Anglican Church - American Education
The Anglican Church is the official Church of England. United by faith rather than by apostolic authority and generally not adherents of predestination, Anglicans believe in salvation through observance of moral and ethical guidelines outlined in a set of liturgies from the Book of Common Prayer. Compiled and authorized in 1549 during the reign of Edward VI (1537–1553), the Book of Common Prayer was subsequently revised through 1662.
In the American colonies Anglicans found a more hospitable welcome in the South than in Puritan-dominated New England. While Anglican services were prohibited until 1686 in Massachusetts, services began in Jamestown in 1607. By 1750 Anglicans had some three hundred parishes, making Anglicanism the most popular denomination behind Congregationalism. Distinct from the dissenting positions of Puritans and Pilgrims who emphasized a literal interpretation of scripture and divine law, Anglicans sought a middle way that more broadly interpreted the Bible. Emory Elliott explains that for Anglicans “God gave people the power of reason for applying Biblical precepts to matters of ethics and morals, which change over time.”
With the initiation of the evangelical movement known as the Great Awakening, beginning by some estimates in the late 1720s and continuing into the 1740s, the Church of England became more fully established in the American colonies. Anglican preacher Reverend George Whitefield (along with Calvinist minister Jonathan Edwards) introduced an emotionally charged style of preaching; these “fire and brimstone” sermons were intended to provoke listeners to public conversion. Placing emphasis upon an emotional rather than solely rational understanding of religion, the evangelical revivals inspired spiritual participation that, in turn, increased church membership.
During the American Revolution Anglican churches in America began revising the Book of Common Prayer to reflect a new relationship to British rule. On May 25, 1776, the Maryland Convention passed a resolution to omit “every Prayer and Petition for the King’s Majesty.” In Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, Christ Church met and decided to substitute prayers for the king with prayers for Congress “to execute Justice and to maintain Truth.” The Anglican Church, or the Anglican Communion as it became known, adapted to the changing politics of the new nation.
Archbishop of Canterbury John Tillotson’s (1630–1694) Sermons Preached on Several Occasions (London, 1671) and other writings, for example, were popular among early Americans, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and William Byrd. Another widely read Anglican writer was Richard Allestree (1619–1681), whose works include The Lively Oracles Given to Us: Or the Christians Birth-Right and Duty in the Custody and Use of the Holy Scripture (June 10, 1678) and The Ladies Calling (1673). Generally more conservative than the dissenting denominations, Anglicanism supported the classical scholarship and education typically associated with the privileged class. Not always overtly religious, literary works by Anglicans nevertheless reflect a more lyrically ornate, classically allusive style that differs significantly from the plain style of the Puritans. For example, Thomas Morton’s New English Canaan (1637) demonstrates the author’s command of Poetry, Promotional tract, satire, and history.
Colleges established by the Anglican Communion include The College of William and Mary (1693) and King’s College (1754; now Columbia University).
- Bonomi, Patricia U. Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.