Patriotism, loyalty to the crown, and Church/State relationships were huge issues for Anglicans during the American Revolution. As you can imagine, many Anglican priests were torn between their oath of loyalty to the King and Bishop, and their sense of pastoral care for their American congregations. The King and the Bishop demanded their loyalty to the British government, but their American brothers and sisters demanded independence.
After the war, Anglicans weren’t sure what to do. Are we still part of the Church of England? How can we swear loyalty to the crown (which was required in the Church of England), and yet still be American citizens? It was eventually worked out that the American church would be independent of the Crown, and yet still in communion with the Church of England. As you might expect, the English Bishops and Parliament didn’t agree. So some “non-juring” Bishops in Scotland eventually consecrated the first American bishops. Americans could now consecrate Anglican bishops without having to go to England, or gain the approval of Parliament.
This American Church, the Episcopal Church, was independent of the crown, and yet believed it was still in communion with the Church of England and other Anglicans. They called themselves the Episcopal Church because they had bishops (episcopal and bishop are related words), and they needed to avoid the word “England” and even “Anglican” so their American patriotism would not be suspect.
Eventually as English Colonies became independent nations, across Africa, Asia, and Australia, this became the norm. This is how the Anglican Communion of churches was born.
Today this Communion is fractured over many issues, but essentially it is divided between orthodox churches and progressive churches. That’s why we once again have an Anglican Church in North America. Since ‘Anglican’ is no longer associated with the British Crown (directly), those who identify with the orthodox group have mostly begun to use it again here in North America.
And that is the story of how American Independence actually helped create the Anglican Communion. Enjoy grilling brats and shooting fireworks to celebrate Independence, but shoot at least one firework in honor of Bishop Samuel Seabury, the first American Anglican bishop.
Photo: Public Domain
Greg is the founder of Anglican Compass (previously known as Anglican Pastor). He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.