Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Bishop Charles Inglis and Bishop Samuel Seabury: High Churchmanship in Varying New World Contexts

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Bishop Charles Inglis and Bishop Samuel Seabury: High Churchmanship in Varying New World Contexts

Article excerpt

In the years immediately following the American Revolution, the proponents of New England high churchmanship finally realized their vision of episcopacy in the New World. After fruitless decades of lobbying English authorities, primitive episcopacy arrived in both Connecticut and Nova Scotia. Samuel Seabury exalted in his "free, valid and purely ecclesiastical episcopacy"1 uncorrupted by any connection to the secular power. For his part, Charles Inglis rejoiced in his position devoid of the trappings of prelacy-despite being the bishop of the established church, Inglis was without mitre, the title of "Lord bishop" or the typically English executive political appointment.2 While much has been written on how both men became the first bishops of their respective churches, little has been written comparing their episcopacies. In examining and comparing key aspects of their episcopal careers this paper seeks to address this deficiency. Such a study should be especially enlightening given the commonality of their backgrounds. As former New England SPG missionaries, Inglis and Seabury shared a common high church view of primitive episcopacy and had been colleagues in advocating for both a colonial episcopacy and a reformed constitutional relationship between the British Parliament and her North American colonies. Although Inglis and Seabury exercised their offices in distinct environments, their arrival posited episcopacy in virgin territory. Their ministries were ones of planting and exercising the episcopal office in places where it had not previously existed. An examination of their distinct responses to the challenges encountered will aid in shedding light on the seminal development of their national churches.

GEOGRAPHY AND JURISDICTION

After passing through Nova Scotia and visiting New Brunswick, Bishop Samuel Seabury arrived at Newport Rhode Island on 20 June 1785. Based in his parish of New London, Seabury would function as bishop of Connecticut until his death in February 1796. Seabury's area of responsibility increased when, in 1790, the several parishes of Rhode Island placed themselves under his superintendence.3 Compared to Seabury's diocese, Charles Inglis's charge was vast. Called the Bishop of Nova Scotia, his original Letters Patent gave him charge of mainland Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island. A subsequent patent placed Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Canada, (present day Quebec and southern Ontario) under Inglis's jurisdiction. Although Inglis never visited Newfoundland, he did travel to all other areas of his enormous jurisdiction. Except for special trips to New York or Philadelphia, Seabury rarely ventured outside the borders of his diocese.

Regardless of the extent of their travels, both Seabury and Inglis faced the serious and daunting task of exercising their episcopal orders in uncharted territory. On the surface, one would think that Seabury would have had an easy time. Did he not embody what had been sought by his church in the Thirteen Colonies for decades, namely, a bishop of the Church of England? Once in his diocese, however, matters were not so straightforward. Seabury did ordain candidates from well beyond the boundaries of his Connecticut and Rhode Island diocese, administrating 30.4 percent of the 161 ordinations in the Episcopal Church during his eleven years,4 but not everyone was comfortable receiving orders at his hands. Almost two years after Seabury's return, America's next two episcopal bishops, William White of Philadelphia and Samuel Provoost of New York, ordained twenty candidates immediately after their return from England. Bruce Steiner is surely correct in assessing this as a clear indication of unease with Seabury's Scottish orders. There were several possible causes of the discomfort. It could have been theologically founded on doubts regarding the validity of his episcopal orders; it may have reflected uncomfortableness at his pronounced high churchmanship, or it may have been a simple matter of political bias against a noted former Tory. …

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