A Note on the Role of North America in the Evolution of Anglicanism
Marshall, Paul V
The history of the Anglican Communion indicates that North America has been a peculiar laboratory for developments the entire Communion has come to embrace. Contrary to the assertions made in the Windsor Report, the colonial churches in North America were not the object of Canterbury’s special concern, and no contact between the churches can be found for thirty years after the new church’s launch. The movement for what became the Lambeth Conference began in the General Convention of 1853, and was later echoed by the Canadians. Much of what the churches of the Communion value in governance and ecclesiology originated in North America, as both Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical voices in England testify. Purely spiritual episcopacy, synodical government, and the sending of missionary bishops lead North American contributions to Anglican life. While history does not guarantee the rightness of the Canadian and Episcopal decisions, it suggests that they continue to be of significance for the evolution of the Communion.
It is impossible not to respect the care and thoroughness with which the Windsor Report was prepared. Its point of view is consistently and thoroughly applied to the task the committee understood itself to have. At the same time, it is possible to have reservations about some aspects of the Report, and I have expressed my own theological concerns elsewhere,1 as has Professor Andrew Linzey of Oxford in a similar vein.2 We both see in its recommendations the seeds of a curial church of a kind foreign to Anglican tradition. We both stand amazed that the Report does not examine the entire sweep of the scriptural story to contemplate the phenomena of prophecy and conscience, denial and resistance.
The present reflection, however, is concerned with how we in North America may understand our own story as a part of the Communion. Given the Anglican emphasis on precedent, the Windsor Report’s reading of history is more critical than the comparative heat of the current sexuality debate may suggest. Linzey has shared his observations on the Report’s history of the ordination of women, pointing out that purported methods of consultation and procedure were established after ordination of women was already here to stay. Others have emphasized the Report’s silence on whether or not a woman bishop could be elected, as she would not be acceptable to all members of the Communion.3 Further, the Windsor Report nowhere reveals that the Virginia Report, to which it so often appeals, was denied recognition by the Anglican Consultative Council, so it is in reality nothing other than a very interesting proposal from the previous century. The Windsor Report suggests the development of canon law for the whole Anglican Communion, but Norman Doe has already pointed out that in present structures there is no group or individual competent to impose law on the membership.4
What has not received much attention is how the Report reads Anglican history on its way to proposing a new relationship among member churches and a new role for the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Report begins its proposal with the suggestion that because the Archbishop of Canterbury has actively cared for the entire Anglican world throughout its history, he or she therefore ought to be its chief magistrate, and the spirit of the English church ought to shape the life of the Communion worldwide.
From the beginning, the Archbishop of Canterbury, both in his person and his office, has been the pivotal instrument and focus of unity; and relationship to him became a touchstone of what it was to be Anglican. It was to the Archbishop of Canterbury that American Anglicans first turned to seek consecration of new bishops after the American War of Independence. Thereafter it was successive Archbishops of Canterbury who consecrated bishops for Canada, the West Indies, India and the developing English colonial territories, and it was to Archbishops of Canterbury that these churches tended to turn for assistance both in spiritual and political matters when problems arose (para. 99).
This charming reconstruction notwithstanding, almost a century of unanswered correspondence from North America begging for bishops remains in the archives, with no note of particular zeal on their behalf from either of the primates in England. What little support there was for the American episcopate came from sources as unlikely as the Berkeley family. Certainly it was to Canterbury that the Connecticut clergy initially turned, but Samuel Seabury was in fact left to stew in England for months with no word of encouragement, and eventually proceeded to Scotland. The Windsor Report claims in an endnote that there is reason to suppose Archbishop Moore considered Seabury s consecration valid, but it does not show us any instruction to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which made it clear that it could not recognize Seabury as a bishop, or even as a member of the clergy. The Windsor Report claims that American civil resistance to bishops justified English hesitation, but we know that the Congregationalist legislature of Connecticut declared that there was no civil objection to Anglican bishops in the new world. Certainly no objections existed in Canada. The logjam was broken because England feared the consequences of a Jacobite church in the New World.5 And no matter what one might establish about private views of validity, not even Bishop White was permitted to function as a bishop in England.
