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Thursday, May 17, 2012
The Revolutionary War And The Anglican Church
While it is well known that the Revolutionary
War caused division in communities and families throughout the colonies, it
also brought about the disestablishment of a Christian denomination. The
history of the Church of England, or the Anglican Church in America, dates back to 1607
when the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia was formed.
Parish, Williamsburg, Virginia circa 1660
structure built in 1715 remains an active parish
1693 James Blair, an Anglican missionary to colonial Virginia, secured the charter
for an institution of higher learning for the colonies. The College of William and Mary, located in Williamsburg, Virginia is the second oldest
college in the United States, preceded only by
1775, when the Revolution began, there were about 300 congregations of The
Church of England throughout the thirteen colonies. The Church of England was
the established church in six of the thirteen colonies. They were: Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and New York.
“established church” is a church recognized by law as the official church of a
state or nation and supported by civil authority. Within those six colonies
there were other religious orientations. For instance, Maryland had a religious
orientation to Roman Catholicism. The religious orientation in New York was Dutch Reformed. It
just means that the Church of England, or the Anglican Church, was the
You can imagine when the colonies found themselves divided between the patriots
pursuing separation and the loyalists, or Tories, maintaining ties to the crown,
that the established church would be impacted, as well. The Church of England
in the colonies experienced hostility and its membership declined during the
Revolution, since all clergy swore an oath of allegiance to the crown when they
were ordained. As a result, many of the clergy fled to Canada and England while others who sided
with the patriots seeking independence remained.
Bishop William White
credit Library of
order to continue the spiritual legacy of the Church of England, but to be
separate from it, a proposition was made by William White, the Chaplain of the
Continental Congress that the congregations become an American church. A
Convention of clergy and laity was held in the early 1780s resulted in taking
the church properties from the Church of England and establishing a new church
in American. During that decade interstate conventions for the new church were
held, and a constitution and prayer book were drafted. Dr. Samuel Seabury of Connecticut was consecrated Bishop
in 1784 by the bishops of Scotland, and William White of Pennsylvania and Samuel Provoost of New York were consecrated bishops
in England in 1787. The Episcopal
Church, autonomous but part of the Anglican Communion, was formally organized
in Philadelphia in 1789 as the
successor to the Church of England. William White became the first Presiding
Bishop of the United States.
in this denomination in America has not been limited to
the eighteenth century. The Episcopal Church has once again become embroiled in
division in the twenty-first century. After about three decades of debate over orthodoxy,
practice, and the authority of Scripture, many congregations in the United States have experienced partition.
Beyond the anguish and legal battles over property, it has resulted in the formation
of over 1000 new Anglican congregations coming out of existing Episcopal
Churches. It will be interesting to see what the future holds, but it is often through
times of great trial that the body of Christ is purified and strengthened.
Hopefully, that will be the result of the present upheaval.