Project Canterbury

History of the American Episcopal Church 1600-1915

By the Reverend S. D. McConnell, D.D., D.C.L., LL. D.

Milwaukee: Morehouse Publishing Co., 1934.
London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., 1934.

Part Second. The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States.

Chapter X. A Place Where To Ways Meet.

Falling behind the population; a Church or a Sect; the Memorial; emancipation of the Episcopate; loosening of Rubrics; revival of the Diaconate; Church Unity; divers opinions; a true bill found; a fatal choice; spirit of General Convention; progress in a narrow path; the Church in California; the Church in Oregon; muttering of coming war.

When the catholic nature of the Church came to be more clearly seen, it became evident that the Protestant Episcopal Church did not adequately represent the ideal. The isolation in the Christian world, which had been its fortune for three hundred years, had affected it in mind and structure. It was organized and equipped as a sect, and to do a sect's work. Its awakened sense of catholicity required a broader outlook. It must establish relations with society. Noblesse oblige. But the common people of America were indifferent or antipathetic. The same movement which had brought the Church to a better understanding of herself had operated to turn the people front her. The ratio of growth was steadily declining. [Perry: History, vol. ii. p. 382.] The population was advancing with gigantic strides. The Church crept tardily after. The people neither understood nor cared for her. The more her children loved and believed in her, the more they grieved. The people would not weep to her mourning or dance to her piping. The fault could not be lack of zeal, for no class of men could be found more earnest or tireless than her ministers. Twenty years before, the Church had formally declared that all her children were missionaries by virtue of their baptism. It had undertaken in its organized capacity to win the nation. Who could be more zealous than Polk, more faithful than Whittingham, more apostolic than Kemper, more saintly than Otey, or wiser than De Lancey? But still the Church's growth was not commensurate either with her own character or with the energy expended. The controversialists on either hand were not seriously disturbed. Their thoughts were engrossed. But a class of men, inspired with a deep feeling of the Church's real work in the nation, pondered the matter deeply. Two men--the greatest the American Church has yet produced--saw the situation more clearly than their fellows. Dr. Muhlenberg perceived it as a seer; Bishop Alonzo Potter saw it as a statesman. The Church's theory was catholic; her methods were denominational. The head and the hands were not in harmony, and the heart was torn between them. Wise men had discovered the evil and tried to find a cure. The New York Review (1837-1842) had tried to bring the Church into touch with the thought of the time. Dr. Muhlenberg, in the Evangelical Catholic, had set out her place in Christian society with a wealth of thought and charm of spirit never since equalled. His voice had not been noticed in the din of controversy, but he had spoken the thought of the best and wisest men in the Church.

When the General Convention met in 1853, the following Memorial was laid before the House of Bishops:--

Right Reverend Fathers:--The undersigned, presbyters of the Church of which you have the oversight, venture to approach your venerable body with a sentiment which their estimate of your office in relation to the times does not permit them to withhold. In so doing they have confidence in your readiness to appreciate their motives and their aims.

The actual posture of our Church, with reference to the great moral and social necessities of the day, presents to the minds of the undersigned a subject of grave and anxious thought. Did they suppose that this was confined to themselves they would not feel warranted in submitting it to your attention; but they believe it to be participated in by many of their brethren, who may not have seen the expediency of declaring their views, or at least a mature season for such a course.