These observations are offered in service of a larger point: much of what we value about the character of the Anglican Communion grew up in the vacuum created by a lack of interest in things American on the part of the English church and its leaders. Further, for good or ill, the North American churches have had the peculiar ministry of leading change in the Communion in ways that cannot be erased when a new prompting surfaces. This is not to assert that all things emanating from North America are good or progressive; they are not. From the Mayflower expedition on, however, necessity and circumstances have created a vocation to religious creativity in America.6 The fruit of this wilderness has been received throughout much of Anglicanism as a gift to the entire church, a matter that the Windsor Report disregards to our common peril, if our communion-wide vocation is to hear the Spirit of God.
Robert Bosher, professor of ecclesiastical history at The General Theological Seminary, delivered a lecture series at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary on just our subject. “The American Church and the Formation of the Anglican Communion, 1823-1853” rewards the reader with both data and a view of Anglican Communion origins that is not centered in the English church and its ways. ‘ Bosher reminds the reader that at the time of the American Revolution, Anglican meant English, and it was inconceivable for Anglicanism to exist outside of the United Kingdom. It was the organization of the Episcopal Church in 1789 that first suggested a wider meaning for the word.
There were significant departures from English church life in the new world. The election of bishops by the clergy and laity whom they would serve was a radical shift.8 Representative government (with laity having a voice in all measures), voluntary financial support, and the abandonment of the subordination of diocesan bishops to archbishops have also had worldwide impact.
But even though Bishop White was grateful to Archbishop Moore for his consecration and said so, White reported that “the primate’s reply had a valedictory tone-‘that he bore a great affection for our Church; and that he should always be glad to hear of her prosperity.'” Bosher adds “For the next thirty years I can discover virtually no friendly intercourse between church leaders on the two sides of the Atlantic,” reporting that in 1822 the Presiding Bishop of the American church had to turn down the request for a letter of introduction for a clergyman visiting the mother country because he did not have a single correspondent in England.9 That is, the English church was not always in what we would call full communion with the Episcopal Church. The 1786 law that made possible the consecration of White, Provoost, and Madison also stipulated that neither they nor any priest or deacon whom they ordained could perform any clerical act in territory subject to the British crown. American clergy visiting England were treated as laypeople and they felt the humiliation keenly.
The slow and reluctant10 establishment of each colonial episcopate required an act of Parliament, and by 1823 only the sees of Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Calcutta had been populated with bishops. It was not until 1847 that a bishop for foreign parts was consecrated outside a very private ceremony in the chapel at Lambeth Palace. A great deal had to change in the meantime.
The English had been backed into consecrating bishops for America by the Scottish bishops’ consecration of Samuel Seabury. In the next century, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London decided not to seek permission to consecrate a bishop for the numerous Church of England congregations in Europe because the effort “might lead to great inconvenience.”11 Bosher’s recounting of events is memorable:
Once again, recourse was had to the Scottish bishops, who after consideration judged the case “infinitely more delicate than that of Dr. Seabury.” But in the end despite “the very chilling effect” of a letter from Mr. secretary Peel, and the “very cold” letters of the English prelates, Primus Gleig and his fellow bishops on March 20, 1825, consecrated the candidate in question. . . . Thus, for the second time, the tiny Scottish Church accepted a responsibility for the welfare of Anglicans outside her borders, while the Established Church of England found herself powerless to act.12
The English began to notice church life in the United States at about the same time that the Scots were sharing the episcopate. The bishop of South Carolina’s collected sermons, not much noticed in the United States, got a great deal of attention in England.13 Bishops Hobart and Chase brought their controversy over missionary theology and the claims of The General Seminary to England in 1823. Hobart brought with him the American ecclesiology he knew, and was not entirely tactful in expounding the virtues of a purely spiritual episcopate and of democracy in church affairs; the ideas and testimony he shared were thoroughly noticed. Shortly thereafter books began to appear in England about the American church and its leadership. As tensions grew in England between the church and the civil government, interest in non-established church experience grew.
