A brief history of the Episcopal Church

The beginnings of the Church of England, from which The Episcopal Church derives, date to at least the second century, when merchants and other travelers first brought Christianity to England. It is customary to regard St. Augustine of Canterbury’s mission to England in 597 as marking the formal beginning of the church under papal authority, as it was to be throughout the Middle Ages.

In its modern form, the church dates from the English Reformation of the 16th century, when royal supremacy was established and the authority of the papacy was repudiated. With the advent of British colonization, the Church of England was established on every continent. In time, these churches gained their independence, but retained connections with the mother church in the Anglican Communion.

In 1789, after the American Revolution, an assembly met in Philadelphia to unify all Anglicans in the United States into a single national church. A constitution was adopted along with a set of canonical laws, and the English Book of Common Prayer of 1662 was revised, principally by removing the prayer for the English monarch. Samuel Seabury was ordained in Scotland as the first American bishop.

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Martin Luther

1517: Martin Luther publishes 95 Theses, sparking the Protestant Reformation.

1521: Pope designates Henry VIII “Defender of the Faith.” English monarchs to this day retain the title.

1529-36: Henry VIII and Parliament take over the administration of the Church in England.

1549 Book of Common Prayer

1549: The first Book of Common Prayer is approved, with Thomas Cranmer as principal author.

1553: Mary becomes Queen, restores Roman Catholicism, and burns Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley at the stake.

Henry VIII

1558: Elizabeth I becomes Queen upon Mary’s death and re-establishes the Church of England, with the English monarch as its highest earthly authority.

1559: The third Book of Common Prayer is approved. Puritans protest.

1563: The Thirty-Nine Articles are prepared; they are approved by Parliament in 1571.

1579: The first English-language Communion service is held in the Western Hemisphere (California) by Sir Francis Drake’s chaplain.

1603: Elizabeth I dies at age 70; James I, of Scotland becomes king and authorizes a new translation of the Bible.

Jamestown settlement

1607: The Church of England is established in the first permanent English-speaking settlement in the New World, Jamestown, Virginia.

1611: King James Version of the Bible is published.

1620: Pilgrims (Puritan religious refugees) land at Plymouth Rock.

1662: The fourth Book of Common Prayer is approved, which is still in use by the Church of England.

1607-1785: The Church of England in New World is overseen by the Bishop of London. The vestry system develops. Clergy are paid from taxes. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson serve on vestries.

1776: The Declaration of Independence is signed. Most Anglican clergy, who have sworn loyalty to the King in their ordinations, stay loyal.

1783: The Treaty of Paris ends the Revolutionary War.

1784: Samuel Seabury of Connecticut is consecrated the first overseas Anglican bishop by Scottish non-juring bishops, after being elected in Connecticut and rejected by Church of England bishops, who, legally, could not ordain him. Seabury promised to use the Scottish 1764 Communion service, based on the Eastern Orthodox service.

1785: The First General Convention of the Episcopal Church is held, with clergy and lay representatives from Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia. The General Convention authorizes the preparation of an American Prayer Book and names itself the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

1786: The proposed American Book of Common Prayer is approved for use on a state-by-state basis.

Samuel Seabury

1787: Samuel Provoost of New York and William White of Philadelphia are consecrated bishops by the Church of England. The second General Convention adopts basically the present Episcopal Church structure. A revised Book of Common Prayer, prepared by White, is adopted; this version of the Book of Common Prayer is based on the 1662 Prayer Book with the exception of the 1764 Scottish Communion Service.

1804: Absalom Jones is ordained the first black priest in the Episcopal Church.

1833: The Oxford Movement (Anglo-Catholic) begins in England. In the following decades, many new Religious Orders (i.e., monastic communities) were formed.

Absalom Jones

1861-65: During the American Civil War, Southern Episcopal dioceses join the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Confederate States of America, but are welcomed back after war ends. Other denominations experience long term (100+ years) splits.

1885: The House of Bishops adopts the Chicago Quadrilateral. General Convention approves the Quadrilateral in 1886.

1888: The Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops adopts the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.

1919: The National Council (now the Executive Council) is established by General Convention. The Office of the Presiding Bishop is established to oversee national church programs.

1928 Book of Common Prayer

1928: The revised Book of Common Prayer includes language updates and a new translation of Psalms. “Love, honor, and obey” is dropped from the bride’s vows in the service of Holy Matrimony.

1940: A new Hymnal is approved.

1944: Henry St. George Tucker becomes the Episcopal Church’s first full-time Presiding Bishop.

1970: The first authorized women members join the House of Deputies.

1974: The first eleven women are ordained to priesthood in an “irregular” service in Philadelphia.

1976: General Convention approves the ordination of women, and “regularizes” 1974-75 ordinations. First reading on new Prayer Book.

1979: Second reading approves new (present) Book of Common Prayer.

1982 Hymnal

1982: A new Hymnal is approved.

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry

1989: Barbara Harris is consecrated the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion.

2006: Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada is elected the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church for a 9-year term. She is the first and only woman to be a church wide leader in the Anglican Communion.

2012: The Episcopal Church approves the trial use of an official liturgy to bless same-sex couples and their unions.

2015: The Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry was installed as the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church on November 1, 2015.

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Source: “History of the Episcopal Church,” Copyright 1999, Diocese of Oregon. www.episcopalchurch.org/page/history-episcopal-church

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