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What does it mean to be a Christian? Part II
Answers likely vary, but denominational affiliation is one key to understanding Christianity
1018Faith SJ
The Rev. William Canalas begins Thursday evening mass at St. Michael Catholic Church in Gainesville..


Listen as the Rev. Kizito Okeke talks about the role of Mary in the Roman Catholic Church.


The Rev. Doug Dailey talks about the long history of Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville.

Last week we began a series looking at the differences in Christian denominations with a focus on the basics of the Baptist, Methodist and Pentecostal churches.

This week we continue our series with the foundation of the Presbyterian, Episcopal and Catholic churches.

What makes these three denominations different? We looked to the experts for answers - a preacher, a rector and a priest.


Basic beliefs

Presbyterian faith centers around grace, according to the Rev. David McDonald of First Presbyterian of Gainesville.

"Grace is the word and the reality of God's grace ... that drives us, and our theology begins there," he said. "We believe that it is God that saves us, we do not save ourselves.

"Everything begins with God's grace even when we experience the fact that we have taken the initiative to go to God in prayer or to do something on behalf of God like service or worship."

McDonald added that salvation is the biggest component of the faith.

"We live the Christian life not in order to be saved but because we have already been saved," he said. "In terms of looking at the sequence of things in the Christian life, it begins with birth and we baptize infants. We don't call it christening, we call it baptism. What we see baptism as is God establishing our identity as a person in Christ and member of his family. "

At First Presbyterian, children go through confirmation usually during ninth grade but are able to take part in communion at an earlier age.

"The tie in between communion and baptism is ... Through baptism, it is strengthened and confirmed in the communion experience," McDonald said.

Service structure

At First Presbyterian, services are a combination of traditional and more modern worship.

"There can be lots of variety in the way Presbyterian churches do worship," McDonald said. "You can find Presbyterian worship who have high worship, which is almost as high as an Episcopal or Catholic church, and you can find them that have worship service that is so simple and primitive.

"Here at this church we have been compelled to provide a combination of traditional and contemporary worship."


Presbyterians were born out of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.

"So we are two things, we are reformed in our belief ... and Martin Luther and John Calvin are the two big names that developed that in Europe," McDonald said. "It came over from Europe to America as the Presbyterian church through John Calvin and from Scotland. So, we have a strong Scottish heritage in the Presbyterian church."


Basic beliefs

In the Episcopal church weekly communion is the focus of the faith and worship.

"Communion is considered the principal act of worship on Sundays and other feasts and fasts of the church calendar," said the Rev. Doug Dailey, the rector at Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville. "Our church today offers the reception of communion as early as possible, recognizing that the sacrament of baptism is what makes one a member of the church. So typically what happens is (communion is available) when children start reaching for the communion wafer."

Once children begin participating with the adults in communion the instruction begins.

"When they get a little bit older they also get communion instruction for the first time and of course that instruction carries on throughout our lives as Christians, as we learn more," Dailey said.

In the Episcopal church, like the Roman Catholic Church, young adults go through confirmation.

"Currently we confirm, it's usually about 16 to 18 years of age in the Episcopal church," Dailey said. "That's up from let's say 12 years of age 20 years ago. We are delaying confirmation in the Episcopal church so that those who get confirmed get a better sense of the commitment they are making."

Service structure

Dailey said that at a typical Episcopal Sunday service, the focus is communion with Christ.

"The communion liturgy has two main sections," he said. "The first section is the liturgy of the word, where we focus on the Scripture readings of the day. We read two Old Testament and two New Testament selections and have a sermon and say prayers.

"Our approach to worship is liturgical and sacramental with a focus on communion."

The church uses the lectionary, which is a guide that many churches use to point out which Old and New Testament Scriptures to use for each sermon.

"The second half of the communion liturgy is the communion itself," Dailey said. "Where we bless the bread and the wine and then share the bread and the wine with all those that are present. Anglicans and Episcopalians believe that communion is more than just a real meal and speak of the real presence of Jesus in the communion, Jesus is present and received in the element of communion."

Dailey added that the sermon each Sunday is about 15 minutes long and that the offering takes place between "the ministry of the word and the ministry of the table."


The Episcopal church was part of the Protestant Reformation, from which many Christian denominations were formed.

"In the 16th century, the Church of England broke with the Roman Catholic Church and that's the beginning of Anglicanism as being a separate denomination of the Christian church," Dailey said.

"The reformation in England was conservative because Henry VIII was somewhat conservative in his religious views and so the Anglican and Episcopal churches around the world to this day are organized and worship very much like the Catholic church."

The Episcopal church has three orders of ordained ministry, as does the Catholic church: bishops, priests and deacons.

"The Anglican Episcopal church believes the faith of the undivided Christian church and so make use of the historic creeds that come to us before there was any splits in the church," Dailey said. "So, the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed being the two most well-known. The Nicene Creed is just a little longer than the Apostles' Creed, basically covers the same ground."


Basic beliefs

The basic beliefs of the Catholic church are found in the Nicene Creed, according to the Rev. Kizito Okeke.

"The creed begins with the belief ... in the one true God," said Okeke, a parochial vicar at St. Michael Catholic Church in Gainesville. "And what is central in the Christian faith, the most holy trinity; God the father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit. Three persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendor yet one God."

St. Michael's Web site states that to be a person in the Catholic faith you join yourself through Christ through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Holy Eucharist.

"Our belief in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead and the life to come," Okeke said.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, also plays a large role in the Roman Catholic faith.

"We see Mary as the servant of God who surrendered completely to God's will," said Okeke, who said Mary was the most blessed of all women. "Even though she didn't know how it would happen, she didn't understand all that God wanted to do through her.

"Most people don't understand the role of Mary well but she is the mother of God and the mother of the church ... we do not worship her."

Service structure

Going to mass every day of the week for some Roman Catholics is not uncommon. The Sunday mass lasts about an hour and 15 minutes but during the week-day mass it's shortened to about 30 minutes, according to Okeke.

"Catholic life and worship is expressed and celebrated in the seven sacraments of the church," Okeke said. "The first highest and central Psalm of our Catholic liturgy is the Eucharistic sacrifice, also known as the holy mass."

So, mass really is a way for Catholics to prepare for holy communion.

"We begin with the name of the father, the son and Holy Spirit," Okeke said. "The mass is divided into different parts and first the introductory aspect, we prepare ourselves asking God to forgive us and we want to celebrate the sacrament. After that we go into the liturgy of the word. In the liturgy of the word we begin with a reading from the Old Testament.

The priest will then begin the second reading from the New Testament and then parishioners prepare themselves to proclaim the Gospel.

"Then we have the homily and it is called homily because the preaching comes from the readings we have read," Okeke said. "That is when the preacher takes ... after that we go into what we call the profession of faith and we will all rise up and say ‘we believe.'"

After several prayers, there is the offertory and then the communion.

"It is a memorial of his death and resurrection," Okeke said. "That is the center, the summit ... of the Christian life, the highest point of the Catholic celebration."


According to Okeke, the history of the Roman Catholic Church begins simply with the history of Jesus Christ and his apostles.

"In Phillipi, Christ himself founded the one true holy church," he said. "You see the history of the church is bounded up in the history of the popes, because the Catholic faith is controlled by the pope. One aspect would be the acts of the apostles, and as we all know in the Bible continues the history of this church with Peter."

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