Posted by: AJtheIrishLass | June 18, 2007

Can a divorced person expect equal treatment in the Episcopal Church?

Can a divorced person expect equal treatment in the Episcopal Church?

The following was submitted by a visitor to my unofficial Episcopal FAQ’s site. Her questions are in plain type, and my answers follow below in italics.
What is the position of the Episcopal Church on divorce
While the Episcopal Church believes that marriage
is a sacrament intended to be life-long, the Church recognizes that situations exist where divorce is necessary. The overall wellbeing of everyone, especially children, should be considered when making such a decision. Divorcees who do remarry may choose a church ceremony, according to diocesan guidelines, or a civil ceremony.  

Are divorced persons treated equally to couples and/or those never married? Is their treatment different from widows/widowers?
Divorced people are treated the same as anyone else. Every person baptized with water in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is welcome to communion, regardless of marital status. Divorcees are not excommunicated.
Anyone is welcome to participate in fellowship activities, and many parishes have special groups for singles, divorced, and widowed people.
Although a few individuals may be critical of divorced people, this is not typical of Episcopalians. In general, a divorced person can expected to be treated with great kindness and no condemnation. Many churches now offer divorce care groups.
Is there a service for dissolving a marriage? Or are both parties sinners for breaking a sacrament?
There is no church-sanctioned service for dissolving a marriage, however this has nothing to do with either party being seen as sinful for initiating a divorce. A friend gave his permission to use his quote: “In our understanding of marriage, the Church doesn’t actually “marry” the couple, but instead gives her blessing. Since the marriage is actually something that God creates, the Church can’t ‘dissolve’ the marriage. This is why God has not given us the authority to develop this type of service”.
One option that may be beneficial for both people who have been through a divorce is the sacrament of healing, and many churches offer healing services on a regular basis. Another option is to talk to the rector of your local Episcopal church and see if he/she has any ideas about this. With a few very rare exceptions, anyone divorced person entering the Episcopal Church can expect to be treated in a compassionate, non-judgemental way.
I’d like to offer a special thank-you to Kit Tobin who approached me with these questions for my FAQ’s page.

Please note: This post has generated a lot of great discussion. However, to keep the discussion clear and easy for everyone to follow, please read the post and my first few comments carefully before asking whether the divorced can receive communion or whether remarriage is permitted, as this has already been addressed.  The answer to both is yes, where The Episcopal Church is concerned.


  1. Great answer, Celtic. I was struck by your note that divorced persons are not excommunicated. You’re right, but that’s a fairly recent development. My mother was excommunicated c. 1970 under the old canons for divorcing my violent, addicted, criminal father. I’ve never quite forgiven the church for that, a needless hurt piled on top of her, as if she were to blame. It’s just one more example of why the canons had to be changed. And the Episcopal understanding of excommunication never has been a big dramatic final judgment on one’s soul, but “do not come for the sacrament for awhile.” Though even that’s bad enough; she needed the Church’s healing and got the opposite.

  2. Hi Josh,
    Thank you so much for sharing your feedback. I’m so sorry to hear what your mom went through, and am glad that the need for change was seen. Legalism causes so many problems. IMO, there needs to be a healthy balance between “no divorce, ever, no matter what” and the policy of some churches of allowing muliple divorcees to remarry in the church with no restrictions.

    Thank you so much for your blog and Facebook group. They’re both a very important part of my prayer life.

  3. Celtic,
    I have been a lifelong Catholic, but recently my church has refused to convalidate my civil marriage to my third husband. I have been officially annulled from my first two marriages; my current husband has a civil divorce from his first (and only prior) wife. My church has told me my husband (non Catholic) must obtain a full annulment of his prior marriage before they will consider convalidating my marriage.
    If I leave my church and convert to Episcopalian, is there a process by which they will bless my civil marriage and/or allow me to receive sacraments?

    • Hi Kris,

      I don’t think there would be any problem with your current mariage being recognized. If you’ll be attending an Episcopal church, be sure to ask the rector/priest-in-charge about transferring your canonical records. He or she can also advise you about any marriage issues that you may need to know about.

      Communion is open to all Christians with a Trinitarian baptism. Divorce/remarriage are not used as criteria to keep people from being able to receive communion.