The divided and distracted state of our American Protestant Christianity; the new and subtle forms of unbelief, adapting themselves with fatal success to the spirit of the age; the consolidated forces of Romanism, bearing with renewed skill and activity against the Protestant faith: and, as more or less the consequence of these, the utter ignorance of the Gospel among so large a portion of the lower classes of our population, making a heathen world in our midst ; are among the considerations which induce your memorialists to present the inquiry whether the period has not arrived for the adoption of measures, to meet these exigencies of the times, more comprehensive than any yet provided for by our present ecclesiastical system; In other words, whether the Protestant Episcopal Church, with only her present canonical means and appliances, her fixed and invariable modes of public worship, her traditional customs and usages, is competent to the work of preaching and dispensing the Gospel to all sorts and conditions of men, and so, adequate to do the work of the Lord in this land and in this age? This question, your petitioners for their own part, and in consonance with many thoughtful minds among us, believe must be answered in the negative. Their memorial proceeds on the assumption that our Church, confined to the exercises of her present system, is not sufficient to the great purposes above mentioned ; that a wider door must be opened for the admission to the Gospel ministry than that through which her candidates for holy orders are now obliged to enter. Besides such candidates among her own members, it is believed that men can be found among the other bodies of Christians around us, who would gladly receive ordination at your hands, could they obtain it without that entire surrender, which would now be required of them, of all the liberty in public worship to which they have been accustomed; men, who could not bring themselves to conform in all particulars to our prescriptions and customs, but yet sound in the faith, and who, having the gifts of preachers and pastors, would be able ministers of the New Testament. With deference it is asked, ought such an accession to your means in executing your high commission, "Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature," be refused, for the sake of conformity in matters recognized in the preface to the Book of Common Prayer as unessentials ? Dare we pray the Lord of harvests to send forth laborers into the harvest, while we reject all laborers but those of one peculiar type? The extension of orders to the class of men contemplated (with whatever safeguards, not infringing on evangelical freedom, which your wisdom might deem expedient), appears to your petitioners to be a subject supremely worthy of your deliberations.

In addition to the prospect of the immediate good which would thus be opened, an important step would be taken towards the effecting of a Church unity in the Protestant Christendom of our land. To become a central bond of union among Christians, who, though differing in name, yet hold to the one Faith, the one Lord, the one Baptism; and, who need only such a bond to be drawn together in closer and more primitive fellowship, is here believed to be the peculiar province and high privilege of your venerable body as a college of Catholic and Apostolic Bishops as such.

This leads your petitioners to declare the ultimate design of their memorial; which is to submit the practicability, under your auspices, of some ecclesiastical system, broader and more comprehensive than that which you now administer, surrounding and including the Protestant Episcopal Church as it now is, leaving that church untouched, identical with that church in all its great principles, yet providing for as much freedom in opinion, discipline, and worship, as is compatible with the essential faith and order of the Gospel. To define and act upon such a system, it is believed, must sooner or later be the work of an American Catholic Episcopate.

In justice to themselves, on this occasion, your memorialists beg leave to remark that, although aware that the foregoing views are not confined to their own small number, they have no reason to suppose that any other parties contemplate a public expression of them, like the present. Having therefore undertaken it, they trust that they have not laid themselves open to the charge of unwarrantable intrusion. They find their warrant in the prayer now offered up by all congregations, "that the comfortable Gospel of Christ may be truly preached, truly received, and truly followed in all places, to the breaking down the kingdom of Sin, Satan, and Death." Convinced that, for the attainment of these blessed ends, there must be some greater concert of action among Protestant Christians than any which yet exists, and believing that with you, Right Reverend Fathers, it rests to take the first measures tending thereto, we could do no less than humbly submit this memorial to such consideration as in your wisdom you may see fit to give it.

Assuring you, Right Reverend Fathers, of our dutiful veneration and esteem,

We are, most respectfully,

Your Brethren and Servants in the Gospel of Christ :







and others.

Concurring in the main purport of the memorial, but not able to subscribe to all its details, the following names were subscribed:



ISAAC G. HUBBARD,and others.

What the Memorialists proposed was at once simple and revolutionary. They meant, in good faith, to put the catholic theory of the Church to the experimentum crucis. "The great catholic idea of the Church may be fully developed by more thoroughly adapting it to all the wants of the country and the times." [Resolution of Rhode Island Diocese, 1856.] Their objective point was the emancipation of the Episcopate. [Evangelical Catholic Papers, ,p. 181.] Their action had other aims as well, but this was the chief. The Episcopate was the differentiate of the Church in America. In Rome it was in subjection to the Pope. In England it was fettered by the State. Here it was tied by conventional rules, so that it was powerless to act beyond the borders of the Protestant Episcopal sect, and even within them was checked at every turn. Protestants might stretch out their hands for it in vain. It must be refused unless they would consent to take with it all the peculiarities of the sect which possessed it. This, the Memorialists maintained, was uncatholic. They saw, farther, that if the Episcopate should continue to be deprived of its original powers, and reduced to an office of petty routine, it would soon come to be filled by petty men. They believed that to claim for the office a divine grace, and then to bind it into helplessness from fear of the human infirmities of the men who filled it, was but solemn trifling.

