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The history of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America has its origins in the Church of England , a church which stresses its continuity with the ancient Western church and claims to maintain apostolic succession. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was characterized sociologically by a disproportionately large number of high status Americans as well as English immigrants; for example, more than a quarter of all presidents of the United States have been Episcopalians see List of United States Presidential religious affiliations.
Although it was not among the leading participants of the abolitionist movement in the early 19th century, by the early 20th century its social engagement had increased to the point that it was an important participant in the Social Gospel movement, though it never provided much support for the Prohibitionist movement. Like other mainline churches in the United States, its membership decreased from the s.
This was also a period in which the church took a more open attitude on the role of women and toward homosexuality, while engaging in liturgical revision parallel to that of the Roman Catholic Church in the post Vatican II era. The Church of England in the American colonies began with the founding of Jamestown, Virginia , in under the charter of the Virginia Company of London. The overseas development of the Church of England in British North America challenged the insular view of the church at home.
The editors of the Book of Common Prayer found that they had to address the spiritual concerns of the contemporary adventurer. In the Preface, the editors note:. In , Parliament granted a charter to found a missionary organization called the "Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England" or the "New England Society", for short.
Where the Church of England was established, parishes received financial support from local taxes. With these funds, vestries controlled by local elites were able to build and operate churches as well as to conduct poor relief , maintain the roads, and other civic functions. The ministers were few, the glebes small, the salaries inadequate, and the people quite uninterested in religion, as the vestry became in effect a kind of local government.
The parish was a local unit concerned with such matters as the conduct and support of the parish church, the supervision of morals, and the care of the poor. Its officers, who made up the vestry, were ordinarily influential and wealthy property holders chosen by a majority of the parishioners.
They appointed the parish ministers, made local assessments, and investigated cases of moral offense for referral to the county court, the next higher judicatory.
They also selected the church wardens, who audited the parish accounts and prosecuted morals cases. For several decades the system worked in a democratic fashion, but by the s, the vestries had generally become self-perpetuating units made up of well-to-do landowners. This condition was sharply resented by the small farmers and servants. From , the vestries and the clergy were loosely under the diocesan authority of the Bishop of London.
During the English Civil War , the episcopate was under attack, and the Archbishop of Canterbury , William Laud , was beheaded in Thus, the formation of a North American diocesan structure was hampered and hindered. In , the clergy of Virginia petitioned for a bishop to be appointed to the colony; the proposal was vigorously opposed by powerful vestrymen, wealthy planters, who foresaw their interests being curtailed.
Subsequent proposals from successive Bishops of London for the appointment of a resident suffragan bishop , or another form of office with delegated authority to perform episcopal functions, met with equally robust local opposition. No bishop was ever appointed. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, with the support of the Bishop of London, wanted a bishop for the colonies. Strong opposition arose in the South, where a bishop would threaten the privileges of the lay vestry.
The objection was not merely to the office of a bishop, though even that was dreaded, but to the authority of parliament, on which it must be founded"'. Embracing the symbols of the British presence in the American colonies, such as the monarchy, the episcopate, and even the language of the Book of Common Prayer , the Church of England almost drove itself to extinction during the upheaval of the American Revolution.
Principles [with] little affinity to the established Religion and manners" [ citation needed ] of England ever gained the upper hand, the colonists might begin to think of "Independency and separate Government". More than any other denomination, the American Revolution divided both clergy and laity of the Church of England in America, and opinions covered a wide spectrum of political views: Patriots , conciliators, and Loyalists. On one hand, Patriots saw the Church of England as synonymous with " Tory " and " redcoat ".
On the other hand, about three-quarters of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were nominally Anglican laymen, including Thomas Jefferson , William Paca , and George Wythe , not to mention commander-in-chief George Washington. About 27 percent of Anglican priests nationwide supported independence, especially in Virginia.
In Maryland, of the 54 clergy in , only 16 remained to take oaths of allegiance to the new government. Amongst the clergy, more or less, the northern clergy were Loyalist and the southern clergy were Patriot. Many Church of England clergy remained Loyalists because they took their two ordination oaths very seriously. Thus, all Anglican clergy were obliged to swear publicly allegiance to the king.
This included prayers for the king and the royal family and for the British Parliament. Some were clever in their avoidance of these problems. In general, Loyalist clergy stayed by their oaths and prayed for the king or else suspended services.
Nevertheless, some Loyalist clergy were defiant. In Connecticut, John Beach conducted worship throughout the war and swore that he would continue praying for the king. The Patriot clergy in the south were quick to find reasons to transfer their oaths to the American cause and prayed for the success of the Revolution. By the end of the Revolution, the Anglican Church was disestablished in all states where it had previously been a privileged religion. Thomas Buckley examines the debates in the Virginia legislature and local governments that culminated in the repeal of laws granting government property to the Episcopal Church during the war Anglicans began using the terms "Episcopal" and "Episcopalian" to identify themselves.
The Baptists took the lead in disestablishment, with support from Thomas Jefferson and, especially, James Madison. Virginia was the only state to seize property belonging to the established Episcopal Church. The fight over the sale of the glebes, or church lands, demonstrated the strength of certain Protestant groups in the political arena when united for a course of action.
