Useful Information

Christians in Britain

The first mention of any Christians in Britain is Tertullian's tract against the Jews, written about 208, in which he speaks of parts of Britain, inaccessible to the Romans, which had yet been conquered by Christ; while Origen, writing about thirty years later, includes Britain among the places where Christians are to be found.

The Romans had come to Britain as early as 55 B.C.E., and over the years, they had brought some Christians with them. A man named Alban is the earliest Christian in Britain known by name, as well as the first documented British martyr. He was a soldier in the Roman army, stationed about twenty miles northeast of London. He gave shelter to a Christian priest who was fleeing from persecution, and was converted by him. When officers came to arrest the priest, Alban dressed himself in the priest's clothes and gave himself up. Alban was tortured and martyred in place on the priest in the year 209.

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The Church of England - Reformation

Although there were some significant reforms under Henry VIII, it was not until his death in 1547 that the English church really came into its own. Under Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury 1533-56, the Church of England asserted independence from Rome, authorized clergy to marry, and issued the Book of Common Prayer, Cranmer's masterful transformation of the Latin liturgy into English.

The 1549 prayer book contained an order for "Mattyns" and one for "Euensong," and Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer remain two hallmark Anglican services to this day. It was revised in 1552 by a book including the "Letany," or Great Litany, which included the petition, "From all sedition and privie conspiracy, from the tyranny of the Bishop of Rome and all his detestable enormities, from all false doctrine, from hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word and commandment, good Lord, deliver us." Cranmer was serious about disavowing the authority of the pope, but also interested in simplifying a complex liturgy, using vernacular language, involving the people in the worship, and conforming to patristic evidence (or Christian writings up to about the fifth century).

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The Church of England - Colonialism

Skipping over several hundred years of very interesting history, including the execution of Charles I, the period when Oliver Cromwell served as "Lord Protector," a civil war, and something called the "Glorious Revolution" in England, we turn to the North American continent.

The Church of England was the first denomination to come permanently to any of the original thirteen colonies. The settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 marks the formal beginnings of Anglicanism in America. Did you know that the house of the first Anglican church in Bermuda, which was founded that same year, still exists? Virginia was among the colonies where the Church of England was "established," or the official state church. (New Jersey, which was not united into a single royal colony until 1702, secured religious freedom under Director-general Peter Stuyvesant, when it was still the Dutch colony of New Netherland in 1664.) A typical Virginia parish had three or four churches, and usually a farm (which was run by the priest!). The objective was to place a church within easy riding distance (not more than six miles) from every home in the colony. Each parish was governed by a group of laymen (yes, men—always white and always male, and almost always very wealthy), and they met in the only room the church had other than the worship space, the vestry. (This is why the governing board of an Episcopal Church is called the "Vestry" to this day.) These early Virginia vestries were immensely powerful; they levied taxes, hired the clergy, managed the welfare system, as there was no such thing as a separation of church and state back then.

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The Founding of the Episcopal Church

Anglicans on these shores had a hard time during and just after the American Revolution. At Trinity Church, Boston, they had omitted prayers for the King during the Revolution, thinking this better than shutting down the church. Many Anglican clergy emigrated north to Canada to escape scorn and even persecution.

In 1784, a priest named William White, from Philadelphia, gathered with other Anglicans in New Brunswick for the annual meeting of the Society for the Relief of Widows and Orphans of Clergymen. (Our Rector is a member of this same society, and his spouse will receive a modest annual stipend from it after his death.) They realized that organizing a church politically separate from the Church of England was essential if Anglicanism was going to survive. They had met several times in Philadelphia's Christ Church and prepared the first American prayer book, which was published in 1786. These meetings have ever since been known as the General Convention, which now meets every three years. The revision simplified the services of the Church of England, but some still felt the revision was too conservative. The Rector of King"s Chapel in Boston, for instance, wanted to remove all references to the Trinity. When the convention of Anglicans refused to do so, his congregation issued its own prayer book, thus becoming the first explicitly Unitarian church in America.

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The Nineteenth Century

From 1861 to 1865, during the great war between the states, the Episcopal Church met in two separate bodies, (1) the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (the north) and (2) the General Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. In the north, they had simply marked the southern dioceses as "absent" during the war, so reuniting was easier and quicker for us than for some others (the Baptists, for instance, never did reunite, and that's why we have "Southern Baptists" and "American Baptists" to this day).

During this century, there was also a strong resurgence of the catholic spirit within Anglicanism, emanating from the Oxford Movement and Cambridge Camden Society in England. The rise of the Gothic style of architecture is but one aspect of this. "One consequence of the continuing discussion about the Episcopal Church and its faith was that Episcopalians increasingly came to see their church as in a category by itself." The question as to whether the Episcopal Church was more like reformed churches or catholic churches was answered in part by a council of bishops summoned to Lambeth Palace in London. Lambeth is the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and in 1867 seventy-six of the 144 bishops in the fledgling Anglican Communion attended a conference there at his invitation.

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The Twentieth Century

The twentieth century was a time of tremendous change in the Episcopal Church. At the beginning of the century, there were yet those seeking to make us the "national church" of the United States. Among these were many of the captains of industry and commerce at the time, including J. Pierpont Morgan.

Remember that the Episcopal Church has produced political leaders disproportionate to our numbers. We boast of having produced more U.S. presidents than any other denomination: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, Chester A. Arthur, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Gerald Ford, and George H. W. Bush. Thirty three of the first 106 Supreme Court justices (including seven of the first seventeen chief justices) were Episcopalians. U.S. Senators have included both Byrds and John Warner of Virginia, Phil Gramm of Texas, John and Lincoln Chaffee and Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, Barry Goldwater and John McCain of Arizona, and Ted Stevens of Alaska. At least twenty Anglicans signed the U.S. Constitution, including Rufus King and David Brearly of New Jersey and Alexander Hamilton.

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The Anglican Communion

Today, there are nearly eighty million Anglicans worldwide. This makes us the second- or third-largest Christian group (depending on whether you consider the Orthodox one group or many). We are organized into some forty autonomous churches, including our own Episcopal Church.

Anglicanism tends to be strongest in places that were former colonies of the British Empire, including India, Australia, Tanzania, and the West Indies. But you will also find Anglicans in South Africa, Cuba, Korea, Brazil, and Japan. For a full listing of the provinces, or independent churches that constitute the Anglican Communion, set your internet web browser for (you may even be able to click on that hyperlink and save typing the address.)

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