So far, the acute-eyed among you will have noted, that in this series about Anglican Roots, as we prepare for the Lambeth Conference of the world-wide Anglican Communion, we have heard very little about the world beyond the Tweed, the Severn, the Irish Sea or the English Channel. A lot of what we have said has been about the Church in England as well as the Church of England. Where did this W.W.A.C. come from then?
It certainly didn’t come from the Church of England’s own self-understanding. As we have seen, the most consistent thread throughout the Church of England’s history is that it is self-governing and autonomous, in as much as the sovereign, the chief magistrate of the realm, allows it to be: “no king, no bishops” and no Church of England. How would that work in lands which weren’t ruled directly by the king, in the new trading posts and colonies which began to emerge in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century?
The first Church of England service to be held outside the lands of the English crown was a celebration of Holy Communion at Frobisher Bay on 3 September 1578, presided over by Robert Wolfall, chaplain to the exploration voyage of Martin Frobisher. The first service within the lands which later became the United States was probably in a bay in Oregon on 19 June 1579 when the crew of the Golden Hind and Sir Francis Drake landed to repair the ship. Attempts were made to set up permanent settlements on the west coast of North America in the later years of the sixteenth century, but all failed until the settlement of Jamestown in Virginia in 1607. The Church of England was designated the established church there in 1609, in the lower part of New York in 1693, in Maryland in 1702, in South Carolina in 1706, in North Carolina in 1730, and in Georgia in 1758.
But what did “established” mean in this context? It certainly didn’t mean “bishops”. The parishes were expected to be self-financing and largely self-governing. The Bishop of London, William Laud, was appointed in 1632 to over see the overseas churches in the king’s dominions, but he was never expected to visit the parishes(!). Instead he ruled by commissaries, and, for many years, this light touch governance seemed successful. By the time of the American Revolution in 1776, there were perhaps 400 parishes in the American colonies. But it was built on thin roots. Most of the parishes were served by priests sent out from England; there were very few local men ordained priest— the long months of sea voyage to England to find a bishop to ordain them was a strong disincentive.
And then came the Revolution. How was a Church which placed so much emphasis on loyalty to the King to deal with a Revolution which overthrew the authority of that King? By 1783, when the War of Independence ended, almost 80,000 loyalists had left the colonies, most (50,000 or more), heading for Canada. By 1790, in a nation of four million, Anglicans were reduced to about ten thousand; in Virginia, for example, of the 107 parishes which existed in 1784, fewer than 42 were able to support a priest between 1802 and 1811. Others, who wanted a balance between national loyalty and religious conviction, attempted to find another way. Samuel Tingley, an SPG missionary in Delaware and Maryland, attempted vagueness (a very Anglican solution!): rather than praying “O Lord, save the King” in the Office, substituted “O Lord, save those whom thou hast made it our especial Duty to pray for.”
In 1783 the Clergy Convention of Connecticut recognised that if the church in America couldn’t have a king, it still needed bishops. They elected Samuel Seabury to be bishop, and like Don Quixote, he left home on a voyage to seek consecration.
Seabury was a colonist, born in Groton, Connecticut, in 1729. He trained as theologian at Yale College and then as a doctor at the University of Edinburgh. Whilst in the United Kingdom he sought ordination, and returned to the colonies as a missionary for the SPG. When the War broke out he resigned his living in Westchester, New York, and served in private medical practice and as chaplain to the British army. And yet when the war ended, he had remained in the United States. He was unsuccessful in finding an English bishop who would ordain him. They were reluctant to interfere in the affairs of an enemy nation, and anyway, the canons required the newly consecrated bishop to swear an oath of loyalty to the Crown, something that Seabury as an American was manifestly unable to do.
Disappointed, he travelled north, and discovered in the Scottish Episcopal Church three bishops willing to do the deed: at the time the Episcopal Church in Scotland was (amazingly) not in communion with the Church of England: it was made up of non-juring bishops, who had refused the oath of loyalty to William of Orange. They had strong Jacobite sympathies. Consecrating Seabury would be one in the eye for German George (III) and his bishops. On 14 November 1784, Samuel Seabury was consecrated the first bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, and the first colonist (ie, non-Englishman, not working within the Church of England) to the episcopacy. As such, his consecration marked the beginning of the world-wide Church of England, otherwise, and more accurately known as the Anglican Communion. (Incidentally, the English Parliament concerned that this marked the beginning of some fiendish Jacobite religious plot to overthrow the English crown, cleared the way for future consecrations to happen in England by removing the requirement for the oath of loyalty).
A word about a word
Finally, a word about a word; Anglicanism. Although, as we have seen “Anglican” appeared, sort of, in Magna Carta, and a play on the word appeared in the story of Pope Gregory the Great and the Angel-Angels, the grammarians among you will have noted that Magna Carta used “Anglican” as an adjective: the “English Church”. When did “Anglicanism” emerge as a proper noun?
Perhaps you would like to have a guess.
The earliest that the OED can date the use of the word “Anglican” to mean characteristic or defining of the established Church of England is [drum roll please] … 1838.
John Henry Newman, in the journal The British Critic said this:
The heroine… after going through the phases of Protestantism… .seeks for something deeper and truer in Anglicanism, or, as Mr. Palmer more correctly speaks in his recent work, Anglo-Catholicism.
Shortly after defining the word he left the Church.
The next use of the word was in 1846 by Charles Kingsley in a letter:
Decent Anglicanism… having become the majority is now quite Conservative.
The reason the word was only coined so late in the church’s history has been noted by Stephen Sykes:
… the very concept of ‘Anglicanism’ itself has a history. It was invented in the nineteenth century, possibly as an English adaptation of the (French) ‘Gallicanisme’, an anti-papal tendency within French Catholicism… ‘Anglicanism’ is a term with no fixed content and it can be, and has been, used in a more or less blatantly one-sided way in the course of its history.
In other words, beware of someone using the word “Anglican” in unfamiliar surroundings. It might not mean what you expect it to mean.