S. Stephen’s is a parish of the Episcopal Church, which belongs to the Anglican Communion, the worldwide fellowship of national and regional Churches in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. The Anglican Communion is the third largest body of Christians in the world, after the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.
The Episcopal Church got its start during the British colonization of North America – beginning in Jamestown, Virginia – when English colonists brought the Anglican Church with them. After the American Revolution, congregations and clergy formerly belonging to the Church of England reorganized themselves as an independent and self-governing American Church, with its own Prayer Book, bishops, dioceses, and administrative structures.
A distinctive feature of the Episcopal Church and other Churches in the Anglican Communion is public worship according to an authorized Prayer Book – in our case, the Book of Common Prayer, 1979. Rather than making up the services themselves, our clergy are expected to read the texts and follow the directions (rubrics) found in the Prayer Book. This tradition of “common prayer” helps ensure that our worship faithfully expresses the Church’s doctrines and teachings, and that church members know what to expect when they come to our services.
The Episcopal Church, like the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, is composed of multiple geographical units, each called a "diocese," presided over by a bishop. S. Stephen's is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, and our bishop is the Rt. Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely. At the parish level, the clergy are responsible for matters pertaining to doctrine, worship, and morals, while the Vestry is in charge of finances and the upkeep of buildings and property.