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Hallo again to all.

It happens that the American 'Independence Day' falls this year on a Sunday. Normally we take no notice of secular holidays. But the fourth of July is a day of significance within the wider Anglican Communion, for it was the beginning of the separation of the Church of England.

And what a messy separation it was.

Once the Declaration of Independence was published, all Anglican clergymen were suspect, considered 'enemy combatants' as it were. Their oath of allegiance, made at their ordinations in London, bound each minister to pray for the royal family as specified in the Book of Common Prayer -- and to make no alterations in the liturgy. Although many ministers tried to keep heads down and steer a quiet course, the newly independent states required their own loyalty oaths, in direct opposition to those made previously by the clergy.

The Reverend William White, the temperate, diplomatic, and visionary rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia, prayed for the King until the Sunday before 4 July 1776, but very soon thereafter he took an oath of allegiance to the United States. As he mounted the steps to the courthouse so to do, a friend standing near on the street made a throat-cutting gesture. By October 1778, White was the only clergyman left in Philadelphia. Ministers were threatened when they attempted to carry out public worship; they closed their churches rather than break their oaths. Many left and went into exile to Canada or England. By the end of the war, about 25 percent of the Anglican clergy had gone.

Those who stayed had a rough time of it. The Reverend Thomas Barton, a missionary priest under the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, wrote: '[Clergymen] are marked out for infamy and assault. Some of them have been dragged from their horses, assaulted with stones and dirt, ducked in water, obliged to flee for their lives, driven from their habitations and families, laid under arrest and imprisoned'. Mr Barton was lucky to have his letter delivered to London; most correspondence to the SPG was intercepted and the writers straightaway became objects of suspicion.

At the end of hostilities, the church was broken and battered. In the southern states where it had been established, it was no longer. In the northern states, where many priests were supported by stipends from the SPG, those were cut off. With no income, ministers did what they could to feed their families: taught school, practised medicine, became farmers. The idea that the salaries of ministers might be determined by a parish vestry and supported by congregation was thought absurd. The Reverend Bennet Allen, a clergyman in Maryland, chortled: 'What, by voluntary Contribution? Precarious Dependance!'*

If there was no money, there was also no internal structure, no governance. And of course there were no bishops. There wasn't even a name, since the church was no longer the Church of England in America. Added to all that was lingering hostility towards Anglicans in general, who represented the old order of things.

After the war, the American church essentially had to reinvent itself as being something other than baggage left behind by the British. Slowly the remaining Anglican clergy and laity in the various states began meeting in conventions, although they had no bishops. Samuel Seabury, taking the bit in his hands in 1784, proceeded to England with the blessing of his clergy in Connecticut, to seek Episcopal orders wherever they could be found. That happened to be Scotland, through the agency of the non-juring bishops§. In 1787, the more patient William White and Samuel Provoost (New York) were ordained and consecrated in London once Parliament suspended the requirement that American bishops swear allegiance to the king.

Now the American church and the English church were separate, but linked. Without anyone realising it, the Anglican Communion was born, as a byproduct of revolution and recovery.

See you next week.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 4 July 2004

*Quoted in Revolutionary Anglicanism, Nancy L. Rhoden, New York University Press, 1989
§Seabury's eagerness, coupled with his Tory loyalties during the war, caused numerous problems for the fledgling church.

A thin blue line
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