The Episcopal Church
St. Peter's is an Episcopal Church, a member of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego.
The Episcopal Church is a Christian denomination, and is part of the world wide fellowship of churches called The Anglican Communion. You can learn all about The Episcopal Church, beliefs and practices here. (check out the What we Believe, Who we Are and What we Do menus, especially). Our diocesan site also has a nice summary of what we believe here.
Some context for the historically curious: we have our roots in the Church of England (if you got up early to watch the most recent Royal Wedding, you saw Will and Kate married by our Archbishop of Canterbury...). However, after the American Revolution, being the "Church of England" was problematic, in part because England was no longer a compelling "brand," and also because the monarch was (is) the head of the Church of England, and prayers for the monarch were considered treasonous in the new United States of America. Yikes.
So, the same leaders who established the government of our new country also established the structure and governance of the new Episcopal Church, as a more democratically led church, but with the worship style, theology and spirituality of the Church of England, in the Anglican Tradition.
What's the Anglican Tradition? The Anglican tradition harkens way back to the 2nd century church in what is now England, and in its current reality is a nice balance of catholic tradition, and protestant sensibility. Our worship style would be very familiar to Roman Catholics and those from other liturgical traditions, and at the same time we value the individual relationship with God emphasized by more protestant perspectives. The Anglican tradition values the mystical and unknowable, and while valuing the intellect, cherishes the truth that beauty and art have as much to teach us as science. For example: Charles Darwin, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Elliot and J. R. R. Tolkien were all Anglicans. (Today, authors Madeleine L'Engle and Annie Lamott, physicist the Rev. John Polkinghorne (who discovered the quark), comedian Robin Williams, journalist Ray Suarez and the indominable Archbishop Desmond Tutu.)
What's with the odd name? "Episcopal" means, simply, led by bishops ("episkopos" in Greek). So, we have bishops, but in our tradition, everyone in authority is put there by those over whom they have authority (see above re. democratically led church...) and governance is from the grass roots, and not top-down. We do have a hierarchy, but it is built from the bottom up. Parishes elect their senior priests (whom we call Rectors) and also elect the people who go on to elect our bishops. They in turn elect and consent to our Presiding Bishop (at the present, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori). That's right. Our Presiding Bishop is a woman. (a woman who was an oceanographer in her previous life. How cool is that?)
When the Church of England broke from the Roman Catholic Church during the Reformation of the 16th Century, the single biggest difference was the absence of papal authority. Lacking the singular power of the pope, and the top-down hierarchy, our tradition has been open to changes that have resulted not only in clergy being free to marry, but in the 20th century, the ordination of women to all holy orders (in the Episcopal Church: deacons, priests and bishops. The Church of England has ordained women as deacons and priests for about two decades, and recently decisions have been made to make room for women bishops as well. Huzzah!).
The lack of singular authority does make us a bit...messier...than other traditions. We don't always agree on everything. In fact, we may disagree passionately with one another. We're ok with that. There is no list to check off or litmus test regarding participation in our community of faith. There are steps such as baptism and confirmation that open up some parts of our life and leadership, but all --all-- are welcome in this community. Admittedly, some may be more comfortable in a tradition that is more black-and-white. But if you are comfortable in the gray places in between, or better yet, comfortable with vibrant color, then this may be the faith community for you, for a season, or for a lifetime.
Please don't hesitate to be in touch if you have any questions or wonderings. We're happy to answer questions as we can, and simply to wonder with you when we don't have all the answers.