The Tractarians looked westward with an appreciative eye. Newman found relationship with the American church encouraging in his own struggles for ecclesial integrity in England. Its very existence enabled him to contemplate disestablishment.
We have proof that the Church, of which we are, is not the mere creation of the State, but has an independent life, with a kind of her own, and fruit after her own kind. Men do not gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles; the stream does not rise higher than the spring. If her daughter can be, though the State does not protect, the mother too could bear to be deserted by it … The American Church is our pride as well as our consolation.14
Other Tractarians were less appreciative of American liturgy and doctrine. Walter Farquhar Hook enlisted Newmans circle in providing The General Seminary with a complete library of patristic texts on the grounds that “the divinity of our Transatlantic brethren (and fathers even) is somewhat crude.”15 (How much this rhetoric is a fund-raising pitch is open to question.) Nonetheless, the Tractarians ultimately cherished the freedom enjoyed by the church in the United States-and Pusey encouraged Bishop Doane of New Jersey to use that freedom to establish contacts with Anglicans around the world precisely because the mother church was not acting.
Bosher sees several patterns of initiative in the Episcopal Church providing the groundwork for communion. First, the House of Bishops in 1838 asked the Presiding Bishop to contact officially the primates in England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and the West Indies to begin discussion about the recognition and reception of clergy. This was the first effort to establish communion. The initial response in England was somewhat cautious: legislation was to permit the license of foreign clergy “for any one day or any two days and not more” for a specific place.16 Nonetheless, when Bishop Doane preached at the consecration of Hook’s new parish church in Leeds in 1841, he was warmly received by all, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. A new age had begun.
Second, the General Convention of 1835 constituted the entire Episcopal Church as a mission society and created the office of Missionary Bishop. Rather than risk further unanswered requests to England, this church would spread by sending the gift of the episcopate to new territories before a church was well planted. Bishop Doanes sermon at Jackson Kempers consecration would not sound out of place today: he spoke of a bishop “sent forth by the Church, not sought for of the Church-going before, to organize the Church, not waiting till the Church has partially been organized-a leader, not a follower.”17 This model of colonial bishops as advance parties finally bore fruit in England in the public consecrations of 1847.18 Now the primates of the realm had received authority to consecrate bishops for any place, whether or not it was part of the Empire.
The principal contribution of the Episcopal Church to the life of the nascent Anglican Communion was the participation of laypeople in the decision-making processes of the church. The appeals for the revival of Convocation in the English church consistently appealed to the example of the United States, and The Christian Remembrancer asserted in 1852: “If we have given episcopacy to a sister church, we shall receive good interest for our help if we . . . gain from her some help towards re-establishing among ourselves that necessary element of church government, signified by the terms Synod.” The editorial found in General Convention an “active power and Catholic stamp” to aid “those who are struggling in England for the same privilege.”19
The church in the United States was directly influential upon the synodical structure of the churches in Australia (1850), Canada and Capetown (1851), and New Zealand (1853). Bishop Hopkins of Vermont was asked to help organize the Canadian synodical system, and received official public thanks for his efforts. The Canadians visited the General Convention in 1853 for ideas, and the original constitution of the church in New Zealand employed the word “Convention” for its legislature.20 It cannot but seem to these churches that concentrating authority now in a small group of the ordained (the primates) and particularly in one of their number (the Primate of All England) is a retrograde step.
