Democracy – Episcopal Church

Great Link re: Reformed Episcopal Church c. 1875, lots of great Sermons

General Current

The Episcopal Church, sometimes called The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America or simply The Episcopal Church of America, is the Province of the Anglican Communion in the United States, Honduras, Taiwan, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, the British Virgin Islands and parts of Europe.

The Church was organized shortly after the American Revolution when it was forced to break with the Church of England on penalty of treason as Church of England clergy were required to swear allegiance to the British monarch, and became, in the words of the 1990 report of the Archbishop of Canterbury‘s Group on the Episcopate, “the first Anglican Province outside the British Isles“.

In keeping with Anglican tradition and theology, the Episcopal Church considers itself a via media, or middle way, between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.

The Episcopal Church was active in the Social Gospel movement of the late nineteenth century and since the 1960s and 1970s has played a leading role in the progressive movement and on related political issues. For example, in its resolutions on state issues the Episcopal Church has opposed the death penalty, and supported the civil rights movement and affirmative action. Some of its leaders and priests marched with civil rights demonstrators. The church calls for the full civil equality of gay men and lesbians. Most dioceses ordain openly gay men and women; in some, same-sex unions are celebrated with services of blessing, but “no diocese currently permits same-sex marriage…even in those states and municipalities which permit it.” On the question of abortion, the church has adopted a nuanced position. About all these issues, individual members and clergy can and do frequently disagree with the stated position of the church.

Interior of the First Church in Jamestown

St. Luke’s Church built in 1632 is the oldest surviving English church in North America


Church of England in British North America (1497–1775) –

Sections taken from Wikipedia to give a brief overview of the early American churches, including the formation of the Episcopalian church.

The Episcopal Church traces its history from its origins in the Church of England. It stresses its continuity with the early universal Western church and maintains apostolic succession.

Although the Church of England was theoretically established in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, in actuality the colony under John Winthrop, who had brought its charter with him, was virtually self-governing civilly and religiously. By the time King’s Chapel, the first Anglican Church in Massachusetts was founded in 1686, the Congregational Church had in fact become the established church of the colony. In 1691, religious toleration was extended to members of all Protestant churches. The Congregational Church was not disestablished until 1833.

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 1662 Book of Common Prayer found that they had to address the spiritual concerns of the contemporary adventurer. In the 1662 Preface, the editors note:

…that it was thought convenient, that some Prayers and Thanksgivings, fitted to special occasions, should be added in their due places; particularly for those at Sea, together with an office for the Baptism of such as are of Riper Years: which, although not so necessary when the former Book was compiled, …is now become necessary, and may be always useful for the baptizing of Natives in our Plantations, and others converted to the Faith.

On the eve of Revolution, about 400 independent congregations were reported throughout the colonies.

Independence from Britain and the early years of the autonomous church (1775–1800)

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.

More than any other denomination, the War of Independence internally 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, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. Eight of the ten signers of the Declaration of Independence from North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia were Anglicans. A large fraction of prominent merchants and royal appointees were Anglicans and Loyalists. About 27 percent of Anglican priests nationwide supported independence, especially in Virginia. Almost 40 percent (approaching 90 percent in New York and New England) were Loyalists. Out of 55 Anglican clergy in New York and New England, only three were Patriots, two of those being from Massachusetts. In Maryland, of the 54 clergy in 1775, only 16 remained to take oaths of allegiance to the new government (McConnell 2003). William Smith made the connection explicit in a 1762 report to the Bishop of London. “The Church is the firmest Basis of Monarchy and the English Constitution”, he declared. But if dissenters of “more Republican … Principles [with] little affinity to the established Religion and manners” of England ever gained the upper hand, the colonists might begin to think of “Independency and separate Government”. Thus “in a Political as well as religious view”, Smith stated emphatically, the church should be strengthened by an American bishop and the appointment of “prudent Governors who are friends of our Establishment” Amongst the clergy, more or less, the northern clergy were loyalist and the southern clergy were patriot. Partly, their pocketbook can explain clergy sympathies, as the New England colonies did not establish the Church of England and clergy depended on their SPG stipend rather than their parishioners’ gifts. When war broke out, these clergy looked to England for both their paycheck and their direction. Where the Church of England was established, mainly the southern colonies, financial support was local and loyalties were local.

Thus, each Anglican clergyman was obliged to swear publicly allegiance to the king. The second oath arose out of the Act of Uniformity of 1662 where clergy were bound to use the official liturgy as found in the Book of Common Prayer and to read it verbatim. This included prayers for the king and the royal family and for the British Parliament.

These two oaths and problems worried the consciences of clergymen. Some clergy were clever in their avoidance of these problems. Samuel Tingley, a priest in Delaware and Maryland, rather than praying “O Lord, save the King” opted for evasion and said “O Lord, save those whom thou hast made it our especial Duty to pray for.”

In general, loyalist clergy stayed by their Oaths and prayed for the king or else suspended services.

