The Episcopal Church, formerly (before 1967) called the Protestant Episcopal Church, is the expression of Anglicanism, the form of Christianity of the Church of England, in the United States of America. The words Episcopal and Episcopalianism mean “having bishops” and refer to the way church governance is centered on the role of bishops as leaders of dioceses, which include all churches in a geographical area. Bishops alone can ordain PRIESTS and other ministers. In this and other ways, this church follows traditional Catholic patterns of organization and worship, though it also has a Protestant side emphasizing the Bible, preaching, and freedom of individual interpretation.

The Anglican tradition that was to become the Episcopal church fi rst came to America in 1607, with the establishment of an English colony and church at Jamestown, Virginia. By the time of the Revolutionary War, Anglican churches were found throughout the Thirteen Colonies. After the war they separated from the Church of England, forming the Episcopal Church. They were led by bishops consecrated to that offi ce by bishops of the Episcopal Church of Scotland, the minority Anglican church there, since relations with the Church of England were still diffi cult. The Episcopal Church spread west with the new nation, although its greatest numbers have remained on the eastern seaboard. In 2004 it had nearly two and a half million members in some 7,400 churches.

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In the late 20th and early 21st centuries the Episcopal Church was convulsed by divisive issues. One was whether women should be ordained to the priesthood. Another centered on a new, considerably changed edition of the Book of Common Prayer. Commonly called the Prayer Book, this book contains the forms of worship used in church. (Episcopal churches are supposed to follow a set LITURGY and RITUAL.) Both the ordination of women and the new Prayer Book were authorized by the church’s General Convention in 1976. Then controversy arose over the ordination of homosexuals. Some dissenters left the Episcopal Church because of these issues, but the majority have adapted to change.