In the second place, they asserted that the Liturgy, [Ib., p. 163, et seq.] which they themselves delighted in, was a stumbling block to thousands, who, but for it, would accept the essentials of the Church; that the principle of compulsory uniformity upon which the Church was acting, was not only uncatholic but foolish; that the Prayer Book was constructed for the use of well-ordered and well-trained parishes, whereas the Church's work would be, for many a day to come, among those whose customs and prejudices rendered it ungrateful to them; that as "good wine needs no bush," the Liturgy might be trusted to make its own way into general use by its own intrinsic excellence.

A third purpose was to restore a disused force by reviving the lower order of the ministry. There were then but thirty-seven deacons in the Church; there should, and might readily have been, five thousand. The ministry was practically closed against all applicants save a small class of men, with peculiar qualifications, hard to attain, and not guaranteeing efficiency when attained. The various sections of the broad vineyard demanded laborers of various sorts. The masses of the people could not be touched but by men from among themselves. A deacon's work required character rather than education, [Howe: Memoirs of Bishop Alonzo Potter, p. 185.] and tentmakers might yet work with their own hands, not being chargeable to any man, and still be apostolic. Above all, they lamented that the door was barred against the ministers of the Protestant world. One of these could enter only "by painful steps and slow." While waiting the long period of probation,--a probation not required of a Roman priest of far inferior character,--he became separated from his own people, so that he must come alone and a stranger.

The ultimate object toward which all their aims pointed was the Unity of Protestant Christendom. [Evangelical Catholic Papers, p. 322.] The Protestant Episcopal Church, standing as the representative of Catholicity in America, had her task assigned by God. She was to keep open communication with the past. She was to be the tertium quid to produce union in the present.

But to do this last she must move freely among the broken mass. This, the Memorialists contended, she could not do under her present self-imposed limitations.

The Memorial was received by the Convention with the consideration which the names of its signers could not but secure. It was referred to a committee composed of Bishops Otey, Doane, Alonzo Potter, Burgess, Williams, and Wainwright. [Memorial Papers: with an introduction by Right Rev. Alonz. Potter, Philadelphia, 1857, p. 36.] They were instructed to report to the next Convention. Bishop Alonzo Potter took charge of the measure, became its advocate, counsellor, and historian. [Memorial Papers.] It at once arrested the attention of the whole Church. For several years little else was thought or spoken of. Especially among the younger clergy and laymen did it commend itself. [Ib., p. vii.] Diocesan conventions discussed it, and passed resolutions for or against its proposals. [Green: Life of Bishop Otey, p. 60.] Church newspapers advocated or denounced it. Sermons, pamphlets, magazine articles, and books were written about it. The committee which had it in charge circulated a list of questions concerning it, to which they solicited replies. These questions show that the members of the committee either but dimly appreciated its import, or else did not care to consider the fundamental problems at issue. They relate for the most part to details of subordinate importance. [Memorial Papers, pp. 37--40.] The replies they received are directed some to one and some to another of the queries, and some to the principles involved. [The substance of the answers is in all cases condensed from the papers edited and published by Bishop Potter as Memorial Papers.]

Bishop Doane of New Jersey, in his reply, falls foul of Sunday schools, as being destructive of home training of children, advocates parish schools wherein the youth of the country may be taught in the spirit of the Church; and recommends that schools of theology be multiplied and localized in various sections of the country, so that the ministry may be more in touch with the people whom it is called to serve.

Bishop Potter of Pennsylvania alone goes to the root of the matter. He advises: to leave to each diocese the power to fix the terms of admission to its own ministry, as best knowing its own needs; to receive Protestant ministers whenever they are ready and fit to come, the diocesan authorities passing upon each case as it arises; to exploit the plan of an unlearned diaconate as proposed in 1853, allowing each diocese to receive its own, and not compelling any other diocese to accept them for duty; leave congregations which are ready to receive an episcopally ordained minister to use the Liturgy or not as they see fit,--as Bishop Kemper had so wisely done with the Swedish and Norwegian Lutherans in Wisconsin; abandon the idea of enforced uniformity in worship, as uncatholic and disastrous wherever it has been attempted.

Bishop Burgess of Maine recommends to revise the Liturgy so as to make it more fit, and, having done so, exact its use; when it has been used in any case, allow supplementary extemporary prayers.

