Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Know the Enemy": As the Church Formed, So It May Dissolve

[Introductory Note: This is the third in an ongoing series of posts covering the institutions that now make up The Episcopal Church. In the spirit of Sun-Tzu's maxim to "know the enemy", the series explores why and how the Church has evolved from an early branch of Anglicanism, concerned exclusively with ministering the Word and having but one bishop, into a lumbering, litigious and topheavy bureaucratic nightmare that allocates millions and millions to lawsuits and "peace and justice" causes. The first post in the series gave an historical overview of the Church's beginnings, and the second post focused on the transformation that has lately occurred in the office of the Presiding Bishop. Because of all the recent discussion about dioceses leaving the Church, I have decided in this next post to demonstrate once and for all the entirely voluntary manner in which the Church was originally formed, and in which it has (until the recent usurpations of power at the national level) been maintained over the years. This post in turn will lay the foundation for my next in-depth study of General Convention itself.]

"I. That the Episcopal Church in these States is and ought to be independent of all foreign Authority, ecclesiastical or civil.

"II. That it hath and ought to have, in common with all other religious Societies, full and exclusive Powers to regulate the Concerns of its own Communion.

"III. That the Doctrines of the Gospel be maintained as now professed by the Church of England; and Uniformity of Worship be continued, as near as may be, to the Liturgy of the said Church.

"IV. That the Succession of the Ministry be agreeably to the Usage which requireth the three Orders of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons ; that the Rights and Powers of the same respectively be ascertained, and that they be exercised according to reasonable Laws, to be duly made.

"V. That to make Canons or Laws, there be no other Authority than that of a Representative Body of the Clergy and Laity conjointly.

"VI. That no Powers be delegated to a general ecclesiastical Government, except such as cannot conveniently be exercised by the Clergy and Vestries in their respective Congregations."

With these simple declarations of principle, adopted at a meeting of clergy and laity from various congregations in the State of Pennsylvania held in Philadelphia at the end of May 1784, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America had its beginnings. The hostilities of the Revolutionary War had ended a year earlier, and the new country had come together under the loose bonds of the Articles of Confederation just two years before that. The status of entities created under the former regime was uncertain. A number of clergy in the States of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey were in particular concerned about the status of a charitable corporation that had been established many years before to provide pensions for the widows and orphans of Anglican clergy in the Colonies. The corporation had received a charter in those three Colonies, and the most pressing question was under whose auspices it should now carry on. After exchanging some correspondence, the clergy concerned agreed to meet in New Brunswick in early May, 1784 to discuss the matter. The Rev. Dr. William White (discussed in this earlier post), who attended the meeting, describes what decisions those present took, and why:

. . . there assembled some of the Clergy of New York, of New Jersey, and of Pennsylvania, in the city of New Brunswick, New Jersey, in May, 1784; and there being a few respectable lay members of the Church attending on public business in the same city, their presence was desired. The immediate object of the meeting, was the revival of a charitable corporation which had existed before the Revolution, clothed with corporate powers, under the government of each of the said three provinces. The opportunity was improved by the Clergy from Pennsylvania, of communicating certain measures recently adopted in that State, tending to the organizing of the Church throughout the Union. The result was, the inviting of a more general meeting in the ensuing October . . .
In his account just quoted, Dr. White refers to "certain measures recently adopted in [the] State [of Pennsylvania], tending to the organizing of the Church throughout the Union" (emphasis added). These are the six principles quoted at the outset above. They had not, however, been adopted before the meeting in New Brunswick on May 11 which he describes; instead, they were adopted at a meeting of clergy and laity in Pennsylvania held in Philadelphia two weeks afterward. (Writing some thirty-three years later, Dr. White doubtless telescoped his memory of the two separate meetings, and reversed their order.) The meetings in 1784 had exposed the weaknesses in the individual organization of each State church, now that they no longer enjoyed the status of being established. Before the several State churches could meet together to organize a national one, they had to put their own houses in order. Pennsylvania saw that need most clearly, and was thus the first to do so, as we shall see.

From this initial account, several important observations may be drawn:

1. The first organizational meeting of Anglicans held after the War was concerned not with the formation of a national Church, but with the revival of a charitable corporation for the clergy's widows and orphans. However, the meeting led immediately to the realization that no national church could be formed until the churches had first organized, and were themselves legally recognized, in each of the several States.

2. The meeting in May 1784 was organized initially by the clergy in three States, but they recognized that under the new democratic principles established by the Revolution, only the full participation of the laity could confer legitimacy on their deliberations. Thus, "a few respectable lay members of the Church", who happened also to be in New Brunswick "on business" at the time, were also invited to attend and take part.

3. The meeting led to the early declaration of certain basic objects and principles, as points of agreement for going forward in the move to create a national Church. Among them was that while the Episcopal Church in the United States had the right to be self-governing, it was not to be subject, as was its parent Church in England, to any outside civil or ecclesiastical authority.

