Clerical Authority and the Great Awakening in the Middle Colonies
Patricia U. Bonomi
The Great Awakening in the mid- eighteenth-century American colonies has been studied from many angles, but only recently has its effect on the professional development of the colonial clergy attracted interest. 1 To be sure, the influence of the Awakening was felt at every level of provincial life. Yet only the ministers experienced it as a crisis that immediately affected their careers and the institutions that nurtured them. One could argue, of course, that the ministers themselves provoked the crisis. That is, the revivalists' bold assaults on the body of the church -- on its governing structures, professional standards, and the authority of its elites -- as well as their insistence on discussing these matters publicly, turned a debate between ministers into a broad popular controversy. Since the revivalists began as a minority in every church, they sought to advance their religious ideology by forming alliances with the people. And because the Great Awakening occurred at a time of shifting values, it broadened into a popular movement that gave expression to a range of social and political as well as religious discontents. Still it started out in every case as a contest between clerical factions. Thus only those churches with a "professional" clergy and organized governing structure were split apart by the revival; 2 the newer German churches and the pietistic sects, having little structure to overturn, remained largely outside the conflict.
These events have usually been viewed from the perspective of New England Congregationalism. In this essay I wish to direct attention to less familiar territory -- to the middle colonies and the Presbyterian clergy. As the great influx of Ulster Irish after 1725 led to a rapid ex-