Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

From Calvinism to Anglicanism: The Spiritual Journey of Cornelius Roosevelt Duffie, First Rector of Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

From Calvinism to Anglicanism: The Spiritual Journey of Cornelius Roosevelt Duffie, First Rector of Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue

Article excerpt

In the summer 2010 edition of the Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue Rector's Chronicle, an intriguing note was placed under the title Causa Finita Est . The significant section of this newsletter focused on the efforts of Father Andrew Mead, the parish's vestry, and the Duffie family to remove the remains of Cornelius Roosevelt Duffie (1789-1827), first rector of Saint Thomas Church, along with his wife and son, from their family vault in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn. The initial goal was to translate their remains into the sanctuary of the current church at Fifth Avenue and Fiftythird Street, in response to an "ancient obligation" of a previous generation.2 This effort by the three parties was undertaken on 22 June 2010, when it was subsequently determined that the proper remains could not be identified; meaning, therefore, the bodies could not be translated into the current church. In lieu of the actual remains, a collection of earth from the vault was presented to Saint Thomas with the intent that this gift was to be set underneath the floor in front of the high altar. Immediately above, a memorial to the rector and his family was placed, providing a certain level of satisfaction regarding the original desire to reconnect the remains of Duffie and his family with the parish.3

As Mead noted in the Chronicle, this concerted effort to move these family remains began back in 1967.4 The strong desire to complete this aspiration of both parish and family was due to the fact mat Cornelius Duffie, along with the wife and eldest son who predeceased him, had been buried beneath the chancel of the original Saint Thomas Church, located at the corner of Broadway and Houston Street. When the original church property was sold in 1865 so that Saint Thomas' could move uptown to its current location, the remains were transferred to the cemetery in Brooklyn. Since that time, there have been very few reminders around the parish regarding Duffie, save for a portrait that hangs in the dining room of the parish house. After a wait of more than one hundred and fifty years, however, Saint Thomas' has finally been able to provide an appropriate visible reminder of its first rector within the sanctuary.

In commemoration of this event, I decided to undertake an investigation of the life and ministry of my parish's first rector, especially in regards to a number of his sermons along with a biographical "Memoir" that were published posthumously.6 These writings and recollections detail the story and beliefs of a remarkable young man who, like many today, made the transition from a secular vocation into the ministry of the Episcopal Church. What is peculiar about this journey, however, is not only his career transition, but also the theological transition - for Duffie did not come from an Anglican/Episcopal background. Rather, his lineage came out of a distinctly Reformed tradition that continued in the family's connection with the Particular (or Calvinist) Baptist church of New York. Although he had moved away from the Particular, or Regular Baptist doctrines of his childhood towards Arminian beliefs that conformed to the Anglican and high church principles championed in the diocese of New York during the early nineteenth century, he retained an evangelical fervor in presenting those eternal truths that he felt called to preach. In particular, his sermons that survive reveal much insight into his earlier Calvinist background and his later Anglican theology.

In 2001, the eminent church historian J. Robert Wright wrote what many regard as the definitive history of the parish that provides current parishioners and church historians with a fascinating snapshot of the first years of Saint Thomas Church. The city of New York was notably different in the 1820s from its appearance today. There were nearly 150,000 people, making it the largest city in the United States (as a point of comparison, Terre Haute, Indiana had approximately the same population in 2000 ). …

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