4. The envisioned national Church would be made up of the several churches in the individual States, and organized according to the fundamental principle that no powers be delegated to it for exercise other than those which could not "conveniently be exercised by the Clergy and Vestries in their respective Congregations."

The six "fundamental principles" agreed upon in Philadelphia in May 1784 were duly presented to the larger assembly which gathered in New York that October. It became immediately apparent that not all of the delegates attending were authorized to speak for the whole Church in their respective States. Let Dr. White again take up the account of what followed:
. . . And there appeared [at that more general meeting in October 1784] Deputies, not only from the said three States, but also from others, with the view of consulting on the exigency of the Church. The greater number of these Deputies were not vested with powers for the binding of their constituents; and therefore, although they called themselves a Convention . . . yet they were not an organized body. They did not consider themselves as such; and their only act was, the issuing of a recommendation to the churches in the several States, to unite under a few articles to be considered as fundamental. These are the articles [that I quote below:]. . .

"I. That there shall be a General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

"II. That the Episcopal Church in each State send Deputies to the Convention, consisting of Clergy and Laity.

. . .

"V. That in every State where there shall be a Bishop duly consecrated and settled, he shall be considered as a member of the Convention ex officio.

"VI. That the Clergy and the Laity assembled in Convention shall deliberate in one body, but shall vote separately. And the concurrence of both shall be necessary to give validity to every measure. . . ."

It is fashionable today, among those at 815 and their supporters, to state the proposition that "dioceses are created by General Convention, and not the other way around." This is, if I may say so, a very superficial description of the process by which dioceses come into being. And with regard to the original Colonies, as anyone can see from the foregoing account, such a contention stands history on its head. The fact is that each of the branches of the Anglican Church in the various Colonies before the War was a separate State church, and remained so after the War. They were not organized as an administrative entity before the War, even though they were each nominally supervised by the Bishop of London. Instead, each Colony adopted local legislation that imposed a tax on all citizens to support the established church in that colony, and in no other. After the War was over, a number of Colonies moved quickly to repeal the taxes, and the churches in those Colonies were thrown for support back on their own holdings (glebe lands, frequently rented out to farmers and others), as well as on voluntary contributions from the ones who actually went to church.

The first problem for the post-war Church in each new State, therefore, was to see whether or not it would be allowed to continue as the established Church in that State, and if not, how it could survive on its own. In either case, it was required that each State pass legislation to give the Church a proper legal existence, with the power to receive gifts and to hold title to land. Because a State could create a corporation only within its own territory, there were limits to which any such corporation could combine with those in other States. Thus it was not possible for the Churches in the several States to come together into one national entity other than as an unincorporated association, which was a form already recognized at common law, and which needed no kind of official charter. But such an association was made up of individual persons in the eyes of the law, and the Churches in each State could not legally be recognized as persons until they received appropriate charters from their legislatures and their governing assemblies. In this simple reality---that to be able to form a larger organization, the individual churches first had to acquire their own independent status under the laws of the State in which they met---lies the essence of what General Convention is all about, and how it first came into existence.

The entire process of going from local organization to statewide organization, and then to national organization, can be seen in the case of the Church in Pennsylvania, whose founding documents are readily available online. Follow the link just given to download the Constitution and canons of the Diocese of Pennsylvania (in their latest [2005] revision). Before the text of the Constitution begins, however, there is given the text of an "Act of Association" first adopted in May 1785, along with a supplement to it adopted the following year. It is to this Act that I wish to draw your attention.

The first thing to note is the document's full title: "An Act of Association of the Clergy and Congregations of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of Pennsylvania." In the legal terminology of the time, an "Act of Association" such as this one fulfilled the function of what would today be called the "Articles of Association," or in other words, the constitution of the organization being formed. This is a wholly voluntary document, joined in only by those who choose to subscribe it. It binds no one other than those who sign, as well as any who have authorized those signing to do so on their behalf. If you look for a moment at the end of the Act (on pp. 5-6), you will see the names and the capacities of the individuals who subscribed: first there appear the names of five clergy, including the Rev. Dr. White himself, and who sign in their capacity as clergy of the Church. Then follow the names of eleven lay individuals who sign as deputies of their respective parishes. (Note the statement just before the names begin: "The Signing of those Deputies who were sent to the Convention without written powers, was deferred until such Powers can be procured." [Emphasis added.])

What is being brought into existence by the signing of this document is an unincorporated association of persons at common law. There is no involvement (as yet) by the State of Pennsylvania. At common law, two or more persons could voluntarily come together at any time for a common purpose, and although the law did not recognize their association as a separate entity (with the capability of holding title to property, or of suing, in its own name), it nevertheless recognized what was formed thereby as a "creature of contract." This meant that the relationship between the members of the association was defined by the contract by which they had agreed to join together. The terms of the contract are what are set out in the "articles of association." The introduction is a series of recitals that set out the events leading up to the signing of the articles, and they quote in full the two sets of "fundamental principles" agreed upon in the first two meetings.

