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Hooray for the Scottish Episcopal Church!

Hooray for the Scottish Episcopal Church!

Because the Scots said “yes” the Episcopal Church in the USA got our first bishop, Samuel Seabury. And through the Scots, our Church is set abalze whenever we invoke the Holy Spirit.

Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow sends a love note to his American cousins:

Two hundred and twenty five years ago today, something special happened in Aberdeen.

Two hundred and twenty five years ago today, Anglicanism in the USA was set ablaze with the consecration of the Rt Rev Samuel Seabury, their first bishop.

The fact that the consecration took place in Aberdeen is one of those quirks of church history which has shaped, and continues to shape the church of today.

The short version of the story is that the American church needed to have a bishop and elected one of their own and sent him across the Atlantic to be consecrated by the Church of England. The Church of England in its turn was having none of it, frightened off appearing to offer support to revolutionary tendencies in the United States. Frightened of promoting revolution.

Seabury had come a long way to be made a bishop and needed to look elsewhere. He had previously studied medicine in Edinburgh and perhaps we can presume that his thoughts turned back to Scotland because he had previously been north of the border. He made the the trip up to Aberdeen where he was consecrated by Robert Kilgour of Aberdeen (who was the Primus), along with two other Scottish bishops, Arthur Petrie (who had connections with my own congregation here in Glasgow) and John Skinner.

The deal was that they would consecrate Seabury so long as he took back the Scottish Liturgy to the American church and work for it to be adopted on the other side of the Atlantic. When you are in the know about matters liturgical, you can still see the similarities between the liturgies from our two churches.

The particular thing that the Scottish Rite had was the Epiclesis a prayer invoking the holy spirit over the communion elements. The Church of England didn’t have it thought they’ve come close to adopting it since. Here in Scotland, that prayer is part of who we are and was part of our gift to America. Any true Episcopalian on either side of the Atlantic knows that the Scottish Episcopalians didn’t just hold up their hands to consecrate a bishop, but blessed the American church with something else that was holy too. And along the way, of course, we helped to kick what was to become the Anglican Communion into being. One sometimes feels that the C of E has never entirely caught up with the implications of that in the years since.

Today, on this anniversary, I want to celebrate the US Based Episcopal Church. I wish they hadn’t tried to change their name to The Episcopal Church a few years ago, as it is downright confusing, but they’ve done so much good that I try to forget about that as much as I can.

In the various disputes within the Anglican Communion in modern times, we must never forget that the Scottish Episcopal Church was the Church that liked to say, “Yes”.

May it ever be so.

The US church received the Epiclesis from Scotland.

They’ve been using it well ever since.

God Bless America and God Bless the US-based Episcopal Church today.


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Geoffrey McLarney

“Episcopal Church of Scotland” is usually found in older documents, but it isn’t wrong. On the other hand, I did once hear an intercessor at a former parish of mine say, in a moment of Anglican parochial naïveté, “In the Anglican Cycle of Prayer, we pray for the Church of Scotland”!


From my book “Stars in a Dark World”:

In England Seabury first visited the Rt. Rev. Robert Lowth, Bishop of London, who was supportive, but unwilling to take a lead. The Archbishops of York and Canterbury were no more help – especially since a formal Act of Parliament would be required in order to omit the vow of allegiance to the king from the consecration service in the Book of Common Prayer. Even a visit to the former Prime Minister was worse than a waste of time, because Lord North apparently lost – or discarded – the copies of Seabury’s testimonial letters, which he had to have replaced. He wrote that if progress were not made soon, “I shall be at my wit’s end. This is certainly the worst country in the world to do business in.”

[A curious and little-known fact is that John Adams, then ambassador of the U.S. to England (and later President), had made private contacts with officials of the Lutheran Church of Denmark who agreed to consecrate Seabury if he were unsuccessful in seeking consecration in the Church of England. Seabury consulted both the Rev. Dr. Martin Routh (soon to be President of Magdalen College, Oxford and later a close friend of Newman’s) and Bishop Lowth and they warned Seabury that the Danish succession was “unsound”. Bishop William Cartwright, a British non-juring bishop offered his services, but as a non-juror he was then “irregular” in the Church of England and that fact could have cast doubt on the consecration. Routh strongly recommended the “unimpeachable claims of the Scottish episcopate”, and Seabury was convinced.]

After thirteen months of disappointment, and based on the recommendations of Routh and Lowth, Seabury wrote to the Connecticut clergy asking permission to apply to the bishops of the Episcopal Church in Scotland (which since 1725 had been independent from the Church of England). The Connecticut clergy readily agreed, and a year-and-a-half after leaving America, Seabury arrived in Aberdeen.

The Church in Scotland was very like the Church in Connecticut — they were both small, both had suffered at the hands of the dominant and established religious bodies (Presbyterian in Scotland, Congregational in Connecticut), and both shared a similar high church theology. The Scottish bishops received Seabury well, honored his credentials, and after a few days (on November 14, 1784) Bishops Robert Kilgour, John Skinner, and Arthur Petrie gathered in a room in Skinner’s house (since Scottish Episcopalians were not allowed to have church buildings), and after morning prayers and a sermon by Bishop Skinner, the consecration took place — the first time in history an Anglican bishop was legitimately consecrated for service on foreign soil!”

Michael Hartney

The tablet commemorating this blessed event is no longer in a car park at the University. It is now installed on the wall of the courtyard of the University, just inside the front entryway. I was there in October and saw it myself (and of course took a picture). It was a moment of quiet reflection to consider that my Holy Orders were descended from Samuel Seabury consecrated in that place.

Ann Fontaine

Here’s the important part of this to me:

“The particular thing that the Scottish Rite had was the Epiclesis a prayer invoking the holy spirit over the communion elements. The Church of England didn’t have it thought they’ve come close to adopting it since. Here in Scotland, that prayer is part of who we are and was part of our gift to America.”

Thank you Thank you. That point in the Eucharist is the most important for me as a priest – I feel like I am standing in the center of time — all before and all after flowing through those of us gathered at that moment.

Paul Woodrum

When Coleridge was consecrated Bishop of Connecticut, Presiding Bishop Browning was puzzled by the presence of the Bishop of Aberdeen. He had to be reminded that without Aberdeen, he might not be.

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