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Anglican Church Policy, Eighteenth Century Conflict, and the American Episcopate


Kenneth R. Elliott

Anglican Church Policy, Eighteenth Century Conflict, and the American Episcopate examines how leaders in the Church of England sought to reorganize the colonial church by installing one or two resident bishops at critical moments in the late 1740s, the early 1760s, and the mid 1770s when the British government moved to bring the colonies into closer economic and political alignment with England. Examining Anglican attempts to install bishops into the American colonies within the context of the Anglo-American world provides insight into the difficulties British political and ecclesiastical authorities had in organizing the management of the colonies more efficiently. Although the Church of England sustained wide influence over the population, the failure of the Anglicans’ proposal to install bishops into the colonies was symptomatic of the declining influence of the Church on eighteenth century politics. Differing views over political and ecclesiastical authority between the colonists and the Anglicans, and the possibility religious conflict might have on elections, concerned British authorities enough not to act on the Anglicans’ proposals for resident bishops for the colonies. The failure also highlights how eighteenth century British government increasingly focused on the political and economic administration of the expanded British Empire rather than its religious administration.


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1. The Making of a Controversy 13


CHAPTER 1 The Making of a Controversy “There is a mighty cry and desire, almost in all places where we have traveled, to have ministers of the Church of England sent to them in these northern parts of America.” George Keith, SPG Missionary1 Although the Church of England’s leaders viewed episcopacy as an essential part of the Church’s polity, conflicts in England, the slow growth of the Church in the American colonies, and the haphazard way in which colonial institutions developed thwarted plans during the seventeenth century to appoint a resident bishop. The office of bishop was vital to the Church of England both theologically and practically. The High Church view held that the King was the head of the Church, in essence a religious primate, with his power flowing downward to the people through the bishops. The Tory party favored this view, which supported the doctrine of the divine right of kings. The institutional structure, from a practical perspective, required a bishop for the ordination of ministers and the confirmation of church members. An Anglican community without a bishop found itself unable to manage its affairs, expand its territory, and compete with other religious sects. This was the case of the Anglican Church in the American colonies. Eighteenth century Anglican theology followed a distinct pastoral model where the ceremonial and sacramental duties of parish priests’ interconnected with the community, and “concern for both the sacred and secular was a particularly Anglican trait.” 2 Incarnational and sacramental theology “undergirded the...

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