Now take a look at some of the contract's provisions. First, the signers contract with each other to be guided and bound always by the fundamental principles already agreed upon:

And it is hereby further determined and declared by the said Clergy and Congregations, That there shall be a Convention of the said Church; which Convention shall consist of all the Clergy of the same, and of Lay Deputies; and that all the Acts and Proceedings of said Convention shall be considered as the Acts and Proceedings of the Protestant Episcopal Church in this State; provided always, That the same shall be consistent with the fundamental Principles agreed on at the two aforesaid Meetings in Philadelphia and New-York.
After making provision for voting in their Convention by orders, the clergy and congregations of Pennsylvania state their willingness to unite with the clergy and congregations of neighboring States, subject to the same "fundamental principles":
And it is hereby further determined and declared by the said Clergy and Congregations, That if the Clergy and Congregations of any adjoining State or States shall desire to unite with the Church in this State, agreeably to the fundamental Principles established at the aforesaid Meeting in New-York, then the Convention shall have Power to admit the said Clergy and Deputies from the Congregations of such adjoining State or States, to have the same Privileges, and to be subject to the same Regulations, as the Clergy and Congregations in this State.
The deputies appointed in these articles went to the first true "convention" of the nascent national church that was held in Christ Church, Philadelphia, from September 27 to October 7, 1785. The Journal of that Convention is available online, and may be downloaded and viewed in a number of different formats. In addition to their number, there were deputies from the States of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina. Their first order of business was to examine and approve the deputies' credentials, and then they began to deliberate, amend, and eventually adopt, each of the seven "fundamental principles" that had been stated by the delegates who came to the October 1784 meeting in New York. A separate committee was constituted to make recommendations for appropriate changes in the Book of Common Prayer and in the liturgy. At the close of the Convention, they had settled on a form of "General Ecclesiastical Constitution", in eleven articles, which they proposed for ratification by the Churches in each State. (It is reproduced on pages 21-24 of the volume linked earlier.) It began as follows:

Whereas, in the course of Divine Providence, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America is become independent of all foreign authority, civil and ecclesiastical:

And whereas, at a meeting of Clerical and Lay Deputies of the said Church, in sundry of the said States, viz., in the States of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, held in the city of New York on the 6th and 7th days of October, in the year of our Lord, 1784, it was recommended to this Church in the said States represented as aforesaid, and proposed to this Church in the States not represented, that they should send Deputies to a Convention to be held in the city of Philadelphia, on the Tuesday before the Feast of St. Michael in this present year, in order to unite in a Constitution of ecclesiastical government, agreeably to certain fundamental principles, expressed in the said recommendation and proposal:

And whereas, in consequence of the said recommendation and proposal, Clerical and Lay Deputies have been duly appointed from the said Church in the States of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina:

The said Deputies being now assembled, and taking into consideration the importance of maintaining uniformity in doctrine, discipline and worship in the said Church, do hereby determine, and declare,

I. That there shall be a General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, which shall be held in the city of Philadelphia on the third Tuesday in June, in the year of our Lord 1786, and for ever after once in three years, on the third Tuesday of June, in such place as shall be determined by the Convention; and special meetings may be held at such other times and in such place as shall be hereafter provided for; and this Church, in a majority of the States aforesaid, shall be represented before they proceed to business; except that the representation of this Church from two States shall be sufficient to adjourn; and in all business of the Convention freedom of debate shall be allowed.

II. There shall be a representation of both Clergy and Laity of the Church in each State, which shall consist of one or more Deputies, not exceeding four.of each Order; and in all questions, the said Church in each State shall have one vote; and a majority of suffrages shall be conclusive.

III. In the said Church in every State represented in this Convention, there shall be a Convention consisting of the Clergy and Lay Deputies of the congregation. . . .
The careful reader will note how the format used is the same as that used for the "Act of Association" adopted by the clergy and laity of Pennsylvania earlier that year. First come the recitals of the events and reasons leading up to the need for the association; then come the words of association themselves: "The said Deputies being now assembled . . . do hereby determine, and declare . . .".

The wording just quoted also makes it clear that the members of this voluntary association are the several branches of the Church organized in each separate State. Those Churches, in turn, act through designated deputies, both lay and clerical, who gather in general convention, once every three years, and who vote separately by orders. This being an episcopal church, provision is made for the expected future role of bishops (as soon as some can be ordained), and for the manner of their election, which is left to the individual Churches which they will head:

V. In every State where there shall be a Bishop duly consecrated and settled, and who shall have acceded to the articles of this General Ecclesiastical Constitution, he shall be considered as a member of the Convention ex officio.

VI. The Bishop or Bishops in every State shall be chosen agreeably to such rules as shall be fixed by the respective Conventions ; and every Bishop of this Church shall confine the exercise of his Episcopal office to his proper jurisdiction, unless requested to ordain or confirm by any church destitute of a Bishop.
The document spells out how additional Churches, not now represented at the Convention, may become members upon "acceding to the articles of this union" (emphasis added), and provides that clergy are to be subject to the authority of their respective State conventions:

VII. A Protestant Episcopal Church in any of the United States not now represented, may at any time hereafter be admitted, on acceding to the articles of this union.

