Episcopal Church, U.S.

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Date: 2003
New Catholic Encyclopedia
From: New Catholic Encyclopedia(Vol. 5. 2nd ed.)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 5
Content Level: (Level 4)

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Page 295

EPISCOPAL CHURCH, U.S.

The Anglican Church in the U.S. since 1789 has been autonomous and independent of the Church of England, but an integral part of the ANGLICAN COMMUNION of churches and joined in kinship of faith, government, and worship to the English mother church (see ANGLICANISM).

History. Although the Church of England early made contacts with America through chaplains who accompanied explorers such as Sir Martin Frobisher (1578) and Sir Francis Drake (1579) or unsuccessful colonizers such as Sir Walter Raleigh (1585), the first permanent settlement of the church was begun in 1607 when Rev. Robert Hunt celebrated the Eucharist for the first time in Jamestown. Other foundations followed in Philadelphia (1695), New York City (1697), Boston (1689), Newport, Rhode Island (1702), and Burlington, New Jersey (1705). By the end of the colonial period, the Church of England was represented in all 13 colonies and was officially established in Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina

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and Georgia, although only in the first two was it fully and effectively established. Elsewhere, in the midst of predominantly Nonconformist or non-Anglican communities, the church had to be assisted by the mother church and especially by the SOCIETY FOR THE PROPAGATION OF THE GOSPEL (SPG). To this private organization, founded in 1701 through the efforts of a commissary sent to Maryland by the bishop of London, Thomas Bray, belongs much of the credit for the existence and development of the church during this period.

Early Difficulties. The church in the colonies suffered under three major handicaps. The first was its connection with the state either in England or in America. Where it was established as a state institution in the colonies it suffered from interference by unsympathetic governors or by dominating lay employers, as well as from the inadequacy of funds provided by taxes levied on all members of the colony, whether Anglicans or not. Where it was not established, as in Massachusetts and in Connecticut, the church was a distinct minority suspected by many as the colonial representative of the state Church of England, whose authority and power they had migrated to America to escape.

In this situation the clergy were generally of poor quality. Some had left England to avoid difficulties at home; most lived in conditions of isolation, frontier hardships, and great poverty. A number worked valiantly in the face of grave obstacles, but by and large their standing was inferior and their morale low. To worsen matters, the Anglican mission in the United States was under the direct jurisdiction of the bishop of London throughout English colonial rule. Without a local bishop in the United States during the colonial period, prospective clergymen had to journey to London for their ordination, a prospect that discouraged many candidates.

The American Revolution added a severe crisis of loyalty to the existing troubles. Most of the 250 clergy, together with several thousand of the laity, persisted in their allegiance to the king; and accordingly some were put in prison, some were banished, and some voluntarily departed, going to Canada or back to England. A good percentage of the laity, however, supported the revolution, and two-thirds of those who signed the Declaration of Independence were members of the Episcopal Church. Leaders to the revolutionary cause who were Episcopalians include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, John Jay, Robert Morris, John Marshall, John Randolph, Charles Lee and Harry Lee.

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Post-Revolutionary Developments. After the war the church, cut off from Great Britain, disestablished in America, and weakened by losses of clergy and laity, had to develop self-support, a national organization, and especially an American episcopate. The last came about first. Ten of the 14 clergymen in Connecticut voted for Dr. Samuel SEABURY, an American born in Groton, Conn., to go to England for consecration. Put off in England because he could not take an oath of allegiance to the king, Dr. Seabury was consecrated by NONJURING bishops in Aberdeen, Scotland, on Nov. 14, 1784.

