The mission of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd is to know Christ and to make Christ's love known to others.
This isn't any different from the mission of most Christian churches, and that's important. Episcopalians are, first and foremost, Christians: followers of Jesus Christ, just like Roman Catholics, Baptists, Orthodox Christians, Methodists, Pentecostals, and thousands of other denominations the world over. But what makes us distinctive? For one thing, we value togetherness in worship more than agreement about doctrine. We worship with our whole bodies as we stand, kneel, sing, and pray. And the ways we worship teach us what it is we actually believe.
The Episcopal Church is an American-leaning expression of a form of Christianity that came to exist in England in the 1500s, now known worldwide as Anglicanism. At the time when many in Europe were deciding to break away from the Roman Catholic Church, we did too, but for different reasons. We decided that instead of all believing precisely the same things, we would pray the same way and trust God to help us stay unified in our differences.
You might say that, as Episcopalians, we bridge the Catholic and Protestant traditions, walking the middle way. This puts us at a unique crossroads: Episcopalians have the ability to hear, understand, and work with many different kinds of Christians.
At Good Shepherd, our weekly worship service reflects this reality. One moment we'll be singing a centuries-old hymn, and the next moment we'll join hands to sing a contemporary setting of the Lord's Prayer. We have candles and stained glass, and we also have a big projector screen. We use The Book of Common Prayer, the standard Episcopal book of worship whose first edition is nearly 500 years old. But we also use recent and newly composed prayers as we find them relevant to our times. The ancient and the modern join together when we come before God.
Our sermons are brief and to the point because we also have other things to do with that time: prayer, songs, and Holy Communion (also known as the Lord's Supper), which we celebrate together every week. This standard weekly service is called Holy Eucharist. Here is an annotated video primer on Episcopal worship.
Some people ask whether the Episcopal Church is a "Bible-based" church. Simply put, yes -- but perhaps not in the way you thought. Spend one hour in Episcopal worship and you'll hear more from the Bible than you will in most other churches. The Bible is not a book per se, but a collection of writings created by a number of human beings, almost exclusively Jewish, over the course of more than a millennium. The Bible is not simple and straightforward. It is complex and mysterious, and it will never stop giving us gifts of helpful insight. The Bible is intended to begin conversation—never to end it.
The Bible is one of the main places we expect to meet God, but it is not the only one. While Scripture is always in the mix, church tradition over the centuries also plays a role. And we trust our own God-given reason and experience to guide us as well. (God doesn't give us brains so as not to use them!) This triple understanding of authority -- Scripture, Tradition, and Reason -- is known as "the three-legged stool."
Episcopalians are renowned for seeing both sides of things: discussing our differences can strengthen and sharpen our faith. But that doesn't mean that we ignore or paper over our differences, especially when it comes to issues of human dignity. Justice and compassion are of deep concern to Episcopalians, not as partisan political issues, but as the backbone of everyday Christian practice.
We believe that God calls all sorts of people to leadership in the church. The Episcopal Church has ordained women as clergy since the 1970s and came to support same-sex marriage officially in 2015. You'll find women and LGBTQ people at all levels of leadership. Alongside our whole society, we are coming to terms with new understandings of racism and white privilege.
Does this mean that we throw away centuries of tradition simply to capitulate to the dominant culture? Nothing could be further from the truth. Our focus on human dignity comes directly from our understanding of Jesus Christ as the divine human being (not just the divine man). By being born -- incarnated -- among us, God has confirmed the holiness of our humanity. As we read in the Book of Revelation, "See! The home of God is among mortals" (Rev. 21:3). God meets us where we are and invites us to live in love with one another. Being a woman or being LGBTQ does not restrict us at all in this call.
The Episcopal Church is organized into regional groups called dioceses. The Diocese of Olympia covers all of Western Washington. Our bishop is the Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel.
We are a democratic church: lay people, deacons, priests, and bishops gather every three years at our General Convention to make decisions that affect the whole Church. Our presiding bishop is the Most Rev. Michael Curry. You may have heard him preach at a royal wedding!