      • Fine answer, Celtic – and very rapid, which I’m grateful for, since Kris’s situation is an important one for her marriage and spiritual health. I’m starting to realize you have a gift for this.

        I’d only add one little clarification about transferring canonical records: Kris can go to the Episcopal church, participate in the sacrament open to all the baptized, then initiate a discussion with the rector/priest-in-charge if she likes what she finds there. As you know, transferring records is the culmination of a process, not the beginning of it. Plus the Episcopal Prayer Book has “The Blessing of a Civil Marriage” right there on page 433!

  4. Thanks very much, gentlemen. My heart has been in great turmoil since I received the letter from my priest, and I’ve come to realize that my feelings towards what I think my church SHOULD be are becoming irreconcilable with actual church doctrine. My ex husband actually suggested I take a look at the Anglican church, and I’m glad I did. Services at the Episcopal church in town are at 10 am Sunday, and I’m really excited to go now!
    p.s. I’ll be sure to check out pg. 433, Josh, THANKS!

  5. You’re most welcome, Kris. I hope you find healing. As an adult child of divorced parents, I know it’s not easy. My perspectives are drawn from 14 years of experience as a laywoman in the Episcopal Church, but I’m glad they’ve been of help.

    Thanks for the clarification on the transfer process, Josh. It helps to know that there are always more experienced people reading who can offer further info. My hope is that I can be of help to people, no matter where they are in their journey, or where it takes them.

  6. Laywoman – sorry about that! ….yet just another reason I am drawn to this church. Leaving shortly for a welcome new experience…10 am Prayer….blessings!

    • No problem 🙂 (my profile pic isn’t very close up, and the wind was blowing my hair back a bit )Please feel free to post about the service if you like.

  7. The prayer service was interesting, but the eucharist service the next weekend was fabulously familiar and very healing. I have made inquiries about registering (still waiting for response). I’ve requested some books from the library about anglican/espiscopalian beliefs, and one intriguing title about Catholics transitioning to Episcopalian (can’t wait to see that).
    Can you recommend a suitable bible version for me to pick up? I know roughly King James…but there are so MANY out there. Thanks!

    • Hi Kris,

      The New Revised Standard Version is used by most parishes, in my experience. It’s a pretty easy translation to read through.

      Personally, I also like the New International Version and the New King James Version. The only downside with the latter two is that they only include the Protestant version of the Old Testament canon, so you’ll be missing a few books that sometimes come up in the Sunday readings.

      Hope this helps.

  8. Does the Episcopal church deny baptism to divorced and remarried people? I have been denied baptism by the Catholic church for this reason.

    • Hi Donna,

      No, divorce and remarriage aren’t hinderances to baptism. A parish may have a formal preparation period prior to baptism, but this is a customary practice, and has nothing to do with the candidate’s marital status. Divorced and remarried people are generally more accepted into the life of the Church than in many other denominations.

      “No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons.” (Canon I.17.5)

  9. Thank you so much for your compassionate response. I was raised Catholic and divorce 13 years ago was painful enough… I cannot imagine going through an anullment at this time. It has felt wounding to be stigmatized in the Catholic church and by some Catholics for not having an anullment. I appreciate the Episcopalean welcoming attitude. That feels more like Christ’s heart of compassion.

    • You’re most welcome, Laurie.

  10. Can a divorced person expect equal treatment in the Episcopal Church? Why not? Everyone knows the Episcopal Church has no moral standards on anything. Why would divorce be a problem? As Robin Williams said in his “top 10 reasons to be an Episcopalian,” it is all pageantry and no guilt.

    10. No snake handling.

    9. You can believe in dinosaurs.

    8. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.

    7. You don’t have to check your brains at the door.

    6. Pew aerobics.

    5. Church year is color-coded.

    4. Free wine on Sunday.

    3. All of the pageantry – none of the guilt.

    2. You don’t have to know how to swim to get baptized.

    And the Number One reason to be an Episcopalian:

    1. No matter what you believe, there’s bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.

  11. No moral standards on ANYTHING? Have you read the Book of Common Prayer?

  12. Hi everyone,
    Discussion is always welcome, but let’s keep it civil, okay? Making sweeping generalizations about moral standards or a perceived lack thereof isn’t really helpful.

    Kris, you brought up an interesting point. What examples can you think of offhand? The Catechism’s discussion of sin and redemption is one I’ve always found helpful.


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