VIII. Every clergyman, whether bishop, or presbyter, or deacon, shall be amenable to the authority of the Convention in the State to which he belongs, so far as relates to suspension or removal from office; and the Convention in each State shall institute rules for their conduct, and an equitable mode of trial.
It closes with provisions for ratifying a Book of Common Prayer, for a uniform oath to be taken by all clergy before ordination, and for its adoption by the Churches in each State. Its last clause is a restatement of the contract principle on which it is based, namely, that no party to a contract may alter it unilaterally, without the consent of the other parties: "This General Ecclesiastical Constitution, when ratified by the Church in the different States, shall be considered as fundamental, and shall be unalterable by the Convention of the Church in any State."

At the same Convention in 1785, a committee was appointed to draft a request to the bishops of England that they might allow suitable candidates for the office of bishop, once presented, to be consecrated there, in order to preserve the apostolic succession. The text of the resolution approving the formal request shows further how the new Church then regarded itself as a confederation of independent State churches (modeled, indeed, on the country itself as it was then organized), each of which had the ability to nominate and propose a bishop of its own, and how they were aware of the delicate political considerations which would attend their separate requests, coming from different sovereign States of the Confederation. The deputies resolved (I have added the italics, for emphasis):

I. That this Convention address the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England, requesting them to confer the Episcopal character on such persons as shall be chosen and recommended to them for that purpose from the Conventions of this Church in the respective States.

II. That it be recommended to the said Conventions that they elect persons for this purpose.

. . .

IV. That it be further recommended to the different Conventions, that they pay especial attention to the making it appear to their Lordships, that the persons who shall be sent to them for consecration are desired in the character of Bishops, as well by the Laity as by the Clergy of this Church in the said States, respectively; and that they will be received by them in that character on their return.

V. And in order to assure their Lordships of the legality of the present proposed application, that 'the Deputies now assembled be desired to make a respectful address to the civil rulers of the States in which they respectively reside, to certify that the said application is not contrary to the Constitutions and laws of the same.

VI. And whereas the Bishops of this Church will not be entitled to any of such temporal honors as are due to the Archbishops and Bishops of the parent Church, in quality of Lords of Parliament; and whereas the reputation and usefulness of our Bishops will considerably depend on their taking no higher titles or stile than will be due to their spiritual employments; that it be recommended to this Church, in the States here represented, to provide that their respective Bishops may be called " The Right Rev. A. B., Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in C. D.," and, as Bishop, may have no other title, and may not use any such stile as is usually descriptive of temporal power and precedency.

Most significant and revealing of all, perhaps, is not how the nascent Church explained and justified itself in its own resolutions, but how it described and portrayed itself to its ecclesiological parent, the Church of England. As you read the following petition to the Lords Spiritual, I would ask that you silently contrast its manner and tone with that shown to the same authorities by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church in 2003:


We, the Clerical and Lay Deputies of the Protestant Episcopal Church in sundry of the United States of America, think it our duty to address your Lordships on a subject deeply interesting, not only to ourselves and those whom we represent, but, as we conceive, to the common cause of Christianity.

Our forefathers, when they left the land of their nativity, did not leave the bosom of that Church over which your Lordships now preside ; but, as well from a veneration for Episcopal government, as from an attachment to the admirable services of our Liturgy, continued in willing connection with their ecclesiastical superiors in England, and were subjected to many local inconveniences, rather than break the unity of the Church to which they belonged.

When it pleased the Supreme Ruler of the universe, that this part of the British empire should be free, sovereign, and independent, it became the most important concern of the members of our Communion to provide for its continuance. And while, in accomplishing of this, they kept in view that wise and liberal part of the system of the Church of England which excludes as well the claiming as the acknowledging of such spiritual subjection as may be inconsistent with the civil duties of her children; it was nevertheless their earnest desire and resolution to retain the venerable form of Episcopal government handed down to them, as they conceive, from the time of the Apostles, and endeared to them by the remembrance of the holy Bishops of the primitive Church, of the blessed Martyrs who reformed the doctrine and worship of the Church of England, and of the many great and pious Prelates who have adorned that Church in every succeeding age. But however general the desire of compleating the Orders of our Ministry, so diffused and unconnected were the members of our Communion over this extensive country, that much time and negociation were necessary for the forming a representative body of the greater number of Episcopalians in these States ; and owing to the same causes, it was not until this Convention that sufficient powers could be procured for the addressing your Lordships on this subject.

The petition which we offer to your Venerable Body is, that from a tender regard to the religious interests of thousands in this rising empire, professing the same religious principles with the Church of England, you will be pleased to confer the Episcopal character on such persons as shall be recommended by this Church in the several States here represented, full satisfaction being given of the sufficiency of the persons recommended, and of its being the intention of the general body of the Episcopalians in the said States respectively, to receive them in the quality of Bishops.

