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Hallo again to all.

For a decade, we have been on the trail of documents about the first schism from the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, a departure led by George Dashiell (1780-1852) and called the Evangelical Episcopal Church.

The schism began when a half-dozen clergy who supported Dashiell opposed the election of James Kemp as the second Bishop of Maryland. They elected their friend as their own bishop, withdrew from the diocesan convention, and published their own prayer book and hymnal in short order in 1821. Their organisation was never given the credibility of opposition by the Diocese of Maryland or by the Protestant Episcopal Church, and it died in very short order, with a handful of pamphlets, court cases, and ordinations to its name.

The Evangelical Episcopal Church is now forgotten almost entirely, except in footnotes about the larger schism of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the early 1870s. Its adherents were few, its resources small, and its energy limited to what it could muster from opposing its parent body. It has never merited a monograph or a history.

For two decades, Anglicans Online has chronicled the lives of cognate bodies in our popular Not in the Communion section, which contains dozens of entries about churches of varying sizes who claim the names Anglican and Episcopal but have no formal relation with the see of Canterbury. The maintenance of that page is a dizzying duty, because the names and websites of the churches change with unbelievable frequency: primarily through the addition of words like Apostolic, Orthodox, Protestant, Original, Continuing, Traditional, Conservative, Charismatic, Southern, Catholic, Christian, Province, or Archdiocese to the plainer words Anglican and Church and Episcopal. They email us early and often when they fight with one another and have a new URL to which we should link.

It is easy to be confused about the NIC churches and the motives that lead them to start new churches with astonishing frequency. It is also easy to dismiss their sincerity as silliness, their work as useless, their devotion as a triviality.

In working with one of the three remaining copies of the prayer book of the Evangelical Episcopal Church this week, we have come to a calmer and more profound reflection about the schismatic impulse.

Whatever the attitudes of persons who create schisms—and it would be hard to deny that schism is not a regular aspect of Anglican DNA—in the case of the Evangelical Episcopal Church, and bodies like it, the initial impulse among them was to publish a prayer book, to issue a hymnal, to promulgate articles of religion, to assemble together for common time and devotion and duty.

We take a page tonight from the matres et patres ecclesiae to say that primacy of attention to orderly worship even among schismatics is laudable, decent, commendable, something from which the mother churches can benefit if we will.

The Church is one and large, catholic and gentle, firm and welcoming, without ultimate regard to the squabbles of her fussy and unruly children. We have time and energy to be clear about what groups have decided they will not walk with us, and to be sincere in wishing them a kind farewell if they want to adopt that path. We have mouths we can modulate with decent speech, kind response, and a happy invitation to continued sharing in a tradition.

We also have abilities to do so with big hearts, open doors, honest mouths.

If we will study schism, we may learn that the placement of stumbling blocks is a thing that can be done with the best of motives. And if we will allow it, schism can be a Christian myth whose adherents may look back at their works and laugh with mirth or delight or sorrow.

If we will be kind to ourselves and to others, the population of the NIC page may decline in due course, creating a happy reduction in that denominational directory and bizarre nomenclature, and a good gathering of the sheep to the Shepherd. Will you help?

See you next week.

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3 July 2016

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