as Christians talked a lot about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as their savior, but rarely talked about what that meant in terms of how they lived their lives. People I knew who identified themselves as Christians talked a lot about other people’s immoral behavior, but didn’t say much about any behavior or actions to which their Christian faith bound them.

I try to use the C-word as much as possible, because I don’t want to cede that word to people whose Christianity doesn’t necessarily reflect my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.

A few days ago someone asked me: “is your church Episcopal? Your website talks a lot about worship in the Anglican tradition, and I just want to make sure that you’re the sort of Anglican that is affiliated with the Episcopal Church.”  The question made me realize that “Anglican” has become code word for a set of beliefs that don’t necessarily reflect my understanding of Anglicanism any more than certain “Christian” beliefs line up with my understanding of discipleship.

For me, being an Anglican means being descended from Lancelot Andrewes, William Law, F.D. Maurice, William Temple, Vida Dutton Scudder and Kenneth Leech. Being Anglican means being steeped in a tradition that is incarnational—we pray with our bodies and our senses and we live grounded in the world God made, the world where Jesus lived and died. Being Anglican means being steeped in worship that is invitational—all are welcome around our table. Being Anglican means being Trinitarian and embracing the complexity and mystery of God. God as Trinity reveals to us that God not only blesses relationship, God is relationship.

Last time I checked, our Episcopal Church still claimed all of these threads as part of the fabric of our worship and our ministry. Just as I have always been loath to cede the C-word to “those Christians” whose faith is often more associated with hate speech than with building the Kingdom Jesus preached about, so I refuse to give over the A-word to Anglicans whose language is more about division and judgment than about mystery and relationship. This is what being an Anglican means to me.

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One Response to Anglican or Episcopalian?

  1. Rev Dr Mom says:

    I am a cradle Episcopalian….and I consider myself an Episcopalian Christian. Yes, we come from the Anglican tradition for all the reasons you say, but “Episcoalian” fits those things just as well. And in fact the word “Anglican” is of recent origin in the grand scheme of things–when the C of E in the former colonies became the Episcopal Church, the term “Anglican tradition” wasn’t in use. So I guess I am less reluctant to cede “Anglican” to the conservatives. Just to keep things clear.

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