St. Nicholas is a part of the Episcopal Church, which is connected with the Anglican Communion worldwide. We identify ourselves as part of a larger body of Christ, and in that body, there are many parts. Sometimes those parts agree and work together, and sometimes they don’t. But we understand that we are human and all God’s children, and respect that all are welcome in God’s family. The Episcopal Church is not the dominant Christian tradition in the Southeast, so there are many misconceptions out there. If you really want to know what we believe, you are invited to get to know us. Episcopalians believe that how we pray shapes what we believe, so come pray with us!
We believe first and foremost that we can best come to know God, our creator, through a relationship with his son, Jesus Christ. And, along with Anglicans around the globe, we at St. Nicholas therefore hold the traditional faith of Christians through the ages. The clearest statements of what we believe is to be found in The Apostle’s Creed and The Nicene Creed. These two-thousand-year-old creeds (or short statements of faith) are held to be true by billions of people around the world today.
As a church, we emphasize the mystery of encountering God in worship. We believe all people are called to be ministers and to serve God, his Church and the community in which they live.
Answers to some common questions:
- Are you a Protestant Church? Yes. The word protestant began as a derogatory term used for those who were protesting abuses in the church of that day. The word also means “to witness for” and reminds us that our church witnesses for Jesus in the world around us. As a Protestant Church we are not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, though we wish to work for greater unity among all Christians and churches. We believe that through a relationship with Jesus as our forgiver and leader that we come to salvation. We also believe in the divine revelation of the Bible.
- Are you a Catholic Church? Yes. The word catholic was described hundreds of years ago as “that which has been believed in all places, at all times, by all people.” The word catholic means what has always been believed as the essentials of Christian faith and practice. We are not a part of the Roman Catholic Church, but we do strive to welcome their members into full communion with us. More importantly, as a catholic church we believe there is a great value to the long-standing traditions and practices of Christians throughout time. Among the central practices of a catholic church are the Sacraments.
- Are you a Sacramental Church? Yes. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual gifts God offers us. We accept as most important the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist (also called Communion or The Lord’s Supper). In Baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and are adopted into God’s family called the Church. In Eucharist, we receive the bread and wine of communion which we believe is the body and blood of Jesus — a way of knowing by faith that Jesus is truly with us and in union (communion) with us at that point in time.
- Are you a Bible Church? Yes. The Bible is a book that allows us to hear God’s words to his people and their response to him. We believe that all things you need for faith and salvation are in the Bible. There’s no secret knowledge you need outside of the Bible, and no additional truth that came later that is of the same value as the words of the Bible. We also believe God has given us a mind, and wants us to use it, as we struggle to interpret, understand and apply the stories and teachings in the Bible.
If you’d like to dig a little deeper, our Book of Common Prayer includes an Outline of the Faith, also known as a Catechism, which spells out a little more of our beliefs.
*Thanks to King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland, Georgia, for their on-line resources.
Answers to Some Burning Questions:
We get a lot of questions about who we are and what we believe. Most of our questions come from our own members, who question their faith, struggle with mysteries, and wrestle with tough theological conundrums. There are NO stupid questions! So feel free to ask anytime by e-mailing Fr. Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org. I don’t have all the answers, but I can certainly explore with you and learn myself! Here are some questions that popped up recently at our monthly Episcopal 101 class (every 3rd Thursday night at 6:30pm):
- How do I converse with someone who disagrees with my theology? In the South, Episcopalians are in the religious minority. We find ourselves in a unique position, surrounded by denominations, ideas, and theologies that may differ from our own. The temptation is to retreat into our own circles, with people who agree with us solely. In fact, the Episcopal Church sometimes falls into this, thus creating a “country club” feeling where we separate ourselves. However, we can quickly find that even in our own pews, we have a wonderful diversity of theologies and backgrounds. Therefore, it’s important that we see our own points-of-view as a gift from God to be shared with the world. If one person is a biblical literalist and another isn’t, they should be able to come together in the spirit of respect and love, and share their thoughts with one another without fear of being judged. So to answer the question, one converses with another by going into the conversation with humility, not expecting necessarily to “change” the other person or prove them wrong. Rather, we are called to converse with those who differ from us by listening to them, hearing where they are coming from and how they got to the point of where they are now. We are also called to share our thoughts and opinions honestly, knowing that we might have insight that others might not have heard. If we believe that God is in and among all creation, that also includes those who disagree with us. We should not shy away, but engage in a loving way.
- What is the Apocrypha? The Apocrypha is a collection of Scriptures that are accepted and included into the biblical canon by Catholics, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox Christians, but not by most Protestant Christians. Since we are Anglicans, we also accept them as Scripture. The Apocrypha is made up of many books that were written in the pre-Christian era, so many Christians include these books as regular parts of the Old Testament.
- This leads to another question–How was the Bible formed? Here is the VERY short version. The Bible was not handed to us by God as the complete document it is today. Instead, the Bible was formed over the course of centuries, beginning with oral tradition and word-of-mouth stories. These were eventually written down in the cultural languages of the day, passed around, and edited. At many points along the way, faithful people gathered to decide which books would be included in the Bible and which ones wouldn’t. The ones that made it are what we call the canon. Even after the canon was formed, there have been thousands of different translations of that canon. Does this mean that we shouldn’t believe the Bible because it’s passed through so many hands? No! Instead, we believe that the Holy Spirit moved through each of those people, guiding their interpretations, just as the Spirit guides our interpretations today. The Bible is not a static document. It’s is a living document which we believe contains all things necessary for salvation. But because of this rich history of the Bible, many (not all) Episcopalians are not biblical literalists. Instead, we see the Bible as a document that represents the culture and context of the individual writers and the original audiences, knowing that our culture and context is much different today. The Bible, therefore, contains truth that helps us live our lives today, but that truth doesn’t need to be historically or literally factual.
- Why are there two Testaments in the Bible? Simply put, because these are two accounts of God’s interaction with God’s people. The Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures, trace God’s interaction with the nation of Israel, who today we would call the Jews. Without this account, we could not fully understand what God did through the life of Jesus. Since Jesus was a first century Jew, our history stems from the Judaic tradition. We ourselves might not be Jews, but we count Jews as part of God’s family. Also, the Hebrew Scriptures contain crucial stories that are important for us to hear and learn from as part of our faith life. The New Testament, or Christian Scriptures, include the stories about Jesus Christ and the early Christian church. We find that God’s love and saving power is for all, both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) and we hear about God’s interaction with the first century people who experienced Christ first-hand, and second-hand.
- What is the Lectionary? A Lectionary is a series of Scripture readings to be read in worship. In the Episcopal Church, on Sunday mornings, we use the Revised Common Lectionary, which is a series of readings shared by many of the mainline denominations (Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal, etc.) that cycle through 3 years (A, B, & C). If you go to church every Sunday for 3 years, you will hear most of the Bible read in worship. As I am typing this in May of 2009, we are in Year B and will start Year C on the first Sunday of Advent in November. For more information of the Sunday Lectionary, visit the Lectionary Page. We also have another lectionary called the Daily Office lectionary, which is a series of daily readings on a 2-year cycle in the context of our worship services of Morning and Evening Prayer (we are currently in Year Two in May of 2009). You can find this lectionary in the back of the Book of Common Prayer or you can do Morning or Evening Prayer online by going to the Mission of St. Clare website, where these readings are included for you. So if you are wanting to jump into the Bible, but don’t know where to start, the Daily Office is a good place to explore to find a starting point.