Whether this our request will meet with insurmountable impediments, from the political regulations of the kingdom in which your Lordships fill such distinguished stations, it is not for us to foresee. We have not been ascertained that any such will exist; and are humbly of opinion, that as citizens of these States, interested in their prosperity, and religiously regarding the allegiance which we owe them, it is to an ecclesiastical source only we can apply in the present exigency.

It may be of consequence to observe, that in these States there is a separation between the concerns of policy and those of religion; that, accordingly, our civil rulers cannot officially join in the present application; that, however, we are far from apprehending the opposition or even displeasure of any of those honorable personages; and finally, that in this business we are justified by the Constitutions of the States, which are the foundations and controul of all our laws. On this point we beg leave to refer to the enclosed extracts from the Constitutions of the respective States of which we are citizens, and we flatter ourselves that they must be satisfactory.

Thus, we have stated to your Lordships the nature and the grounds of our application; which we have thought it most respectful and most suitable to the magnitude of the object, to address to your Lordships for your deliberation before any person is sent over to carry them into effect.

Whatever may be the event, no time will efface the remembrance of the past services of your Lordships and your predecessors. The Archbishops of Canterbury were not prevented, even by the weighty concerns of their high stations, from attending to the interests of this distant branch of the Church under their care. The Bishops of London were our Diocesans; and the uninterrupted although voluntary submission of our congregations, will remain a perpetual proof of their mild and paternal government. All the Bishops of England, with other distinguished characters, as well ecclesiastical as civil, have concurred in forming and carrying on the benevolent views of the Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts : a Society to whom, under God, the prosperity of our Church is in an eminent degree to be ascribed. It is our earnest wish to be permitted to make, through your Lordships, this just acknowledgment to that venerable Society; a tribute of gratitude which we the rather take this opportunity of paying, as while they thought it necessary to withdraw their pecuniary assistance from our Ministers, they have endeared their past favors by a benevolent declaration, that it is far from their thoughts to alienate their affection from their brethren now under another government with the pious wish, that their former exertions may still continue to bring forth the fruits they aimed at of pure religion and virtue. Our hearts are penetrated with the most lively gratitude by these generous sentiments; the long succession of former benefits passes in review before us; we pray that our Church may be a lasting monument of the usefulness of so worthy a body; and that her sons may never cease to be kindly affectioned to the members of that Church, the Fathers of which have so tenderly watched over her infancy.

For your Lordships in particular, we most sincerely wish and pray, that you may long continue the ornaments of the Church of England, and at last receive the reward of the righteous from the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls.

We are, with all the respect which is due to your exalted and venerable characters and stations,

Your Lordships Most obedient and Most humble Servants,


Christ Church, Philadelphia.
October 5th, 1785.

The contrast between then and now is striking, is it not? In 1785, we were the upstart, the nouvelle arrivèe, who had no claim to any kind of deference or authority. But by 2003, we were supremely confident of our ability to dictate to our parent Church the terms on which the Anglican Communion would continue to have meaning for us. (As with cabbages, so with churches: "Excess water taken up . . . causes head to burst. . . Plant recommended variety.")

The Lords Spiritual sent in February 1786 a gracious response to the humble petition of the new church, in which they expressed their Christian desire to comply "with the prayer of your address." (See pp. 36-37 of the previous link.) However, they first asked for assurances lest, "in the proceedings of your Convention [as had been reported to them "through private and less certain channels"], some alterations may have been adopted or intended, which those difficulties [in the situation as previously described to them] do not seem to justify."

This was an oblique reference to a number of changes which the 1785 Convention had countenanced in the Book of Common Prayer and in the Anglican liturgy: out of an excess of piety, perhaps, the Convention had dropped the phrase "He descended into Hell" from the Apostle's Creed; it had dropped the Nicene Creed altogether from the liturgy; and made several other changes. But the Bishops were even more concerned about something else: the consecration, in Scotland in November 1784, of the Rt. Rev. Samuel Seabury of Connecticut, and to his subsequent welcome and investiture as a bishop in the Episcopal Church of Connecticut. Since his consecrators were all non-juring bishops who did not swear any oath of allegiance to the current King of England (continuing a practice begun following their predecessors' refusal to acknowledge William of Orange as King after the deposition of King James II in the Glorious Revolution of 1688), the bishops of the Church of England felt they could have nothing to do with a Church that recognized the validity of orders conferred through so questionable a source. In their undeniably eloquent circumlocution:
For while we are anxious to give every proof, not only of our brotherly affection, but of our facility in forwarding your wishes, we cannot but be extremely cautious, lest we should be the instruments of establishing an Ecclesiastical system which will be called a branch of the Church of England, but afterwards may possibly appear to have departed from it essentially, either in doctrine or in discipline.
The deputies to the General Convention would not deal with this reply until their meeting the following summer, in June 1786. Meanwhile, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of Pennsylvania held a subsequent convention in Philadelphia in May 1786, at which the following supplement to the earlier Act of Association was adopted:

WHEREAS, Doubts have arisen whether under the Act of Association any alterations can be made in the Book of Common Prayer and the Administration of the Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies, of the Church, except such as become necessary in consequence of the late Revolution:

It is, therefore, hereby determined and declared, That further alterations may be made by the Convention, constituted by the said Act, provided only that “the main body and essentials” be preserved, and alterations made in such forms only as the Church of England hath herself acknowledged to be indifferent and alterable.