Meanwhile, under the leadership of Rev. William White, rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia, a movement arose to constitute a Protestant Episcopal Church for the whole United States. On Sept. 27, 1785, the first general convention met in Philadelphia with delegates from only seven states, but the assembly took important preliminary steps toward the formation of a unifying constitution and the establishment of a hierarchy. Through its efforts Rev. Samuel Provoost and Rev. William White were consecrated in England on Feb. 4, 1787, as bishops for New York and Philadelphia, respectively. Finally, a general convention met in Philadelphia on July 28, 1789, to bring about a united church, but the first session from July 28 to August 8 convened without Bishop Seabury or representatives from New England. The convention then took a number of conciliatory steps, especially the recognition of the validity of Seabury's consecration, thereby succeeding in bringing the bishop and representatives from Massachusetts and New Hampshire to the second session. With united forces the general convention, meeting from September 30 to October 16, adopted a constitution, agreed on and ratified 17 canons, and authorized a BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. The Episcopal Church of the United States was a reality. To complete the foundation, another bishop, Dr. James Madison, was consecrated in England for Virginia in 1790; and in 1792 all four bishops inaugurated a distinctly American episcopate by uniting in the first consecration in the United States, that of Thomas John Claggett as bishop of Maryland.

For more than 20 years the new church endured many painful trials in its evolution into a sound organism. Many distrusted it as fundamentally an English institution. The loss of the METHODISTS, as well as the demoralizing effects of a long war, weakened its vitality. Formal worship repelled people in an age of emotionalism and freedom in religious expression. Growth was slow and leadership ineffective. However, beginning with the second decade of the 19th century, more effective leadership ushered in a new era of vigorous development. Foremost among the new leaders were the bishops Alexander V. Griswold of the eastern diocese, John H. Hobart of New York, Philander Chase of Ohio, and Richard C. Moore of Virginia. During Griswold's episcopate the parishes in his diocese increased fivefold, and at his death the eastern diocese became the Dioceses of Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. The four or five active ministers laboring in Virginia when Bishop Moore arrived in Richmond in 1814 increased to nearly 100 during his 27 years of service.

Educational and missionary activities developed, and the early interest in education that had led to the formation (1693) of William and Mary College at Williamsburg, Virginia, blossomed. The General Theological Seminary of New York (1819) and the Theological Seminary of Virginia (1824) were founded. Bishop Chase began Kenyon College in Ohio, and Rev. James L. Breck founded Nashotah Hall, originally an associate mission, but later a theological seminary, in Wisconsin. The Domestic and Foreign Society, organized by the General Convention in 1820, stimulated the work of church extension. Bishop Jackson Kemper, the first officially designated missionary bishop, worked in Indiana, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Bishop James H. Otey did missionary work in Tennessee and in the South and Southwest. James L. Breck pushed across the country, establishing foundations along the way, until he reached the Pacific Coast. New dioceses and missionary territories matched the growth of the United States as the church became coextensive with the country, and even went beyond. Missionary zeal led to foundations in Greece, Turkey, Liberia, China, and Japan.

The period of growth was abruptly halted by the Civil War. The Episcopal Church was the only major denomination that did not develop into full-blown schism during the Civil War. Church leaders maintained cordial relations throughout this period. When the split in the Union developed into war, the southern dioceses formed a temporary Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States, holding their first general council in Augusta, Georgia. Nevertheless, both sides still considered themselves one church. Throughout the war both northern and southern sections of the church maintained friendly attitudes. At the 1892 general convention in New York City, the names of the southern bishops were called in, and the 1865 general convention in Philadelphia was attended by some southern delegations. Soon afterward, the unity of the church was quietly restored by the resumption of full relations.

After the Civil War the church continued its progress. In 1866 there were 160,000 Episcopal communicants; in 1900, 720,000. Organized diocesan and missionary work expanded to include the whole of the United States and its dependencies, as well as areas inPage 298  |  Top of Article Latin America, Africa, and Asia. From 1867 onward the American bishops participated regularly in the meetings of the Anglican Communion known as the LAMBETH CONFERENCES.

With other American churches, the Episcopal Church, particularly since 1900, has championed the cause of a Christian social order. In numerous pronouncements its general conventions have called for social justice, the elimination of poverty and prejudice, opportunity for self-development, and fair shares for all in the gains of progress.

Another and different kind of development came in 1913 when the general convention passed a canon for the recognition of religious communities, significant as the first legislation of its kind since the Reformation (see RELIGIOUS ORDERS, ANGLICAN-EPISCOPALIAN).

