Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What’s a Eucharist?
  2. Why priests?
  3. Where do Episcopalians stand on important issues?
  4. Will Episcopalians threaten me with eternal damnation in Hell?
  1. What’s a Eucharist?
    Eucharist is a Greek word which means “thanksgiving.” That’s what we do on Sunday morning. Eucharist = Holy Communion = The Lord’s Supper. We celebrate and give thanks for the good things God has done for us. ALL are welcome at the celebration of the Eucharist, whether baptized or not. If you have questions about baptism or would like to be baptized, please speak with Fr. Delk.

    We begin Eucharist with a hymn and few brief prayers. Two or three lessons follow, then maybe another hymn. Then the sermon, usually 7-15 minutes. We say the Nicene Creed and pray for those who need help. We confess our sins and receive assurance that God really forgives us. We exchange the Peace (we all shake hands; hugging is optional) Next, we pass the collection plate and present it at the altar. Communion is next. All baptized Christians are welcome at the Lord’s table in this church. We always finish with a hymn.

    The service usually takes around an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. Our order of service comes from the Book of Common Prayer. Last revised in 1979, but first assembled in 1549, the Prayer Book gives us continuity with a broader community that spans centuries and continents.


  3. Why priests?
    From the earliest Christian communities, certain leaders were selected for a special ministry within the community. Over the centuries, this role has evolved. Today, priests are pastors, preachers, teachers, leaders, and stewards of sacramental rites of baptism, communion, holy matrimony, burial, and confession, which we prefer to call “reconciliation of a penitent,” with emphasis on reconciliation. Our priests can marry and father or bear children because, yes, women can be priests, too. Why? Well, that might take a cup of coffee, so give us a call. We can’t do everything on a website!

  5. Where do Episcopalians stand on important issues?
    The Anglican tradition is not what is called a confessional church. That is, other than the ancient creeds of the Church, we have no set of particular teachings that lays out exactly what we are to believe. Because of this, the Episcopal Church enjoys a plurality of viewpoints on every issue and even on what the important issues are. We orient our identity around worship, rather than strict adherence to any particular theology.

    The Episcopal Church, or at least the Hickory Neck branch, isn’t a really good place for people who want to be told what to think or how to think. As Galatians 5:1 professes, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” We are accountable to each other in community, but the criteria of that accountability centers upon forgiveness, mercy, kindness, and patience. We don’t always meet those standards, but at least we try. And the fact that we try eliminates the common criticism that Christians are hypocrites. Hypocrites don’t try. And cynicism isn’t far away from hypocrisy.


  7. Will Episcopalians threaten me with eternal damnation in Hell?
    We like to think that God makes those decisions and that we aren’t privy to them. We share hope in God’s incredibly extensive grace to forgive all repentant people. The prayer book says, “by hell, we mean eternal death in our rejection of God.” Note that it does not say, “rejection by God.” God rejects nobody, but he will not force us to love him either. That would be rape.

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More Episcopal Church FAQs

by Catherine Anne Caimano Excerpts republished here courtesy of Forward Movement Publications, ©1999

  1. What does it mean to be Episcopal?
  2. What does it mean to be welcoming?
  3. What is Tradition?
  4. What is the Book of Common Prayer?
  5. What are the Sacraments?
  6. What do you mean by Reason?
  7. What do Episcopalians believe?
  8. What is the history of the Church?
  9. When did the Episcopal Church start?
  10. How many churches are there in the Episcopal Church?
  1. What does it mean to be Episcopal?
    It means that our church is governed or “overseen” by bishops. The word “episcopal” comes from the Greek word episcope, which means “oversight.” Each individual church (or “parish”) belongs to a larger governing area called a “diocese,” which is overseen by an elected bishop. All the discoeses together make up the church across the whole country (and a few missionary dioceses in other countries), and they are overseen by a specially elected bishop, called the Presiding Bishop. A bishop is one kind of ordained clergy person, along with priests and deacons.

    However, all of the people of the church participate in the running of the business of the church family. The governing body of the church is General Convention which meets every three years,with Executive Council carrying on the business of the church in the intervening years. General Convention has two houses, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, made up of lay and clerical representatives chosen by their discoeses.