And it is hereby further determined and declared, That the power given by this supplement to the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in this State, may, by the said Convention, be conveyed to a Convention of the said Church in the United States, or in such States as are willing to unite in a constitution of ecclesiastical government, if the same shall be judged most conducive to charity and uniformity of worship.
Note the condition placed on the deputies' authority to agree to a national church constitution: "if the same shall be judged most conducive to charity and uniformity of worship."

The draft Constitution approved in 1785 had called for the convening of a General Convention "on the third Tuesday in June, in the year of our Lord 1786, and forever after once in three years . . . ." The appointed deputies duly met in Christ Church, Philadelphia on that date. However, the request by the English bishops to receive further proofs of the Americans' good faith, and the ensuing doubts about the consequences of Bishop Seabury's ordination at the hands of nonjuring bishops, prevented the latter from going forward with their plans to ratify the draft Constitution and to organize the Church. There was a particular concern expressed by the deputies over the validity of the orders of any clergy whom Bishop Seabury might ordain in the Church in Connecticut. The Journal of June 1786 (which begins on p. 35 in the link previously given) tells the story:
Resolved, That this Convention entertain a grateful sense of the Christian affection and condescension manifested in this [response from the English bishops]. And whereas it appears that the venerable Prelates have heard, through private channels, that the Church here represented have adopted, or intended, such alterations as would be an essential deviation from the Church of England, this Convention trust that they shall be able to give such information to those venerable Prelates, as will satisfy them that no such alterations have been adopted or intended. . . .

A motion made by the Rev. Mr. Provost, and seconded by the Rev. Mr. Smith, of South Carolina, viz., That this Convention will resolve to do no act that shall imply the validity of ordinations made by Dr. Seabury.

The previous question was moved by Dr. Smith, seconded by Dr. White, viz., Shall this question be now put? and carried in the affirmative. The main question was then proposed and determined in the negative, as follows:

New York, Aye; New Jersey, Aye; Pennsylvania, No; Delaware, No; Maryland, No; Virginia, No; South Carolina, Aye.

On motion made by Dr. White, and seconded by Mr. Smith, of South Carolina,
Resolved unanimously, That it be recommended to this Church in the States here represented, not to receive to the pastoral charge, within their respective limits, Clergymen professing canonical subjection to any Bishop, in any State or country, other than those Bishops who may be duly settled in the States represented in this Convention.
Again we see from the actions thus taken how the nascent American Church was behaving like a confederation of dioceses, and not like a hierarchical body. The deputies were greatly troubled by the actions of the clergy in Connecticut, who on their own had elected a Bishop and sent him first to England, and then to Scotland, to be ordained in the apostolic succession. That action now threatened their ability to receive ordinations for their own candidates from the Church of England. Yet they could not simply enact a measure that presumed to pronounce his orders invalid, or that would restrain Connecticut's right to do as it chose. The most they saw themselves able to do was to "recommend to the Church in the States here represented" that they not allow any clergy ordained by Bishop Seabury to function within their borders.

The deputies in June 1786 took up the draft Constitution on second reading, and made further changes to it. In particular, they clarified the last article (Art. XI, quoted earlier), so that it now was a more accurate statement of the contract principle which underlay the entire document (I have added the italics, for emphasis):
This Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, when ratified by the Church in a majority of the States, assembled in General Convention, with sufficient power for the purpose of such ratification, shall be unalterable by the Convention of any particular State, which hath been represented at the time of said ratification.
In response to the request from the English Bishops for more assurances, the deputies each subscribed a letter with which they enclosed a copy of the full Book of Common Prayer as they had theretofore approved it, and a copy of the newly revised Ecclesiastical Constitution. The letter is once again important as showing beyond doubt the deputies' understanding of the capacity in which they each acted:


Most Worthy and Venerable Prelates :

We, the Clerical and Lay Deputies of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the States of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina, have received the friendly and affectionate letter which your Lordships did us the honour to write on the 24th day of February, and for which we request you to accept our sincere and grateful acknowledgments.

It gives us pleasure to be assured, that the success of our application will probably meet with no greater obstacles than what have arisen from doubts respecting the extent of the alterations we have made and proposed; and we are happy to learn, that as no political impediments oppose us here, those which at present exist in England may be removed.

While doubts remain of our continuing to hold the same essential articles of faith and discipline with the Church of England, we acknowledge the propriety of suspending a compliance with our request.

