Episcopal Church: An American Church

An American Church

During the American Revolution the personal loyalties of the church's clergy and laity were seriously split, and American independence brought about the disestablishment of the Anglican Church. After the Revolution the first objective of American Anglicans was to organize a native episcopacy and a national church. The new ecclesiastical body was called the Protestant Episcopal Church, a name approved in 1789 by the first General Convention of the denomination, which also adopted a constitution and a revised version of the Book of Common Prayer. Dr. Samuel Seabury of Connecticut was consecrated bishop in 1784 by bishops of Scotland, and William White of Pennsylvania and Samuel Provoost of New York were consecrated bishops in England in 1787. In 1817, General Theological Seminary was organized, and in 1820 the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society was established.

Episcopal churches were founded by settlers in the newly opened regions of the West. During the Civil War the church was necessarily disunited, but at the General Conference of 1865 there was a full reunion. In 1873 a group of clergy and laity withdrew from the main body, in disagreement over certain sacramental and ritualistic practices, and formed the Reformed Episcopal Church.

In recent decades the church (renamed the Episcopal Church in 1967) has been deeply involved in the ecumenical movement and in focusing the attention of Christians on social issues. Decisions in favor of prayer book revision and the ordination of women were made by the General Convention in 1976. In 1989, Barbara Harris of the Massachusetts diocese was consecrated as the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion, and in 1993 Mary McLeod became bishop of Vermont, the first woman in the United States to head a diocese of the church. In 1999, the Episcopal Church joined with several others in establishing full communion with the country's largest Lutheran denomination.

The growing role of women in the church and differences over social issues, including the church's stand on homosexuality, caused divisiveness in the 1980s and 1990s. The election by the church in 2003 of its first openly homosexual bishop threatened to split both the church and the Anglican Communion. The church was asked in 2005 to withdraw from the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council later that year, which it did voluntarily, attending as an observer. In 2006 Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected Episcopal presiding bishop, making her the first woman to head an Anglican church; the church also effectively called for a moratorium on electing openly homosexual bishops.

A 2007 proposal by the Anglican Communion primates to established a separate vicar for conservative American parishes was opposed by Episcopal bishops, who declared it contrary to the constitution and nature of the church; the bishops also accused foreign bishops and primates of violating the church's provincial boundaries. The Nigerian primate, Peter Akinola, an outspoken conservative critic of the Episcopal Church, subsequently installed a Virginia bishop as head of a conservative North American Anglican convocation. Other American bishops similarly have been consecrated by other African Anglican churches, and several Episcopal dioceses have voted to secede from the church. In 2008 four secessionist conservative dioceses announced the formation of the Anglican Church in North America, adopting canons that that differed with the Episcopal Church on homosexuality, woman bishops, and other issues. The Episcopal moratorium on electing openly homosexual bishops was ended in 2009, and in 2010, after a lesbian was elected assistant bishop in Los Angeles, the Anglican Communion suspended Episcopalians from serving as official Anglican members on ecumenical bodies. Broader participatory sanctions on the church were imposed in 2016 by the Communion for a three-year period after the church decided (2015) to allow a marriage rite for same-sex couples. Michael Bruce Curry, the first African American to serve in the post, became presiding bishop in 2015.

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