< Episcopal News and Current Events -- News About ECUSA: The Pilgrims, Both Inside and Outside the Church of England Episcopal News and Current Events -- News About ECUSA: The Pilgrims, Both Inside and Outside the Church of England
Today's Quote

A Prayer For This Web Site
Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices; Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"For those who Influence Public Opinion,"
Book of Common Prayer, page 827

In our church, neither a person's gender nor their sexual orientation matter; what does matter is how they serve Jesus Christ as Lord.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Pilgrims, Both Inside and Outside the Church of England

This column today is devoted to two people in our own congregation who noted to me with some amazement that the local AME church used the word 'Episcopal' in its name, and that the corner stone of the local United Methodist Church had the same word 'Episcopal' in its name; of course it is a very old building.

We have all heard about the Pilgrims -- early settlers in the United States -- and how they came about. What is not as commonly known is that there were two groups of Pilgrims . They were all on the outs with the Church of England of course, and all had come to America to avoid persecution for their beliefs. While one group of Pilgrims believed that their differences with the established orthodoxy of the Church of England could best be settled by staying 'in the system' -- that is by trying to change the church from within the church, by appealing to the Bishops and other church members, thinking that reason and logical thinking would bring everyone around to their ideas -- the other group of Pilgrims thought that was nonsense; no changes would be possible within the existing structure of the Church of England. In order to make a difference, they would have to go their separate way.

So this group of 'separatist Pilgrims' continued on their own path, and today -- 2006 -- are known as the United Church of Christ -- a Congregational style style church organization. They've gone through many changes over the years, but always retained the congregational polity or style of church government. That is what the word polity means, i.e. style of church government. There are essentially two styles of church government, or polity. Those pilgrims, and their descendents who went on their own way, and those of us who chose to remain under the leadership of our bishops, which is is the other style of church government, or Episcopal.

The original episcopalians got scattered in various ways but so did the original congregationalists. Note the small letter /e/ and small letter /c/ as they refer to church polity or style of government. This oversimplifies things a little, but the original episcopalians -- or pilgrims who decided to stay with the Church of England -- are today, by and large Episcopalians. The congregationalists further splintered and among other things became Campbelites (Disciples of Christ) and Baptists and Congregationalists (in later years, United Church of Christ.)

The episcopalian side of things splintered into, among other things, the Weslyan movement, which later split into the Methodists and others. Where almost all of the congregationalist style churches serve the communion wafers and liquid to people sitting in their pews, the Methodists serve it at the alter, the same as those of us who are Episcopalians. Do you know why that is the case? Because their founder, Mr. Wesley, did not want to give up his Anglican heritage, pure and simple. Wesley was born in the Church of England; went outside the church like many of the pilgrims, but was reluctant to give up (among other things) the style in which the Eucharist was served. Years and years and years ago, they were known as the Methodist Episcopal Church for that, among other reasons; the other main reason being they are governed by a Bishop, even today, the same as we are.

Then there was the 'problem' with black people -- African Americans -- and their role in the church. Throughout the 1840-1850's time frame, a huge controversy in almost all churches in America -- including the Protestant Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church - was what to do with African-Americans -- black -- Negro -- people attending our churches. See an earlier message in this cluster about 'Our First Vestry and How We Got the Name Epiphany' for more details. To our ever-abiding shame as Episcopalians, in 1856, Epiphany Church in Philadelphia broke up -- with about half the members of the parish leaving over the slavery issue and forming a new parish 'Church of the Covenant' where black people were welcome. The Methodists did the same thing; black people who had been attending the Methodist Episcopal Church were in some cases 'encouraged to leave' and they then formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church as a congregation which would welcome people of various races. In both the modern, 21st century version of those churches, A.M.E. and (what is now called)United Methodist, there are still vestiges of the Anglican customs and ways of doing things, communion served at the alter rail and (in many United Methodist Churches at least) a procession by the choir down the center aisle to the nave of the church for the service. At least into the 1950-60's Methodists were still processing down the center aisle doing that. There is also a black denomination called 'Christian Episcopal' which holds to some of the 'original' Episcopalian (i.e. Church of England) traditions.

So now, ladies, you have a better idea why various churches have the word 'Episcopal' as part of their name even though very little of their
religious activities resemble ours, but the main thing is, they are
governed by Bishops just as we are
and going way back when, they were
part of the pilgrims who did not choose to split from the Church of England.

Now, a century and a half following when slavery was considered a properly
debateable issue, all the churches which split apart because of slavery
(Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, various congregationalists and of
course Episcopalians) are about to split again because of sexuality. Maybe
we Episcopalians will take a true leadership role this time around, eh?



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