We are unanimous and explicit in assuring your Lordships, that we neither have departed, nor propose to depart from the doctrines of your Church. . . .
With the sending of this letter and its enclosures, the Convention adjourned until a reply was received. It reconvened in Wilmington, Delaware on October 10, 1786 (p. 51 of the previous link) to consider the Archbishops' response, which was full of detailed objections to the changes that had been made in the Prayer Book and the liturgy. The response also spent considerable detail on the kinds of testimonials that their Lordships would require of any candidate presented for ordination as a Bishop. They would require, they said, detailed proofs and witness of the candidate's "sufficiency in good learning . . . [and] purity of manners":

. . . the reputation of the Church, both in England and America, and the interest of our common Christianity is so deeply concerned in it, that we feel it our indispensible duty to provide, on this subject, the most effectual securities. . . . The testimonials signed by persons living in England admit of reference and examination, and the characters of those who give them are subject to scrutiny, and in cases of criminal deceit, to punishment. In proportion as these circumstances are less applicable to testimonials from America, those testimonials must be more explicit, and supported by a greater number of signatures. . . . More specific declarations must be made by the members of the Convention in each State from which the persons offered for consecration are respectively recommended; their personal knowledge of them there can be no doubt of; we trust, therefore, they will have no objection to the adoption of the form of a testimonial which is annexed, and drawn upon the same principles, and containing the same attestations of personal knowledge with that above mentioned, as required previously to our Ordinations: we trust we shall receive these testimonials signed by such a majority in each Convention that recommend, as to leave no doubt of the fitness of the candidates upon the minds of those whose consciences are concerned in the consecration of them.
There could not be a plainer statement of the concern with which the English Bishops regarded the bestowing of episcopal orders upon one who would not be a part of their own Church, but who would help to found a new church, in a new world. Once again, the contrast between the Americans' respect for the Anglican orders in 1786, and their headlong and arrogant flouting of those orders in 2003, could hardly be more striking. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned humility?

The deputies in October 1786 made the restorations to the Apostle's Creed and the Prayer Book which the English bishops had asked of them, and acquiesced in other requested changes as well. (The one point on which they would not give in demonstrated the heart of the new American polity: they retained the right of the laity to participate in the trial of a Bishop, while providing that only a bishop could pronounce sentence on another bishop.) At the end of the Convention, they all signed the requested testimonials for William White, Samuel Provoost, and David Griffith, who had been elected by their respective churches in Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia to become bishops, and bade them Godspeed on their voyage to England to be ordained. (As explained in this previous post, David Griffith of Virginia was finally unable to raise the necessary funds for the trip, and having offered his resignation, would die during the next Convention without ever having been consecrated.)

When they next met in Convention in New York, from July 28 to August 8, 1789, the assembled deputies greeted two of their number who were now fully consecrated diocesans. But they were without any representation from Connecticut, or the other New England States beyond New York. The Rt. Rev. Samuel Seabury, ordained Bishop of Connecticut by Scottish nonjuring bishops, wrote the Convention that he could not attend, or allow a delegation from his Church to attend, because of the resolutions adopted in 1786 (quoted above) which appeared to call into question the validity of his orders. The Journal records (p. 71):
A letter was also read from the Right Rev. Dr. Seabury, Bishop of the Church in Connecticut, to the Right Rev. Dr. White, and one from the same gentleman to the Rev. Dr. Smith.

Upon reading the said letters, it appearing that Bishop Seabury lay under some misapprehensions concerning an entry in the Minutes of a former Convention, as intending some doubt of the validity of his consecration,

Resolved unanimously, That it is the opinion of this Convention, that the consecration of the Right Rev. Dr. Seabury to the Episcopal office is valid.

This issue was tested again by the delivery to the Convention of a petition from the clergy of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, addressed to Bishops Seabury, Provoost and White, and asking their cooperation in ordaining to the episcopacy the candidate whom they had elected, the Rev. Edward Bass, of St. Paul's in Newburyport. Three bishops were necessary for a consecration, but since the English bishops had now acted on the request to ordain the new American candidates, there was less concern over giving offense by allowing Dr. Seabury to participate in establishing the succession on the new continent. After several days of deliberation, the following pragmatic resolution of the situation was adopted (Journal, pp. 74-75):

1st. Resolved, That a complete Order of Bishops, derived as well under the English as the Scots line of Episcopacy, doth now subsist within the United States of America, in the persons of the Right Rev. William White, D.D., Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of Pennsylvania; the Right Rev. Samuel Provost, D.D., Bishop of the said Church in the State of New York, and the Right Rev. Samuel Seabury, D.D., Bishop of the said Church in the State of Connecticut.

2d. Resolved, That the said three Bishops are fully competent to every proper act and duty of the Episcopal office and character in these United States, as well in respect to the consecration of other Bishops, and the ordering of Priests and Deacons, as for the government of the Church, according to such rules, Canons, and institutions as now are, or hereafter may be duly made and ordained by the Church in that case.