Bishop Williams of Connecticut advises district visiting; that missionary priests are indeed needed, but must be chosen according to a universal standard, and sent under diocesan control. As to unlearned deacons, he doubts, but if there should be such, they must withdraw from secular employment. He had "prepared some further remarks on the general subject of Christian unity, designed to show that restraints, doctrinal and other, under which we are placed, are not mere accidents, and indications of sectarianism, taken up at will, but things rendered necessary by the abnormal condition of Christendom, and forming part and parcel of our true Catholicity,"--but omits them for lack of space.

Bishop Meade of Virginia believes that the services are too long; that the minister should be allowed to select the psalms; that there should be liberty to omit the term "regenerate" in baptism.

Bishop Polk replies that among the people of the Southwest the Liturgy is a distinct hindrance; that it is too long, and the rubrics too rigid; that it should be left more to the discretion of the minister; that many of his people cannot read at all; that a learned and an unlearned ministry are both needed.

Bishop Freeman was opposed to the whole agitation; "would never consent to touch in the minutest particular the integrity of the Liturgy"; would allow no "relaxation whatever in the conditions of admitting other ministers;--they do not want to come any way."

Bishop Upfold denies the premises; the Church has, all things considered, grown wonderfully; would not consent to touch the Liturgy; would make the terms of admission for other ministers harder than they are.

Bishop Scott denies the premises; would allow no relaxation even if they were true.

Dr. Bowman thinks the memorialists should be content with the unlearned diaconate.

Dr. Coxe recommends a primer where the Liturgy cannot be used; and calls attention to the Moravian Church as a factor in the problem of unity.

Dr. Craik thinks that the door towards Protestantism is too wide open already; better that some within were shut outside.

Dr. Francis Vinton believes that the whole jurisdiction in the province of ordination should be left with the bishop, to whom it inherently belongs; that the General Convention had acted ultra vires in its legislation upon the matter; that the bishop should ordain fit men, and then be only too glad to have them serve Presbyterian or other congregations if they had the chance, without any question of the use of the Liturgy.

A Presbyterian divine says the safety of the sects (sic) depends upon the continued rigidity of the Church; if that should be abandoned, their existence would be endangered.

A Congregational divine indorses the position of the memorialists as being in the general interest of American Christianity.

A Baptist divine asserts that if the Church could but find a way to reach the masses she could effect more than all others.

A German Reformed divine states that they also are preparing a Liturgy, and would gladly draw nearer to the Church.

A Methodist divine answers that the Church possesses those things which are abiding, and the Methodists those which are discretionary; that each might help the other.

The Committee, having thus gathered opinions from those whom they thought best qualified to speak, and having listened to the discussion which for three years had filled the air, reported to the General Convention of 1856, that the statements of the Memorialists were true; that "the Church is by no means keeping pace with the population"; that the "growth in the last half-century furnishes matter of deep humiliation and shame"; that the Liturgy is not suited to all the work required of it; that both diocesan conventions and representative men agree as to the facts of the case; that there is a widespread desire for a more efficient policy.

In the way of cure, they recommend extemporaneous preaching; lay work; sisterhoods; more frequent services; a more hospitable bearing toward other churches; a formal declaration by the House of Bishops that Morning Prayer, Litany, and Holy Communion are distinct services, and need not be said together; a standing committee of five bishops to receive proposals concerning Christian unity; to allow diocesan bishops the power to set forth services for special occasions.

The recommendations were all adopted,--and the situation remained unchanged. The action failed to touch the issue. Dr. Muhlenberg wrote, "It is the genius of Catholicity now knocking at the Church's doors. Let her refuse to open. Let her, if she will, make them faster still, with new bolts and bars, and then take her rest, to dream a wilder dream than any of the Memorial: of becoming the Catholic Church of these United States." [Evangelical Catholic Papers, p. 325.]

Twenty years later, Dr. Washburn declared that "had the Memorial prevailed, we should have been spared the two worst misfortunes which have since befallen us. The conscientious men of ritualistic type, instead of defying law for chasubles and candles, would have thrown their devotion into noble work; and the conscientious men who have only added another Reformed Episcopal fragment to the atoms floating in Christian space would have remained content with just freedom." [Ayres: Life of Dr. Muhlenberg, p. 273.] The Church had the choice set before her to be Catholic or to be sectarian. She chose the latter. She exalted her customs above her principles. The choice threw her back more than a generation.

