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… in the United States of America

July 4, 2013

LOC_vc006415IN 1782, the Revd William White, rector of Christ Church and St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia, chaplain to the Continental Congress, and future Bishop of Pennsylvania, authored a pamphlet on the need for organizing the then-adrift Church of England parishes in the United States into a unified, autonomous church. Most of his suggestions for the organization of the church polity were subsequently adopted by the first General Convention, held at Philadelphia in 1785.

In the excerpt below, the eloquent and forceful White argues convincingly not only for the continuation of Common Prayer in the American church, but also for the duty of all thinking Anglicans to secure for themselves and their posterity the “rational and scriptural” worship that is their common heritage, both in the Old World and in the New. On this Fourth of July, we commend his argument.

As for those who are convinced that the ‘United States,’ have risen to an independent rank among the nations, or who even think that such may probably be the event of the war, they are loudly called on to adopt measures for the continuance of their churches, as they regard the public worship of God, the foundation of which is immutable; as they esteem the benefit of the sacraments, which were instituted by the supreme bishop of the church; and as they are bound to obey the scriptures, which enjoin us ‘not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.’

More especially is this their duty, if they entertain a peculiar preference for the principles and worship of their own communion, from a persuasion of their superior excellence. That the church of England is a creature of the state, an engine of civil policy, and no otherwise to be maintained than by human laws, has been said by some, as a reason for their dissenting from her. If the same prejudice has been with others a reason for conformity, it is to be hoped they are comparatively few, and that the great majority of episcopalians, believing that their faith and worship are rational and scriptural, have no doubt of their being supported, independent of state establishments; nay, it is presumed there are many, who, while they sincerely love their fellow christians of every denomination, knowing (as one of their prayers expresses) that the ‘body of Christ’ comprehends ‘the blessed company of all faithful people,’ are more especially attached to their own mode of worship, perhaps from education, but as they conceive, from its being most agreeable to reason and scripture, and its most nearly resembling the pattern of the purest ages of the church. On the consciences of such, above all others, may be pressed the obligation of adopting speedy and decisive measures, to prevent their being scattered ‘like sheep without a shepherd,’ and to continue the use of that form of divine service, which they believe to be ‘worshipping the Lord in the beauty of holiness.’1

William White, by Gilbert Stuart, 1795.

William White, by Gilbert Stuart, 1795.

1. William White, The Case of the Episcopal Churches in the United States Considered (Philadelphia: Printed by David C. Claypoole, 1782), 34-35.

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