3d. Resolved, That in Christian charity, as well as of duty, necessity, and expediency, the Churches represented in this Convention ought to contribute, in every manner in their power, towards supplying the wants, and granting every just and reasonable request of their sister Churches in these States; and, therefore,

4th, Resolved, Tha.t the Right Rev. Dr. White and the Right Rev. Dr. Provost be, and they hereby are requested to join with the Right Rev. Dr. Seabury, in complying with the prayer of the Clergy of the States of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, for the consecration of the Rev. Edward Bass, Bishop elect of the Churches in the said States; but that, before the said Bishops comply with the request aforesaid, it be proposed to the Churches in the New England States to meet the Churches of these States, with the said three Bishops, in an adjourned Convention, to settle certain articles of union and discipline among all the churches, previous to such consecration.

5th. Resolved, That if any difficulty or delicacy, in respect to the Archbishops and Bishops of England, shall remain with the Right Rev. Drs. White and Provost, or either of them, concerning their compliance with the above request, this Convention will address the Archbishops and Bishops, and hope thereby to remove the difficulty.

As I have related in this earlier post, that is what in fact subsequently occurred. Negotiations with Bishop Seabury to define and establish the powers of a second chamber, a House of Bishops, were successfully concluded, and the Convention resumed in New York in October with Bishop Seabury and deputies from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire in attendance. The newly amended Constitution was approved and subscribed by all those present, and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America was born.

It is fascinating to read this entry on page 98 of the Journal, along with the separate journals that thereafter follow (I have added the emphasis):

HERE ends the Journal of the proceedings of the Convention, as consisting of a single House. The Journals of the two Houses will now follow, separately; to which will be prefixed the General Ecclesiastical Constitution, as subscribed and entered on the Book of Records, which will answer the intention, as well of exhibiting a List of the Members of both Houses in Convention, as of defining their separate rights and powers.

It is thus to the Constitution, and only to the Constitution, that one must look to discern the nature of the contractual and legal relationships among the several member Churches that were established by that document, and which continue to this day. (For a full text of the Constitution which emerged from the compromise made with Bishop Seabury in 1789, please see this post.) The Church was begun as an unincorporated association of separate and independent Churches at common law. As new dioceses were created and added, they signified their joinder by adopting governing instruments in which they "acceded" to this Constitution. The result was the same as though they had authorized deputies to attend the Convention in 1789 and subscribe their names. As Mark McCall has demonstrated from contemporary legal sources, such an act of "accession" was the voluntary act of a sovereign and independent entity in its own right, and can as freely be undone as done.

Indeed, The Episcopal Church is still a creature of the common law. It has never formally registered itself as an unincorporated association "organized under the laws of State X." (Being a common-law association, it does not have to; most States do not have any registration requirement for unincorporated associations. The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, which is the Church's corporate vehicle to hold title to property and to receive gifts and bequests, is organized as a New York religious corporation.)

But that common-law freedom of association carries with it a corresponding common-law duty to respect the right of individual members to leave should they choose to do so. It is of the essence of a common-law association that membership in it is voluntary.

To clinch the point, let us go back to the Constitution of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, which was first drafted in 1814 to supplant the Act of Association signed in 1785. Like the Act of Association, it has a series of recitals describing the events leading up to its execution. It thereby furnishes us with another contemporary witness to the intent of those who came together under the first Episcopal Constitution:
WHEREAS, By an Act of Association, agreed to and adopted in Convention, on the 24th day of May, 1785, sundry of the Protestant Episcopal Churches within this Commonwealth were united under the name of “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of Pennsylvania”—which Association embraced all those Clergy and congregations who did at that time, or subsequently, assent to the same:

AND WHEREAS, After that time, in General Conventions of the Protestant Episcopal Churches within the United States, a Constitution and Canons were formed for the government and discipline of the same, which recognized each State as constituting a District or Diocese, with a right to the Churches within the same to exercise a local government over themselves; which right has been accordingly exercised by the Protestant Episcopal Churches within the State of Pennsylvania, associated as aforesaid . . .

(Emphasis added.) The "members" of the unincorporated Episcopal Church, as the foregoing account of its beginnings inescapably shows, are the individual dioceses that have always constituted it, from the very first meeting in 1785, and they are in law free to come and to go, as they in fact did during the Civil War.

Those who still want to contend that dioceses can never leave The Episcopal Church have neither law nor history on their side.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like another post is needed to educate us on,

    "The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, which is the Church's corporate vehicle to hold title to property and to receive gifts and bequests, is organized as a New York religious corporation"

    It sounds like The Protestant Episcopal Church is a loose association at best, at worst it is a "free association:"
    (From that unrecognized source Wikipedia),

    "In free-association, patients are asked to continually relate anything which comes into their minds, regardless of how superficially unimportant or potentially embarrassing the memory threatens to be. This technique assumes that all memories are arranged in a single associative network, and that sooner or later the subject will stumble across the crucial memory."