  3. What does it mean to be welcoming?
    It means that everyone who seeks a place in the Episcopal Church finds one! Seeking is an important part of this church, and you will find most people in the pews have more questions than answers, which is the way we like it. The fundamentals of the Episcopal Church are based on Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. Anyone with questions about who God is and how God works in their lives will find a seat in the Episcopal Church, and many people with whom to share questions and journeys.

  5. What is Tradition?
    The tradition of the church is the record of what the church believes, that is formed over time. Important traditions in the Episcopal Church are the use of the Book of Common Prayer and the sacraments, particularly the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Tradition also refers to how we worship, our liturgy and the music in our hymnals, and to the creeds we say as part of our worship. In these ways, the important truths of our faith are kept alive and handed down through generations.

  7. What is the Book of Common Prayer?
    It is the book that contains the prayers and liturgies that are part of the life in worship Episcopalians share with each other. It also contains historical documents, church calendar, the catechism (statement of what we believe) and the lectionary (a schedule of Scripture readings to use in liturgy). The Prayer Book binds together all those in the Anglican Communion. The very first Prayer Book was written in 1549, and the first Book of Common Prayer for the new Episcopal Church in the United States was written in 1789. You will find Prayer Books in every Episcopal Church, and you can follow any service by reading it.

  9. What are the Sacraments?
    The sacraments are defined in the Prayer Book as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” This means that we recognize God as active and sustaining in our lives, and through the sacraments we participate in this sustaining and saving power. The two main sacraments in the Episcopal Church are the sacrament of Baptism, in which we are initiated into new life with Christ, and the Eucharist, in which we remember and celebrate Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Baptism happens only once in a person’s life, but the Eucharist is celebrated at least once a week. The other traditional rites that have sacramental character include confirmation, ordination, marriage, reconciliation (confession and absolution), and anointing of the sick.

  11. What do you mean by Reason?
    This means that we recognize that God is always working in the world, and we value our God-given intellect which we use to continually understand God’s will. Within the boundaries of Scripture and Tradition, we wrestle with the issues of living together on earth, and we recognize that there are no easy answers. This is why you may find many faithful Episcopalians who disagree on things such as interpretation of Scripture or social issues. We believe that true faith includes our minds as well as our hearts. This is why you find many Episcopal scientists, historians, and philosophers, because we believe strongly that increasing your ability to think critically also increases your ability to know God more fully.

  13. What do Episcopalians believe? Episcopalians believe in a Trinitarian God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) who created us, redeems us, and never lets us go. This means that God is the source of all life, that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven and our lives are brought into closer union with God. It also means that God’s love is present in the world and with us always. We believe in the church as the body of Christ, one that is holy, catholic (or universal), and apostolic, continuing the teaching of Jesus through the apostles to this day. The Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed, found in the Book of Common Prayer and often recited in our liturgy, outline our beliefs. More specific explanations of the beliefs of Episcopalians can be found in the catechism (or outline of faith) that is also in the Book of Common Prayer.

  15. What is the history of the Church? The Episcopal Church is descended from the Church of England, and through the consecration of bishops, has roots all the way back to Jesus and his original followers. The Church of England developed during the 16th century, as it moved away from being overseen by the Pope but did not reject its Catholic origins. Thus, the Church of England grew to be called the via media, or the “middle way,” between what became known as the Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church. In this way, churches in the Anglican Communion are both Protestant and Catholic and maintain traditions found in both of those branches of Christianity.

  17. When did the Episcopal Church start?
    It started when the United States started in 1789. Members of the Church of England started a new, independent church to go along with their new, independent country, and it was based on a lot of the same principles. While we are self-governing, the Episcopal Church maintains a relationship, based on common faith, traditions, history, and use of the Book of Common Prayer, with the Church of England and more than 30 other Anglican churches all over the world. All churches in this tradition make up the Anglican Communion.