There was much discord regarding the state of the church and where loyalties lie during this time period.

The church was disestablished in all the states during the American Revolution.

Nineteenth century

As the United States grew, new dioceses were established, as well as the Convocation of American Churches in Europe.

During the American Civil War, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America was temporarily formed from the dioceses within the seceded states, but this was viewed as a “separation and not a division”, concerning no questions of dogma or practice (other than the prayers for Congress and the President).

In 1873, the Reformed Episcopal Church broke away from the Episcopal Church over what its members saw as the loss of Protestant and evangelical witness in Episcopalianism.

Samuel David Ferguson was the first black bishop consecrated by The Episcopal Church, the first to practice in the US, and the first black person to sit in the House of Bishops. Bishop Ferguson was consecrated on June 24, 1885, with the then-Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church acting as a consecrator.

From the Gilded Age to the 1976 General Convention (1890–1975)

The Book of Common Prayer was revised in 1892 and 1928.

The Episcopal Shield, adopted in 1940, 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.

More than a quarter of all presidents of the United States have been Episcopalians (see List of United States Presidential religious affiliations).


The governance the Episcopal Church is Episcopal polity, which is the same as other Anglican churches. Following the American Revolution, American Anglicans were technically not a part of the Church of England’s structure, so they had to form their own. The Church has its own system of canon law.

Today, there are over 7000 congregations, each of which elects a vestry or bishop’s committee. Subject to the approval of its diocesan bishop, the vestry of each parish elects a priest, called the rector, who has spiritual jurisdiction in the parish and selects assistant clergy, both deacons and priests. (There is a difference between vestry and clergy elections – clergy are ordained members usually selected from outside the parish, whereas any member in good standing of a parish is eligible to serve on the vestry.) The diocesan bishop, however, appoints the clergy for all missions and may choose to do so for non-self-supporting parishes.

The middle judicatory consists of a diocese headed by a bishop. Diocesan conventions are usually held annually. Unlike the Church of England in which bishops are governmental appointees, the bishops in the Episcopal Church are elected at these diocesan conventions, subject to confirmation by the House of Bishops. (All bishops are first ordained priests.)

At the national level, the church is governed by the triennial General Convention, which consists of two bodies:

  • The House of Deputies (consisting of 4 laity and 4 clergy from each diocese, usually elected at the diocesan convention).
  • The House of Bishops (consisting of all living bishops who have headed dioceses).

The Chief Officer of the Episcopal Church, elected from and by the House of Bishops and confirmed by the House of Deputies at General Convention, is called the Presiding Bishop and serves on term of 9 years.

The location of the Presiding Bishop’s office is the Episcopal Church Center, the national administrative headquarters, located at 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY. It is often referred to by Episcopalians simply as “815.”

Worship and liturgy

Varying degrees of liturgical practice prevail within the church, and one finds a variety of worship styles: traditional hymns and anthems, more modern religious music, Anglican chant, liturgical dance, charismatic prayer, and vested clergy of varying degrees. As varied as services can be, the central binding aspect is the Book of Common Prayer or supplemental liturgies.

Often a congregation or a particular service will be referred to as Low Church or High Church. In theory:

High Church, especially the very high Anglo-Catholic movement, is ritually inclined towards embellishments such as incense, formal hymns, and a higher degree of ceremony. In addition to clergy vesting in albs, stoles and chasubles, the lay assistants may also be vested in cassock and surplice. The sung Eucharist tends to be emphasized in High Church congregations, with Anglo-Catholic congregations and celebrants using sung services almost exclusively. Often, due to the effects of the Second Vatican Council on the Roman Catholic Church, some Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian services are actually more elaborate than a modern Roman Catholic Mass.

Low Church is simpler and may incorporate other elements such as informal praise and worship music. “Low” congregations tend towards a more “traditional Protestant” outlook with its emphasis of Biblical revelation over symbolism. The spoken Eucharist tends to be emphasized in Low Church congregations.

Broad Church incorporates elements of both low church and high church.

A majority of Episcopalian services could be considered to be “High Church” while still falling somewhat short of a typical Anglo-Catholic “very” high church service. In contrast, “Low Church” services are somewhat rarer. However, while some Episcopalians refer to their churches by these labels, often there is overlapping, and the basic rites do not greatly differ. There are also variations that blend elements of all three and have their own unique features, such as New England Episcopal churches, which have elements drawn from Puritan practices, combining the traditions of “high church” with the simplicity of “low church”. Typical parish worship features Bible readings from the Old Testament as well as from both the Epistles and the Gospels of the New Testament.

In the Eucharist or Holy Communion service, the Book of Common Prayer specifies that bread and wine are consecrated for consumption by the people. Those wishing for whatever reason to avoid alcohol are free to decline the cup. A Eucharist can be part of a wedding to celebrate a sacramental marriage and of a funeral as a thank offering (sacrifice) to God and for the comfort of the mourners.

