Project Canterbury

Memorial of Sundry Presbyters of the Protestant Episcopal Church
Presented to the House of Bishops, October 18, 1853.

New York: no publisher, 1853.

To the Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in Council Assembled:

Right Reverend Fathers:—

The undersigned, presbyters of the Church of which you have the oversight, venture to approach your venerable body with an expression of 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, present to the mind 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, and 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 exercise of her present system, is not sufficient to the great purposes of the above-mentioned—that a wider door must be opened for admission to the Gospel minister, 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," to be refused for the sake of conformity in matters recognised in the preface to the Book of Common Prayer as unessentials? Dare we pray the Lord of the harvest, 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 worth 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, and 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 unwarranted intrusion. They find their warrant in the prayer now offered up by all our congregations, "that the comfortable Gospel of Christ may be truly preached, truly received, and truly followed, in all places, to the breaking down of 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, your petitioners could not do less than humbly submit their memorial to such consideration as in your wisdom you may see fit to give it. Praying that it may not be dismissed without reference to a Commission, and assuring you, Right Reverend Fathers, of our dutiful veneration and esteem,

We are,
Most Respectfully,
Your Brethren and Servants,
in the Gospel of Christ,

W. A. Muhlenberg,
C. F. Cruse,
Philip Berry,
Edwin Harwood,
G. T. Bedell,
Henry Gregory,
Alex. H. Vinton,
M. A. De Wolfe Howe,
S. H. Turner,
S. R. Johnson,
C. W. Andrews,
F. E. Lawrence,
and others.
New York, October 14th, 1853.

Concurring in the main purport of the above memorial, and believing that the necessities of the times call for some special efforts to promote unity among Christians, and to enlarge for that and other great ends the efficiency of the Protestant Episcopal Church, but not being able to adopt certain suggestions of the memorial, the undersigned most heartily join the prayer that the subject may be referred to a Commission of your Venerable Body.

John Henry Hobart,
A. Cleveland Coxe,
Ed. Y. Higbee,
Francis Vinton,
Isaac G. Hubbard,
and others.

Project Canterbury