Liturgical Reforms. In the 1970s, the Episcopalians engaged in the process of liturgical reform that involved the experimental use of proposed new liturgies, inspired by the liturgical reforms of VATICAN COUNCIL II. In 1976, the general convention approved a measure for the use of the proposed Book of Common Prayer, ad experimentum. The proposed prayer book received both accolades and criticisms. Many praised it for its use of contemporary language and its endeavors to incorporate the best of 20th-century historical liturgical scholarship. While a small minority thought that the latter resulted in a prayer book that was more "Catholic" than its predecessors, a great majority of its detractors were unhappy with the inclusion of contemporary language in the proposed prayer book, as contrasted with the classic dignity of the Elizabethan idiom. Nevertheless, at the 1979 general convention the new prayer book was passed by an overwhelming majority. This was the first revision of the American Book of Common Prayer which utilized contemporary language (in the Rite B texts), while at the same time retaining the traditional language in the Rite A texts. In conjunction with this revision, a new hymnal was issued in 1982.

Women's Ordination. The controversy over women's ordination became a great concern in the Episcopal Church in the 1970s. Opponents of women's ordination fell into two camps: those who believed that it was theologically impossible for women to be ordained because it ran counter to Scripture and tradition, and those who believed that this was an issue to be decided not by the Episcopal Church on its own, but by the Universal Church at some sort of ecumenical council. Nevertheless, the 1970 general convention authorized the ordination of women deacons. This lead to the ordination of the first woman priest in 1976. The year 1988 witnessed the election of the Rev. Barbara C. Harris as the suffragan bishop of Massachusetts, and she was ordained the first woman bishop in the historic succession in 1989.

Doctrine. The Episcopal Church holds to the Apostles' and Nicene creeds as doctrinal symbols. At its general convention of 1801 it accepted with some modifications the THIRTY-NINE ARTICLES of the Church of England as a general statement of doctrine; but adherence to them as a creed was not demanded. Of the Thirty-Nine Articles, the 21st article is excluded, and the 8th, 35th and 36th articles are accepted in a modified form. The Church expects all of its members to be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship as proposed by the "one, holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church" of all ages and as based on the Holy Scriptures. Clergymen must subscribe to the declaration "I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation, and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America." A wide latitude of interpretation exists, however, in the positions known as HIGH CHURCH, LOW CHURCH, and BROAD CHURCH, differentiated by the relatively high importance or low importance or liberal interpretation given to the episcopate, priesthood, sacraments, and liturgical ceremonies. These positions reflect the "Catholic" and "Evangelical" elements in the Church: Catholic, as the Anglican Congress of 1954 put it, "in seeking to do justice to the wholeness of Christian truth, in emphasizing continuity through the Episcopate and in retaining the historic Creeds and Sacraments of undivided Christendom; and Evangelical in its commission to proclaim the Gospel and in its emphasis on personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior."

Organization and Structure. The system of ecclesiastical government in the Episcopal Church includes parish or local congregations, dioceses, provinces, and the general convention. Officers of the parish are the rector, who must be a priest; wardens, representing the body of the parish; and members of the vestry, who are the trustees of the parish corporation. The direction of spiritual affairs is exclusively in the hands of the rector. The diocese, consisting of a number of parishes, is governed by a bishop; and the diocesan convention, which is held annually, is presided over by the bishop and is composed of both priests and laity. Each diocese adopts its own constitution for the regulation of its internal affairs, but no canon or regulation may be contrary to the constitution and canons of the general convention. A bishop is elected by the diocese, but the election must be approved by a majority of the standing committees of the dioceses in the United States and by a majority of the bishops having jurisdiction. The bishop may have a coadjutor bishop who has the right of succession as head of the diocese, andPage 299  |  Top of Article may also have suffragan bishops as assistants, but these bishops have limited authority and do not have the right of succession. Missionary bishops are elected by the House of Bishops, subject to confirmation by the House of Deputies if the general convention is in session; if it is not in session, then confirmation must be made by the standing committees of the dioceses.