  19. How many churches are there in the Episcopal Church?Today we have more than 2.5 million members and 7,500 parishes and missions in the United States. Although we are not one of the larger denominations in America, as part of the Anglican Communion, we make up one of the largest Christian denominations in the world. In fact, the fastest growing branches of the Anglican Communion can be found in Africa and Asia, making us part of a true world-wide church. There are currently more than 75 million people in the Anglican Communion.

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History of Hickory Neck

Historical roadside marker.
A registered national historic site

1653: Blisland Parish was organized: the Virginia colony then had a State Church.

1721: The parish had two churches: a Lower (the easternmost) one and an Upper one (the westernmost).

1725: Blisland Parish gained territory when neighboring Wilmington Parish (to the south and west) became extinct.

1734: Workmen were hired to build a new Lower Church upon an acre of land donated by Mrs. Mary Holdcroft of Hickory Neck Plantation. The new church, which was brick and measured 26 ft. by 60 ft., became known as Hickory Neck Church. It was built on an east-west axis, in accord with Anglican tradition.

1738: Trees were planted in the churchyard, most likely some of the stately walnut trees we see today.

1742: A brick wall, 100 ft. by 100 ft., was built around the church.

1774: Hickory Neck was enlarged through the addition of a north transept. If a south transept been added, the church would have been cruciform like Bruton Parish. Today, we worship in the north transept.

Conjectural rendering of the original church with the 1774 addition, by Sidney Eugene King.
Conjectural rendering of original church showing 1774 addition, by Sidney Eugene King, commissioned by the vestry c.1970. King referenced an archaeological site plan showing both the oldest part of the church, built in 1734, and the added north transept of 1774. He also referenced Blisland Parish’s colonial vestry records, which describe the building’s exterior and interior.

1781-1782: American soldiers camped at Hickory Neck during April 1781 and in August the church became an army hospital. The French Army and its baggage trains passed by the church in 1781 and 1782, enroute to and from Yorktown. Around this time, worship services ceased being held at Hickory Neck.

1784: Virginia’s State Church was Disestablished and unused, church-owned property reverted to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

1792-1799: Blisland Parish’s rector died and the parish entered a period of dormancy.

1825: The main body of Hickory Neck Church (the portion built in 1734) was demolished and the south end of the north transept, built in 1774, was extended 10 ft. and bricked up. Through this means, the abandoned church was converted into a public school, Hickory Neck Academy. Clergy of various denominations conducted services in the Academy building on an irregular basis.

1862: On the night of May 6, 1862, during the Peninsular Campaign, Confederate Captain John Pelham and the Stuart Horse Artillery camped at Hickory Neck.

1871-1883: The Hickory Neck Academy, which was in disrepair when the Civil War ended, was refurbished. It was used as a public school until September 1908, when Toano High School opened its doors.

1912: The James City County School Board deeded Hickory Neck to the trustees of the Hickory Neck Protestant Episcopal Church and the Rev. E. Ruffin Jones of Bruton Parish began campaigning for the ancient colonial church to be restored to ecclesiastical use. Regular worship services resumed at Hickory Neck in 1915.

1917: Hickory Neck Church was reconsecrated.

1973: Hickory Neck Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Registry, in recognition of its national significance as a historic property.

1980: A parish house, now designated the Wilkinson Center for Christian Leadership, was built to accommodate a Sunday School and other activities.

1983: Hickory Neck hired its first full time rector since the colonial period.

1987: The 100th member joined modern Hickory Neck.

1989: Hickory Neck Church attained parish status for the first time since the 1790s.

1999: The expanded parish house was blessed by the Bishop.

2002: The Reverend Michael L. Delk was called to be Hickory Neck’s second full-time rector.

2003: Hickory Neck acquired 9.9 acres of property adjacent to the churchyard, creating a 12 1/2 acre campus.

2005: Construction of new church began.

2006: New church was consecrated on June 24th and Hickory Neck’s first full-time associate rector was called.

2008: Historic Hickory Neck’s interior was renovated and its structural fabric was stabilized.

See photos and learn more about the historic chapel.

To obtain a complimentary copy of an annotated history of Hickory Neck, please contact the parish’s Administrative Assistant.

List of Clergy Since 1680