NORTH AMERICAN ANGLICANISM:
THREE DISTINCT TRADITIONS
By V. Francis Knight
The term "North American Anglicanism" has become very popular lately. The trending of this new label doesn't necessarily bring with it a better appreciation of what it means to be Anglican in a "North American" context. It is important to realize that though North Americans do share a single common Anglican heritage, there are also three separate historical traditions of Anglicanism in North America. Though prior to the second half of the 18th century there had been a single Anglican Church in North America, in the 19th century we find a moment in time in which there were three: the "Church of England" under North American bishops operating in the United Province of Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and in a number of islands; the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America; and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America – three separate churches in North America, not in communion with one another. It was not, in fact, until the birth of the Anglican Communion towards the close of the 19th century that all three would come into full communion with one another again. A repair of communion, however, does not necessarily mean a breach of tradition, and the three great traditions of North American Anglicanism that these historic manifestations represent are still with us today.
Northern Anglicanism is the best starting place for a short survey of the development of our Anglican traditions, because it is through the conflict of the American Revolution that a North American episcopate first appears. The Northern Anglican tradition is also unique because of its mixed origins. Anglicans in many of the Northern colonies had stronger republican sympathies than their Southern cousins, but Anglicans in the Northern colonies were themselves also divided between republicans and Tories, a division which would eventually split them in two, and lead to a North divided between what would become Canada and the United States. These same political changes would drive a wedge between the Southern colonies (Mainland and Islands) and leave the American South to play second fiddle to the North in what would become the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. The story of the founding of the Protestant Episcopal Church is well known. It begins with the famous Loyalist priest Samuel Seabury journeying back to the Old Country in search of episcopal consecration, and includes the King of England, and two republican priests, William White and Samuel Provoost, all acquiescing to the circumstances just enough that in cooperation with one another an independent Episcopal Church manages to appear in the newly formed United States.
All three of these bishops were Northern born and bred; Bishop White was from Pennsylvania, Provoost from New York, and Seabury from Connecticut, but their religious and political views represented a diverse array of loyalties and influences. Whereas the Church of England from which they had come had a single orthodoxy, the Church these three men would build in North America would represent the formalization of a loose confederation of views, and while retaining a professed adherence to the received fundamentals of Anglicanism, would avoid requiring strict adherence to them. The result was a tradition in which a certain ambiguity reigned, in which a resigned Tory like Seabury could find common ground with White, the only Anglican priest in the whole of Pennsylvania to throw his lot in with the revolutionaries. This mixed origin of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America made it from its earliest days into a church of parties, which was a good match for a democratically charged country, and was part of the dynamic that allowed for a close relationship to be maintained between Anglicanism and the political establishment in the United States. The Northern Anglican tradition continues to show a desire to unify in the face of diversity of opinion, and an openness to incorporating elements from outside of Anglicanism into its own tradition. Events in recent years, however, have made it look like Northern Anglicanism might have difficulty holding onto its received multi-party character indefinitely.
The American South was the cradle of North American Anglicanism, because it was from the legal establishment in the early 17th century of the Church of England in the original colony of "Virginia and America" and its principal seat of Jamestown, that Northern, Southern, and Canadian Anglicanism ultimately would grow. An important aspect of what worked to make a Southern Anglicanism was its historical degree of prominence in Southern society. Whereas the Northeast was a place with a great diversity of religious views, ante-bellum Southern society was a firmly Anglican one. Though one would be hard put to find many in the South today who would identify as a "Cavalier" (the moniker which was attached to the party which would later become known as Tories after the English Civil Wars) historians commonly identify major immigration patterns of Puritans to the North, and Cavaliers to the South, as fundamental to drawing dark the Mason-Dixon divide. At the same time, as the Plantation culture from the South Atlantic grew into British Colonial life in the West Indies and Southern Mainland, producing a distinctly Southern culture and society, the more traditional and classical elements within Anglicanism proved a natural fit, and gained a heightened emphasis as a result of the deep entanglement of Anglicanism with early life in the American South.
Though Anglicanism has continued to be a strong element within Southern life, Southern Anglicanism has been struggling since the time of the American Revolution for its independence. It is not surprising, considering the general Loyalist leanings among Southern Anglicans, that none of the three initial bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America were Southerners. It wasn't really until Southern independence was realized in 1861 that a Southern Anglicanism strongly defensive of the autonomy of Southern institutions and ways was to appear. This period saw a conspicuously Anglican led South, with figures like President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee, go to arms with the United States' first Baptist-born president, the Illinois Whig, Abraham Lincoln. Though a reunion occurred between Southern and Northern Anglicans in 1865, this era has left a lasting mark on the identity of Southern Anglicanism. Anglicanism in the South continues to be marked by a greater degree of affection for its own tradition and resistance to innovation in comparison to its Northern and Canadian counterparts.
The roots of Canadian Anglicanism belong to the 18th century in the period of British North America, after the American Revolution, but before the far Northern colonies joined together into the present Dominion of Canada. Like Northern Anglicanism its genesis is deeply rooted in the divisions created by the Revolution itself. Charles Inglis, the 18th century bishop of Nova Scotia, was not merely the first bishop in what is now Canada; he was the first Colonial Bishop, that is Bishop outside of the British Isles, in the whole of the Church of England. Bishop Inglis had been a prominent Loyalist leader in New York during the American Revolution, and like many other American Loyalists – among whom Anglicanism predominated – was run out of the lower colonies after the war. George III made Nova Scotia into the third "province" in the Anglican Church and appointed Inglis its bishop, making him the fourth North American bishop, though the only one in communion with the Mother Church. The Church of England continued to be the legally established church throughout the colonies which became Canada into the 19th century, as it had been previously in Virginia and among the Southern colonies, and is still in England today.
The second half of the 19th century saw both the birth of the Dominion of Canada, and the emergence of an autonomous Church of England in Canada, which in the second half of the 20th century would become the Anglican Church of Canada. With the passage of time, and particularly the confederation itself, came the development of a new Canadian identity as Anglicans in the far Northern colonies developed on from being simply Americans who had remained subjects of the Crown, to defining themselves and their future independent of the 13 colonies from which they were separated. The Canadian Anglican tradition, though independent, is marked by unbroken continuation of official agreement with Anglican standards, as seen in its famous "Solemn Declaration," which reflects a position to which the Anglican Communion as a whole has only begun to return in recent years.
As Anglicans we embrace culture as a part of our religion, and as such, a full Anglicanism is one which embraces our heritage, both shared and unshared. The Anglican standards, the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, the Ordinal of 1661, the Articles of Religion 1571, and the Authorized Version of 1611, are a part of the foundations we all share, having received these from, and holding them in common with, our Mother Church in England. While we should affirm this, our common heritage, we should no less affirm our distinct identities within North American Anglicanism. It is in the coming together of both our history and our lives today that the unity of the Church, through all time, is truly manifest. It can be rightly said, that if there is no room for "I Wish I Was in Dixie" and "God Save the Queen" in North American Anglicanism, then it really isn't really "North American" at all. Let us continue to grow together, but let us do it as Canadians, Southerners, and Northerners, and not at the expense of our unique traditions.
Originally published in in the Winter-Spring 2014 issue of Anglican Tradition (Renewal). ©2014.
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