Episcopal Church in the United States of America

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The Church in the United States of America in communion with the see of Canterbury. Previously called the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, it adopted the new title as an alternative in 1967 and as its official designation in 1979.

The first Anglican church in America was built at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607; many other congregations were established, all under the jurisdiction of the Bp. of London. It was only after the War of Independence that the Protestant Episcopal Church became an autonomous organization. In 1784 S. Seabury, who had been elected bishop by the clergy of Connecticut, received episcopal Orders at the hands of the bishops of the Episcopal Church in Scotland. At a General Convention in 1789 a constitution and canons were drawn up and the Book of Common Prayer revised. During the Civil War of 1861–5, the Church in the southern states formed itself into a separate body, but reconciliation followed the peace of 1865. Since then the Church has expanded at home and abroad, establishing missionary dioceses in many parts of the world. Further revisions of the Prayer Book were made in 1892 and in 1928–9; a new Prayer Book, which became official in 1979, includes services in both traditional and contemporary language.

The constitution of the Church gives the laity a major role in all legislative bodies. Bishops are elected by majority vote of both clerical and lay orders in diocesan conventions. The ultimate governing body is the General Convention. The establishment of several small schismatic bodies followed its decision in 1976 to allow the ordination of women to the priesthood; the consecration in 1989 of the first woman to become a bishop in the Anglican Communion aroused further controversy. The consecration of an openly homosexual man as bishop in 2003 shook the whole Anglican Communion. The blessing of the union of same-sex couples in some dioceses has also been divisive. Membership of the Episcopal Church has declined severely since the 1960s.

Subjects: Christianity.

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