As we prepare for our Annual Meeting this Sunday it is helpful to look back at the history of the Episcopal Church and give thanks for the institution it is today. Some of us have been enjoying studying this history in recent Adult Education classes. I certainly found it helpful in realizing the distinctiveness of the Episcopal Church within the family of churches which make up the Anglican Communion. All have much in common including the Bible, Sacraments, Creeds and the threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons. But the Episcopal Church has a number of distinctive attributes which are worth noting. First of all, following the Revolution in 1776 what was left of the Church of England quickly reformed into an independent church free from any legal ties with England. Secondly in 1783 it was decided to call this church the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America: Protestant and not Roman Catholic; and Episcopal, that is governed by bishops. Although there had never been bishops in America prior to the Revolution (the American colonies came under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London), nevertheless all ordinations of deacons and priests had been carried out in England by English bishops. After the Revolution, there was no desire to lose that dimension of the Anglican tradition. So, the first candidates for priesthood from Maryland after the Revolution were sent to England for ordination (where they waited for 2 years for the English Parliament to pass enabling legislation). Likewise, when the General Convention of 1785 elected William White of Philadelphia and Samuel Provoost of New York as bishops they were also sent to England where they were consecrated bishops (following further enabling legislation). The exception was Samuel Seabury who was elected by a small group of Connecticut clergy and headed to England before the said legislation was passed and eventually was consecrated by the Scottish bishops. That is another story! The third distinctive attribute of the Episcopal Church was its more democratic governance which was in accord with the ideals of the Revolution. So, from the very outset it was decided to have state (dioceses were based on state boundaries) and national conventions made up of clergy and laity which for its time was quite radical. The General Convention finished up having two Houses: the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies (clerical and lay deputies elected by dioceses) rather like Congress. This principle of representation is reflected in both diocesan and parish government. So, our parish is governed by an elected vestry who with the Rector oversee the finances and property of the parish.
As we meet this coming Sunday give thanks for the democratic make-up of our church and exercise your right to participate by attending and voting. This is an exciting time for the parish as the vestry will soon elect a new Rector to lead the parish. Pray for those you elect that they may make exercise their choice wisely and well.