All of this effort and influence bore fruit in 1853. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which had not recognized the episcopal character of Samuel Seabury, together with the Archbishop of Canterbury invited the American church to send bishops to celebrate the society’s third Jubilee. For the first time, representatives of all churches in communion with Canterbury were assembled, and around the theme of common mission. A parallel delegation was sent from the Jubilee to the General Convention, including the bishop of Madras. Although no English bishop attended, the Canadian bishop of Fredericton was present. The two visiting bishops participated in consecrating two American bishops. (Previously that year, an American bishop had for the first time participated in the ordination of an English bishop.) This General Convention also renewed the ancient attempt to establish a compact with England regarding the transfer of clergy, eschewed interference in the internal affairs of any sister church, and created procedures to insure continued communion. It was the request of the Canadian church (echoing the request of the 1853 Episcopal General Convention) that resulted in the first Lambeth Conference (1867).
On November 16, 2001, the Archbishop of Canterbury said of his eighteenth-century predecessor, “If I feel sad when I consider Moore’s lack of vision and courage, I find joy in Seabury’s dedicated determination.”21 I have suggested here that it has been the curious vocation of the churches in Canada and the United States to forge paths for the evolution of the Anglican heritage. That fact does not establish the lightness of the actions of the churches in Canada and the United States, nor does it imply an unlimited license to act without consideration for others. It does suggest that ample precedent lies in our history for churches in what is now the Anglican Communion to chart new courses of thought and to develop new ways of relating to one another and to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anglican ecclesiology continues to evolve and to disclose God’s will to those whose faith allows them to expect God to continue such disclosure.
1 Paul V. Marshall, “Institution over Inspiration,” www.diobeth.org.
2 Andrew Linzey, Has Anglicanism a Future? A Response to the Windsor Report (London: LGCM, 2005).
3 Linzey, Has Anglicanism a Future?, 4.
4 Norman Doe, Canon Law in the Anglican Communion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 339.
5 See my One, Catliolic, and Apostolic: Samuel Seabry and the Early Episcopal Church (New York: Church Publishing, 2004).
6 Among the vast literature, see especially Jon Butler and Harry Stout, eds., Religion in American History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). In the present debate, it is reported that in fourteen dioceses in the Church of England, same-sex blessings are readily available, and that in the Diocese of London, notices of such blessings have appeared in The Times. Is it possible that because the Diocese of New Westminster has displayed a particularly North American candor about its life that it has become the focus of a dispute while England has not?
7 Robert Bosher, “The American Church and the Formation of the Anglican Communion, 1823-1853.” Johnson Memorial Lecture. Evanston, Ill.: Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, 1962.
8 The election of diocesan bishops is far from universal, although approved in principle. See Doe, Canon Law, 104. Except in England, Doe notes, primates are now elected.
9 Bosher, “American Church,” 5. Emphasis mine. Bosher is, of course, focusing his remarks on the English. There was considerable ongoing correspondence between Connecticut and Scotland.
10 Sydney Smith considered Church of England involvement in foreign parts a mistake and a drag on the expansion of imperium, calling missionaries “a little band of maniacs” in Works, I, 244, 252.
11 Bosher, “American Church,” 7.
12 Bosher, “American Church,” 7.
13 Theodore Dehon, Sermons on the Public Means of Grace and the Fasts and Festivals of the Church (London: J. Pickering, 1822).
14 J. H. Newman, “The American Church,” in British Critic, xxvi, 283-284; Bosher, “American Church,” 3.
15 Bosher, “American Church,” 11.
16 Bosher, “American Church,” 14.
17 Bosher, “American Church,” 16.
18 Hans Cannattingius, Bishops and Societies: A Study of Anglican Colonial and Missionary Expansion (London, 1952).
19 Bosher, “American Church,” 17. The Windsor Report’s attempt, beginning at paragraph 108, to put more power in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the primates is a thrust against this movement.
20 Bosher, “American Church,” 18-19.
21 Archbishop of Canterbury, “Seize the Day,” Address to the General Synod, November 16, 2001, at www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/carey/speeches/001116.htm
PAUL V. MARSHALL*
* Paul V. Marshall is Bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem. He was previously Associate Professor at the Yale Divinity School and Acting Director of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.
Copyright Anglican Theological Review, Inc. Fall 2005
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