When peace returned in , with the ratification of the new Treaty of Paris by the Confederation Congress meeting in Annapolis, Maryland , about 80, Loyalists 15 percent of the then American population went into exile. About 50, headed for Canada , including Charles Inglis, who became the first colonial bishop there.
Having lost their connection with the Church of England , Anglicans were left without organization and an episcopacy. In the wake of the Revolution, American Episcopalians faced the task of preserving a hierarchical church structure in a society infused with republican values.
Episcopacy continued to be feared after the Revolution and caused division between the low church, anti-bishop South and the high church, pro-bishop New England. Conventions were organized in other states as well. In , William White published an outline for organizing a national church that included both clergy and laity in its governance. On March 25, , 10 Connecticut clergy met in Woodbury, Connecticut and elected Samuel Seabury as their prospective bishop.
Seabury sought consecration in England. The Oath of Supremacy prevented Seabury's consecration in England, so he went to Scotland where the non-juring Scottish bishops consecrated him in Aberdeen on November 14, He became, in the words of scholar Arthur Carl Piepkorn, "the first Anglican bishop appointed to minister outside the British Isles".
Seabury promised that he would endeavor to make it so. Seabury returned to Connecticut in At an August 2, , reception at Christ Church on the South Green in Middletown , his letters of consecration were requested, read, and accepted.
On August 7, , Collin Ferguson was advanced to the priesthood, and Thomas Fitch Oliver was admitted to the diaconate. That same year, clerical and lay representatives from seven of the nine states south of Connecticut held the first General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
They drafted a constitution, an American Book of Common Prayer , and planned for the consecration of additional bishops. Thus, there are two branches of Apostolic succession for American bishops:. All bishops in the Episcopal Church are ordained by at least three bishops; one can trace the succession of each back to Seabury, White and Provoost see Succession of Bishops of the Episcopal Church.
Madison was consecrated in under the Archbishop of Canterbury and two other English bishops. This third American bishop consecrated within the English line of succession occurred because of continuing unease within the Church of England over Seabury's nonjuring Scottish orders. In , representative clergy from nine original dioceses met in Philadelphia to ratify the church's initial constitution.
The Episcopal Church was formally separated from the Church of England in so that American clergy would not be required to accept the supremacy of the British monarch. American bishops such as William White — provided a model of civic involvement. American bishops such as William White — continued to provide models of civic involvement, while newly consecrated bishops such as John Henry Hobart — , and Philander Chase — began to provide models of pastoral dedication and evangelism, respectively, as well.
During the first four decades of the church's existence, Episcopalians were more interested in organizing and expanding the church within their own states than in establishing centralized structures or attempting to spread their faith in other places.
In , the General Convention declared that all members of the Episcopal Church were to constitute the membership of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society  and elected the first domestic missionary bishop, Jackson Kemper , for Missouri and Indiana. The first two foreign missionary bishops, William Boone for China and Horatio Southgate for Constantinople, were elected in The church would later establish a presence in Japan and Liberia.
On both the domestic and foreign fields, the Episcopal Church's missions could be characterized as "good schools, good hospitals and right ordered worship". The group lost its focus when Holly emigrated to Haiti, but other groups followed after the Civil War.
The current Union of Black Episcopalians traces its history to the society. However, in the North the separation was never officially recognized. After the war, the Presiding Bishop, John Henry Hopkins , Bishop of Vermont, wrote to every Southern bishop to attend the convocation in Philadelphia in October to pull the church back together again. Lay of Arkansas attended from the South. Atkinson, whose opinions represented his own diocese better than it did his fellow Southern bishops, did much nonetheless to represent the South while at the same time paving the way for reunion.
A General Council of the Southern Church meeting in Atlanta in November permitted dioceses to withdraw from the church. All withdrew by 16 May , rejoining the national church. Women missionaries, while excluded from ordained ministry, staffed the schools and hospitals.
The Woman's Auxiliary was established in and eventually became the major source of funding and personnel for the church's mission work. In , the Haitian church became a diocese of the Episcopal Church.
Samuel David Ferguson was the first black bishop consecrated by the Episcopal Church, the first to practice in the U. Ferguson was consecrated on June 24, , with the then-Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church acting as a consecrator. By the middle of the 19th century, evangelical Episcopalians disturbed by High Church Tractarianism , while continuing to work in interdenominational agencies, formed their own voluntary societies, and eventually, in , a faction objecting to the revival of ritual practices established the Reformed Episcopal Church.
In , the church's structure underwent greater centralization. Constitutional changes transformed the presiding bishop into an elected executive officer formerly, the presiding bishop was simply the most senior bishop and only presided over House of Bishops meetings and created a national council to coordinate the church's missionary, educational, and social work.
In , the Episcopal Church's coat-of-arms was adopted. This is based on the St George's Cross , a symbol of England mother of world Anglicanism , with a saltire reminiscent of the Cross of St Andrew in the canton , in reference to the historical origins of the American episcopate in the Scottish Episcopal Church.
After the Revolution of and the expulsion of missionaries from China, the Episcopal Church focused its efforts in Latin America./p>
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