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The American Church Dictionary and Cycopedia

American Church, the

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The name, and one that is growing in popularity, that is generally given to the body legally known as "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America."

The term "American Church" is descriptive of "The Holy Catholic Church" having this land and people as the field of its operations. When our Lord commanded His Apostles to go forth and make disciples of all nations, and they went forth to carry out this command, they gave to every nation to which they came the Church in its completeness with powers of perpetuity. To every nation were given the Christian Faith, the Apostolic Ministry, the Sacraments and the Christian Worship or Liturgy. Hence there sprung up national Churches, all equal and having union with one another in these four essentials of Christian Truth and Order. The Episcopal Church in the United States by reason of its origin, history and character is to be regarded as one of these national churches and the name which is to embody this idea will no doubt be found and set forth by the proper ecclesiastical authority in due time. It is difficult to say just how the name "Protestant Episcopal" came into use, but it has always been a hindrance to our growth because it requires so much to be said in explanation, which is always a disadvantage. Meantime the name "American Church" is coming more and more into general use, as it is clear, definite and historic, following the analogy of the naming of the ancient national churches.

The Episcopal Church in the United States is the daughter of the ancient, historic. Catholic and Apostolic Church of England, is partaker of the same life and the inheritor with the mother Church of the same worship, rites, customs, doctrines and traditions, and, therefore, its position, likewise, is ancient and historic, Catholic and Apostolic. (See ANGLICAN CHURCH, also ANGLICAN COMMUNION).

The history of the Church in America covers a period of more than three hundred years, and its first beginnings on these shores are full of interest. We refer to a few of them. From an old chronicle it is learned that in the year 1578, on the shores of Frobisher's Straits, "Master Walfall celebrated a Communion upon land, at the partaking whereof were the Captain and many others with him. The celebration of the Divine Mystery was the first signs, seals and confirmation of Christ's Passion and Death ever known in these quarters."

It is a remarkable and interesting fact that the Book of Common Prayer was first used in the territory now covered by the United States, not on the Atlantic coast as one would naturally suppose, but on the Pacific coast, on the shores of Drake's Bay, California. This took place on St. John Baptist's Day, June 24th, 1579, the officiating minister having been the Rev. Francis Fletcher, chaplain to Francis Drake. The place where this service was held has been marked by a handsome cross, known as the "Prayer Book Cross," erected by Bishop Nichols through the munificence of the late Geo. W. Childs, of Philadelphia.

In the course of time, settlements were made along the Atlantic coast and evidence is given of the Church's services being held at very early dates. In A.D. 1607, the first permanent settlement was effected in Virginia. In May of that year, under the Rev. Robert Hunt, a Priest of the Church of England, services began to be held regularly and a church building was erected at Jamestown. This was thirteen years before the "Pilgrim Fathers" landed on Plymouth Rock. The Church was planted in all the colonies and included a greater portion of the population. But in time other religious bodies were also established and as these organizations had everything necessary for their growth and development they grew and prospered. With the Church it was far different. For more than one hundred and fifty years it existed on these shores an Episcopal Church without an Episcopate. There could be no confirmations and no ordinations to the ministry unless candidates were willing to take the long and perilous voyage to England. The result was the supply of clergy fell off, and children, although baptized, yet because they could not be confirmed, finally wandered away to other folds.

Repeated efforts were made to secure the consecration of a Bishop for the Church in America, but owing to political and ecclesiastical complications this was not possible until after the Revolutionary War. In A.D. 1784, on November 14th, the Rev. Samuel Seabury, D.D., was consecrated in Aberdeen, Scotland, by the Scottish Bishops, for the Church in Connecticut and as the first Bishop in America. On February 4th, 1787, the Rev. William White, D.D., of Pennsylvania, and the Rev. Samuel Provoost, D.D., of New York, were consecrated Bishops by the two Archbishops of the Church of England and the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and Peterborough, in Lambeth Palace, London. A few years later, viz., on September 19th, 1790, the Rev. James Madison, D.D., of Virginia, was consecrated in England by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Rochester. By the consecration of these four Bishops abroad the American Church secured the Episcopate from the ancient and Apostolic sources, and thus gained the power of perpetuating itself. The significance of this may be seen when we reflect that the ancient canons of the Church require that not less than three Bishops shall unite in the consecration of a Bishop. This enactment is designed to provide against any possible defect in the succession of any one of the consecrating Bishops. We thus see how careful the Church has always been in conferring this great office, and how particular the American Church was to meet every ecclesiastical requirement according to the ancient order and traditions.

It may be interesting to note that the first Bishop consecrated on
American soil was the Rt. Rev. Thomas John Claggett, the first
Bishop of Maryland, in whose consecration all four of the American
Bishops united. This took place in Trinity Church, New York,
September 17th, 1792. From that time to the present, the American
Episcopate has increased greatly by reason of the growing needs of
the Church in this rapidly developing country. More than two hundred
Bishops have been consecrated for the work of the Church in the
United States and for its missions in the foreign field.

The growth of the Church itself, likewise, has been remarkable when we consider the disadvantages under which it labored in those early days and the bitter prejudice against it which even yet is not wholly done away. To-day there is not a State or a Territory which is not under the pastoral care of a Bishop, many of the states having several Dioceses each with its Bishop at its head. The quiet, persistent loyalty to the Truth "as this Church hath received the same," the reasonable terms of admission to her fold, the missionary zeal and enterprise, the practical work enlisting so largely the labors and cooperation of the laity, the far-reaching influence on the religious thought of the day, the proposal of the terms for Christian Unity, the multiplying of services and the more frequent communions, all manifest her inner and outward growth and demonstrate the reality and high purpose of her Mission to this land and nation. (See GROWTH OF THE CHURCH.)

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Bibliography Information
Miller, William James. Entry for 'American Church, the'. The American Church Dictionary and Cyclopedia. 1901.

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