Although numbering scarcely more than two million members, the Episcopalians are the richest and most powerful of all protestant groups in the United States. Eleven presidents of the United States have been Episcopalians: Washington, Madison, Monroe, William Henry Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, Pierce, Arthur, Franklin Roosevelt, Ford and George Herbert Walker Bush. Confederate President Jefferson Davis was also an Episcopalian.
After the American Revolution, the Episcopal church broke from the Church of England (the Anglican Church), while retaining most of its theology and ritual, as well as its system of governance by bishops. Resistance to the often-made suggestion that the Episcopal church be made the national church of the United States functioned as a key impetus behind the national doctrine of separation of church and state.
The Episcopal Church is both Catholic and Protestant, Catholic in that it retains much of Roman Catholic ritual, sacraments, creeds and orders of the church, Protestant (or reformed) in that it rejects the authority of the Pope, conducts services in English and re-emphasizes the authority of the Bible.
The Book of Common Prayer, first promulgated in 1549, forms the basis for Episcopal services. Like Roman Catholics, Episcopalians have priests, although marriage of the clergy is allowed. Monks and nuns, who are strictly contemplative and may not marry, also exist. Since 1974, the church has ordained women as priests, although some dioceses continue to reject the practice.
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