Are you Anglican or Episcopalian?
- August 06, 2020
- Steve Macias
I recently transferred as a priest from a Continuing Anglican jurisdiction into the Reformed Episcopal Church.
To which many have asked, whats the difference between an Anglican and an Episcopalian? Not much, the terms are actually similar to the use of Presbyterian and Reformed. One related to the style of church government and the other to a historic brand of theology – but both often overlapping in meaning and members.
Are you Anglican or Episcopalian?
Yes. Let me explain.
The Church of England traces its origin back to the ancient bishops of the British Isles in an unbroken succession through the Protestant Reformation and into the very fabric of the American colonies.
The word “Anglican” originates in Anglicana ecclesia libera sit, a phrase from the Magna Carta dated 15 June 1215, meaning “the Anglican Church shall be free.” Members of the Church of England and its “Anglicanism” are called Anglicans.
The word “Episcopal” is from the New Testament Greek word for Bishop or overseer (episkopos). A Church led by bishops has an Episcopal Polity. The Church of England was the Church in the American Colonies, although it did not grant them their own Bishops. Despite being the Colonial Church of men like President George Washington and Patrick Henry, the post-revolution Anglican church was greatly weakened by the departure of many Anglican Loyalists for Canada and England and by anti-English sentiment among American colonials.
The American clergy sent Rev. Samuel Seabury to England in 1783 to seek ordination as their bishop. The English church refused to ordain him because it required its bishops to swear loyalty to the English king, which Seabury could not do. So Seabury turned to the other “episcopal” church in Scotland.
A centuries old rivalry between Scotland and England came to a union through the reign of King James I. But by the end of the 17th century, Scotland had abolished and expelled all the Anglican Bishops during the presbyterian “Glorious Revolution.” This was altered in 1707 as the Scottish and English merge together to form a single “Kingdom of Great Britain.”
This allowed the re-establishment of the “Episcopal Church in Scotland” (and created the first version of the famous union jack flag). This meant that Bishops who had refused to submit (the non-jurors) to the previous Scottish government were now restored in a state-sanctioned, but separate “Scottish Episcopal Church.”
This Scottish Episcopal Church had no requirement for an oath to the king and happily made Seabury the first American Anglican bishop in 1784. The Anglican Church was therefore established again in the American colonies through Aberdeen as the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States” – in communion with both the Churches of England and Scotland.
Thus the “Episcopal” nomenclature becomes synonymous with Anglicanism in America while also paying homage to Seabury’s lineage through the Scottish nonjurors. The American Church has therefore been autocephalous (or self-governing) since its inception with its own prayerbook and disestablishment from the English crown.
What is the Reformed Episcopal Church?
In the 19th century, some advocates of ecumenicism urged the Protestant Episcopal Church and the Church of England to return to catholic ritual and toward reunion with Rome. George David Cummins, assisting Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church Diocese of Kentucky, became concerned about the preservation of Protestant, Evangelical, Reformed, and Confessional principles within the church.
In 1873, Bishop Cummins drafted the call to organize the Reformed Episcopal Church out from the Protestant Episcopal Church. Contrary to all expectation, the Reformed Episcopal Church has grown into a worldwide family of Churches, with representatives in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, Germany, Croatia, France and Australia. In the United Kingdom the Reformed Episcopal Church united in 1927 with The Free Church of England, an older body of Anglican heritage, to form the present day ‘Free Church of England otherwise called the Reformed Episcopal Church’.
The Reformed Episcopal Church and the Continuing Anglicans
The Protestant Episcopal Church continued to fracture in the 20th century as it embraced aberrant theological views such as female ordination, homosexual marriage, and departure from the historic prayerbook.
As various groups broke from the Protestant Episcopal Church, various federations have attempted to navigate their Anglican identity. Many of the Continuing Churches that broke with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the 1970s rejected the need for membership in the global Anglican communion. While other Anglican groups sought to re-align their allegiance with the Anglican communion through orthodox Anglican Churches in other parts of the world.
The Reformed Episcopal Church embraced both tactics. In the late 1990’s, the REC entered intercommunion with the Anglican Province of America, a continuing Anglican group. And in 2006, the Reformed Episcopal Church joined with The Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas which included the The Anglican Church in America (ACA), The Anglican Mission in America (AMIA), The Diocese of the Holy Cross (DHC) and the Episcopal Missionary Church (EMC).
REC Anglican Re-Alignment Through Nigeria
In 2005, The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) entered into communion and covenant union with the Reformed Episcopal Church. The Nigerian Anglican churches distanced themselves from the Protestant Episcopal Church after it consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003.
Out of the 70 million Anglicans worldwide, Nigeria has the largest Anglican population with over 17 million members. The Nigerian Church began as a 1841 expedition of Church Mission Society members Samuel Ajayi Crowther—who would become Nigeria’s first African Anglican bishop—and Rev. J.F. Schön.
REC & The Anglican Church in North America
In 2009, the REC became a founding member of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) covering the United States and Canada, it also includes congregations in Mexico, Guatemala, and Cuba. Representing 30 dioceses, over 1,037 congregations and an estimated membership of 140,000.
The ACNA is in communion with the Anglican Communion Churches of Uganda, Nigeria, Egypt, Southeast Asia, Sudan, South Sudan, South America, West Africa, Rwanda, Mynamar, Congo, and Bangladesh. And the orders of priests in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) have been recognized by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.