The veneration of saints in the Episcopal Church is a continuation of an ancient tradition from the early Church which honors important people of the Christian faith. The usage of the term “saint” is similar to Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Those inclined to the Anglo-Catholic traditions may explicitly invoke saints as intercessors in prayer.

Book of Common Prayer

The Episcopal Church publishes its own Book of Common Prayer (BCP) (similar to other Anglican BCPs), containing most of the worship services (or “liturgies”) used in the Episcopal Church. Because of its widespread use in the church, the BCP is both a reflection of and a source of theology for Episcopalians.

The full name of the BCP is: The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with The Psalter or Psalms of David According to the use of The Episcopal Church.

Previous American BCPs were issued in 1789, 1892, and 1928.  The BCP is in the public domain; however, any new revisions of the BCP are copyrighted until they are approved by the General Convention. After this happens, the BCP is placed into the public domain.

Doctrine and practice

The center of Episcopal teaching is the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The basic teachings of the church, or catechism, includes:

The full catechism is included in the Book of Common Prayer and posted on Episcopal website here. The threefold sources of authority in Anglicanism are scripture, tradition, and reason. These three sources uphold and critique each other in a dynamic way.

The Episcopal Church follows the via media or “middle way” between Protestant and Roman Catholic doctrine and practices: that is both Catholic and Reformed. Not all Episcopalians self-identify with this image, especially those whose convictions lean toward either evangelicalism or Anglo-Catholicism. There are many different theologies represented within the Episcopal Church. Some Episcopal theologians hold evangelical positions, affirming the authority of scripture over all. The Episcopal Church website glossary defines the sources of authority as a balance between scripture, tradition, and reason. These three are characterized as a “three-legged stool” which will topple if any one overbalances the other. It also notes

The Anglican balancing of the sources of authority has been criticized as clumsy or “muddy.” It has been associated with the Anglican affinity for seeking the mean between extremes and living the via media. It has also been associated with the Anglican willingness to tolerate and comprehend opposing viewpoints instead of imposing tests of orthodoxy or resorting to heresy trials.[75]

This balance of scripture, tradition and reason is traced to the work of Richard Hooker, a sixteenth century apologist. In Hooker’s model, scripture is the primary means of arriving at doctrine and things stated plainly in scripture are accepted as true. Issues that are ambiguous are determined by tradition, which is checked by reason.[76] More recently, the Episcopal Church has developed a fourth leg known as “experience.” This understanding is highly dependent on the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher. These “four legs” of Episcopal theology may be likened to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Methodist theology.

A public example of this struggle between different Christian positions in the church has been the 2003 consecration of the Right Reverend Gene Robinson, an openly gay man living with a long-term partner. The acceptance/rejection of his consecration is motivated by different views on the authority of and understanding of scripture.[77] This struggle has some members concerned that the church may not continue its relationship with the larger Anglican Church. Others, however, view this pluralism as an asset, allowing a place for both sides to balance each other.

Comedian and Episcopalian Robin Williams once described the Episcopal faith (and, in a performance in London, specifically the Church of England) as “Catholic Lite – same rituals, half the guilt.”[78]

Social issues

On slavery

In 1861 a pamphlet titled A Scriptural, Ecclesiastical, and Historical View of Slavery written by John Henry Hopkins attempted to justify slavery based on the New Testament and gave a clear insight into the Episcopal Church’s involvement in slavery. “Bishop Hopkins Letter on Slavery Ripped Up and his Misuse of the Sacred Scriptures Exposed” written by an anonymous Clergyman in 1863 opposed the points mentioned in Hopkin’s pamphlet and revealed a startling divide in the Episcopal Church over the issue of slavery.

Official names

There are two official names of the Episcopal Church specified in its constitution: “The Episcopal Church” (commonly abbreviated TEC), and “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (commonly abbreviated PECUSA). “The Episcopal Church” is the most commonly used name.

In the early days of the church, the name was “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America”. In the middle of the 19th century, some began trying to drop “Protestant” from the church’s name, on the grounds that the original break of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church had nothing directly to do with the Protestant Reformation. Also, it had often come to mean anti-Catholic rather than non-papal. In a 1964 General Convention compromise, priests and lay delegates suggested adding a preamble to the church’s constitution, recognizing “The Episcopal Church” as a lawful alternate designation while still retaining the earlier name.

A black and white photograph of the interior of the Methodist Episcopal Church. There are several people sitting on the pews (benches) inside the church. The organ can be seen at the back of the church.

The Methodist Episcopal Church was located at the corner of Church and Albert Streets. It was also called the White Church. It was built in 1845 on the east side of Church Street. The Methodist Episcopal Church (White Church) amalgamated in 1884 with the Wesleyan Methodist and Bible Christian Churches. At that time the White Church was closed. The church building was used for a short time by the Salvation Army and in the 1880s or 90s was moved to the north east corner of Baldwin and Roebuck Streets and converted into stores. The building was demolished in the 1920s. The choir leader at the church was Mr. Wyatt.

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