Men being what they are, no other choice could well have been expected. The Lower House had already begun to think of itself as the Church. It was jealous of Episcopal prerogative, and out of touch with the people. While the Church remained a federation of States neither of these mistakes was possible. Each delegation then instinctively sought to know and do the will of its own people. That allegiance had been insensibly withdrawn from the local church and given to the general body. The people of the dioceses had come to be the constituencies; but the representation had not yet been apportioned to their numbers. The General Convention grew remote. The time came when its deliverances were little heeded. It came to have a life of its own, apart from the common life of the Church. It feared anything which might derange that life. A catholic policy would surely have done so. Party leaders in it feared what might prove to be an opponent's advantage. Men were not willing to intrust others with a liberty which they would have welcomed for themselves. Timidity, miscalled conservatism, shrank from change. As always, men whose vision is acute within a narrow range refused to trust the sight of others who were able to see the end. The Church acquiesced in the decision, as it would have done in its opposite. But the opportunity had been lost. The Church had not been able to see the things which belonged to her peace.

The canon allowing an unlearned diaconate was passed; but it proved an empty gain. [Howe: Memoirs of Bishop Alonzo Potter, p. 186.] It was an instrument which would not operate in the machinery of which it formed a part. It was discredited from the start. Some bishops would not use it when they could; others could not when they would. Its necessity was presently obscured by the makeshift of "licensed lay readers,"--as if any license were needed for a layman to do his ordinary duty.

It remained for another generation of men, spiritual sons of the Memorialists, to take up again the work of Liturgical revision and Christian Unity. Dr. Muhlenberg retired to his schools, his hospitals, his free church. Bishop Potter took up again his labor of organizing the religious life, leading the thought, and caring for the poor of his great diocese. Their associates stood in their own lots, exemplifying catholicity in life and work. The Church held on her narrow way. Within the limits she had fixed for herself, her life was active, and, judged by her own standard, successful. The general religious movement of the land went on its course, little affected by her. But she was not unmindful of the spiritual needs of her own children, either in the old States or in the far West.

The same Convention which received the Memorial sent two bishops to the Pacific Coast. California was then four months' journey from New York. Population was pouring into it from all four quarters of the globe. Long lines of "prairie schooners" were winding their tedious way across the plains of Kansas and Nebraska, through the passes of the Rocky Mountains, and down the slopes of the Sierras, carrying the seekers after gold. Another stream was struggling through the swamps and miasmas of "the Isthmus," and still another battling its stormy path "around the Horn," to the same El Dorado. Its rough, turbulent, picturesque life was at its height. Among the earliest comers were clergy of the Church. The Rev. Dr. Ver Mehr was among the "forty-niners." He gathered a little congregation, and held services in a rude San Francisco shanty. Things moved rapidly there. In 1850 the first "Convention of the Church in California" was held in San Francisco, and six clergy were present. It did not regard itself as a part of the Church in the United States. It was an independent organization, and looked at first to the Greek Church for the Episcopate. [Bishop Kip, in Perry: History, vol. ii. p. 314.] It was far nearer, geographically, to the Greek Church in Alaska than to the Protestant Episcopal Church in the States. But when three years more had passed, the swift changes of population which marked the time and place had left the Church almost extinct. Some of the clergy were sick, some dead, some moved away, and some smitten with the "gold fever." In 1853 the General Convention chose the Rev. Dr. Kip as bishop, and sent him to build the Protestant Episcopal Church in California.

In 1851 the Board of Missions sent the Rev. William Richmond to Oregon. When he arrived, he found St. Michael Fackler, a faithful priest from Missouri, living and working in Willamette Valley. In 1853, three clergy and seven laymen met at Oregon City and organized the Church in Oregon. The same year, the General Convention chose the Rev. Dr. Thomas Fielding Scott to be its bishop.

Iowa, Texas, Minnesota, and Arkansas were, a few years later, detached from the great Missionary Jurisdictions, and placed under bishops of their own.

But the thought and energy of the time were being more and more withdrawn from the affairs of the Church, and absorbed in the condition of the nation. The mutterings of the coming storm of war were already heard. It was possible that the American Church might soon be broken up together with the nation in which it dwelt.

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