The supreme governing body is the general convention; it meets every three years and consists of two houses, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, each of which sits and deliberates separately. The House of Bishops has as its members all bishops; the House of Deputies is composed of delegates, consisting of not more than four clergy and four laypersons elected from each diocese. In addition, each missionary district within the boundaries of the United States is entitled to one clerical and one lay deputy. Either house may propose new legislation, and all enactments of the convention must be passed by both houses. In this way the laity, ever since the general convention of 1789, has had a responsible share in the legislative action of the Church.

Ecumenical Relations Presenting the Episcopal Church as the best hope for promoting Christian unity in the United States, Rev. William R. Huntington, in The Church-Idea, An Essay Towards Unity (1870), offered as a basis for unity what he declared were the Anglican principles: the Scriptures as the word of God, the primitive creeds as the rule of faith, the two Sacraments ordained by Christ, and the episcopate as the keystone of unity. These four points were accepted by the general convention of 1886 meeting in Chicago and became known as the Chicago Quadrilateral. Two years later the third Lambeth Conference offered to the world an almost identical version, which has since been called the LAMBETH QUADRILATERAL.

These early attempts at Christian unity were partially responsible for further attempts in 1910. In that year Charles H. BRENT, then bishop of the Philippine Islands, imbued with a vision obtained at the missionary conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland, made a stirring speech at the U.S. general convention, urging a world meeting on faith and order. The convention appointed a joint commission to attempt such a conference. The first world meeting on faith and order met at Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1927. In 1948 the Faith and Order movement merged with the Life and Work movement to form the WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES, whose avowed purpose is worldwide Christian unity. The Episcopal Church is represented both in the World Council and in the NATIONAL COUNCIL OF THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST in the United States.

In 1960 Rev. Eugene Carson Blake, stated clerk of the United Presbyterian Church, made a formal proposal that his church and the Episcopal Church form "a plan of church union both catholic and reformed." The Episcopal Church accepted the invitation and formed the CONSULTATION ON CHURCH UNION together with the United Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ), the Methodist Church, and the Evangelical United Brethren Church (which later merged with the Methodist Church to become the United Methodist Church).

Since the 1970s, the Episcopal Church has engaged in formal dialogues with the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Presbyterian and Lutheran communions. In 1999, the Episcopal Church and the EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA concluded an agreement for full communion partnership.


St. Pauls Episcopal Church. (Lee SniderCORBIS)

St. Paul's Episcopal Church. (©Lee Snider/CORBIS)

Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York. (CORBIS)
Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York. (©CORBIS)

Bibliography: R. W. ALBRIGHT, A History of the Protestant Episcopal Church (New York 1964). E. C. CHORLEY, Men and Movements in the American Episcopal Church (New York 1946). G. E. DEMILLE, The Episcopal Church Since 1900 (New York 1955). J. T. ADDISON, The Episcopal Church in the United States (New York 1951). F. V. MILLS, Bishops by Ballot: An Eighteenth-Century Ecclesiastical Revolution (New York 1978). R. B. MULLIN, Episcopal Vision/American Reality: High Church Theology and Social Thought in Evangelical America (New Haven 1986). D. L. HOLMES, A Brief History of the Episcopal Church (Valley Forge, Pa. 1993). C. M. PRELINGER, Episcopal Women: Gender, Spirituality, and Commitment in an American Mainline Denomination (New York1992). P. W. DARLING, New Wine: The Story of Women Transforming Leadership and Power in the Episcopal Church (Cambridge, Mass. 1994). N. L. RHODEN, Revolutionary Anglicanism: The Colonial Church of England Clergy during the American Revolution (New York 1999). R. W. PRICHARD, A History of the Episcopal Church, (rev. ed. Harrisburg, PA 1999). G. S. CADY and C. WEBBER, Lutherans and Episcopalians Together: A Guide to Understanding (Cambridge, Mass. 2001).

[R. MATZERATH/

C. E. SIMCOX/EDS.]

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3407703707