The Episcopal Church is the American descendant of the Church of England, which traces its founding to the mission of St Augustine of Canterbury, sent from Rome to Saxon England in 597 A.D.1 (One of the small statues in St Thomas’ pulpit is of St Augustine).
In the 16th century, the Church of England split with the Church in Rome, and acknowledged the King of England as its head rather than the Pope. The Church of England was greatly influenced by the Protestant Reformation then sweeping Europe, although it did not abandon its Catholic heritage. In doctrine, it follows what many call the middle way (or Via Media) between protestants and catholics. It continues to be led by Bishops (the name Episcopal means “governed by bishops”), with presbyters (priests) and deacons as its other ordained ministers.
As the Church of England is a state church, after the American Revolution the Church in America chose self-governance, and soon ordered itself as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, declaring still that it “is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require.”2
Today, The Episcopal Church is one of 38 self-governing national churches around the world in the Anglican Communion: these churches all trace their lineage through the Church of England. 85 million Christians call themselves Anglican or Episcopalian.3
1 Little, Arthur W., Reasons for Being A Churchman, The Young Churchman Co, Milwaukee, WI, 1905, p. 135
2 The Book of Common Prayer, The Church Pension Fund, New York, 1928, p. vi