by the Rev Canon Dr C K Robertson, honorary canon of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen
Robert Kilgour, Arthur Petrie, and John Skinner could not possibly have foreseen the far-reaching effects of their actions on that fateful November day in 1784. As they lay hands on Samuel Seabury, how could they have known that they were not only consecrating a new bishop for the American Church, but inaugurating a new era, one that eventually would result in a vast and diverse Communion, indeed the third largest group of Christians in the world.
Yet, standing in Aberdeen Cathedral over two* centuries later, I could not help but feel a deep sense of awe at the creative vision those bishops did exhibit in that crucial sacramental act, through which our two Churches’ histories have been forever intertwined. As I stood in that beautiful Cathedral, preparing to be installed as an Honorary Canon, I could not help but recall the ways in which my Church’s connection with our “mother Church” have been displayed.
First, and perhaps most obvious, is our name itself: The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America or, more simply, The Episcopal Church. With the successful end of our revolutionary war, it made little sense to continue to refer to ourselves as the Church of England. As the Preface in the first American Book of Common Prayer succinctly put it (with clear reference to the opening words of our Declaration of Independence), “When in the course of Divine Providence, these American States became independent with respect to civil government, their ecclesiastical independence was necessarily included.” What had previously been a collection of colonial congregations was now something new, with a new name rooted in the Church of Kilgour, Petrie, and Skinner.
I thought too of my Church’s familiar shield, which contains not only a St. George’s Cross, but also in the upper left hand corner nine small white crosses forming an X against a blue background. Those individual crosses represent the initial nine dioceses of The Episcopal Church in the United States and together form the St. Andrew’s Cross, an ongoing reminder to all the members of my Church of our spiritual and ecclesiastical parentage.
And as noted during a symposium on the day after the installation service, we experience the connection between our two Churches in every Eucharistic service. The epiclesis—the invocation of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic Prayer—had been included in Thomas Cranmer’s first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, only to be replaced in the 1552 revision with a prayer for worthy reception of communion. Thus the epiclesis remained absent in future revisions in England. But the Scottish reformers restored the epiclesis, and the Episcopal Church in America agreed to include it in our liturgy, where it has remained.
But perhaps the greatest connection between our two Churches is in our common DNA. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in his sermon during the installation service, the spirit of independence, boldness, and persistence that has long been part of the Scottish Episcopal Church was certainly bequeathed to, and took root in, our Episcopal Church.
In all this, we have been akin to the Church in Antioch in the book of Acts, which took steps that resulted in something new and different from what had been experienced in Jerusalem—“it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’” (11:26)—while intentionally remaining connected to the Jerusalem Church. Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Longley understood this, as he resisted the urging of some to invite to the first Lambeth Conference of 1867 only those bishops who were part of the Church of England and its colonial Churches. Instead, Longley chose also to include bishops from our two Churches, thereby setting the stage for a worldwide Communion of Churches that are at once autonomous yet interconnected.
And though this Communion has been for much of its history akin to a wheel, with the spokes all linked to one another only through the hub and its official Instruments, in more recent years it has become something more like a web, through multiple unofficial and relational connections directly with one another. We certainly see this in the deepening relationship between our two Churches, strengthened through moments like the one in Aberdeen this past month.
And so, when asked at the reception following the installation service of my own feelings about being named Honorary Canon of Aberdeen Cathedral, my response is, I trust, obvious: I am both humbled and grateful to be a very small part of an ongoing series of bridge-building efforts between our two Episcopal Churches, and I look forward to future opportunities to enhance the historic, familial bond.
The Rev Canon Dr Chuck Robertson was installed as an honorary canon of St Andrew’s Cathedral in the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney on the 5th of November 2017. For more information see here: http://www.scotland.anglican.org/historic-bonds-communion-shared-visit-aberdeen-presiding-bishop-episcopal-church-tec/
When one considers the independence and forward-looking ethos of Catholic Anglicanism that exists in both the Scottish Episcopal Church and The Episcopal Church in North America, one needs to take into account the fact of the circumstances of their basic alliance.
After the American War of Independence, over 200 years ago, understandably, perhaps, the Church of England was not ready to consecrate bishops to serve in a country which no longer accepted rule from England. And so it came about that the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) – already independent of the Church of England – was called upon to arrange the episcopal ordination (consecration) of the first Bishop of the newly independent Protestant Episcopal Church in North America – or of the United States of America (PECUSA) – as it later became known – a title now shortened to TEC, with branch Churches in other countries.
Bishop Samuel Seabury, the very first Bishop in PECUSA (TEC) was careful, with the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC), to maintain the Catholic Tradition of including the ‘Epiclesis’ – the Invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the Elements of bread and wine – at the Eucharistic Celebration. This specific sacramental action, though included in Bishop Thomas Cranmer’s first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, was replaced in the 1552 revision with a prayer for worthy reception of communion. The epiclesis remained absent in future revisions in England. But the Scottish reformers restored the epiclesis, and the Episcopal Church in America agreed to include it in its liturgy, where it has remained.
Along with this sacramental connection with the ancient Churches of both West and East, there was also a continuing tendency towards independence of governance on the part of both SEC and PECUSA (now TEC) which, however, was partially halted by Archbishop of Canterbury ++Thomas Longley who invited both the Scottish and the American Church Leaders to the first Lambeth Conference of 1867. At this time the Anglican Communion of Churches came into being.
The spirit of independence from the Church of England, however, has recently been evidenced in the decision of both TEC and SEC to accept the legal concept of Equal Marriage for both heterosexual and homosexual couples; a principle that Anglican Church in other countries – including the Church of England – have yet to embrace.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand