History of The Episcopal Church

History: Timeline

1517: Martin Luther publishes 95 Theses, sparking the Protestant Reformation.

1521: Pope designates Henry VIII “Defender of the Faith.” English monarchs to this day retain the title.

1529-36: Henry VIII and Parliament take over the administration of the Church in England. Destruction of monasteries ensues.

1547: Henry dies. He is succeeded by Edward VI, with Edward’s uncle as Lord Protector.

1553: Edward VI dies at age 16. Mary becomes Queen, restores Roman Catholicism, and burns Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley at the stake. She marries Philip II, the Roman Catholic monarch of Spain.

1558: Elizabeth I becomes Queen upon Mary’s death and re-establishes the Church of England, with the English monarch as its highest earthly authority.

1579: The first English-language Communion service is held in the Western Hemisphere (California) by Sir Francis Drake’s chaplain.

1603: Elizabeth I dies at age 70; James I, of Scotland becomes king and authorizes a new translation of the Bible.

1607: The Church of England is established in the first permanent English-speaking settlement in the New World, Jamestown, Virginia. The Church of England is then also established in other mid-Atlantic and southern colonies.

1620: Pilgrims (Puritan religious refugees) land at Plymouth Rock.

1636: Harvard College is founded to train Congregational (Puritan) clergy.

1645: The Book of Common Prayer is outlawed by Puritan-controlled Parliament.

1649: King Charles I is executed in a revolution led by Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell, who became Lord Protector in 1653.

1658: Oliver Cromwell dies, and is succeeded by son Richard.

1660: Richard Cromwell is overthrown, and Charles II becomes king.

1693: The College of William & Mary (Williamsburg, Virginia) is started by the Church of England.

1699: The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) is founded.

1701: Yale College is founded to educate Congregational clergy.

1701: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts is founded.

1607-1785: The Church of England in the New World is overseen by the Bishop of London. The vestry system develops. Clergy are paid from taxes. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson serve on vestries.

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1776: The Declaration of Independence is signed. Most Anglican clergy, who have sworn loyalty to the King in their ordinations, stay loyal.

1783: The Treaty of Paris ends the Revolutionary War.

1784: Samuel Seabury of Connecticut is consecrated the first overseas Anglican bishop by Scottish non-juring bishops, after being elected in Connecticut and rejected by Church of England bishops, who, legally, could not ordain him. Seabury promised to use the Scottish 1764 Communion service, based on the Eastern Orthodox service.

1785: The First General Convention of Episcopal Church is held, with clergy and lay representatives from Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia. The General Convention authorizes the preparation of an American Prayer Book and names itself the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

1787: Samuel Provoost of New York and William White of Philadelphia are consecrated bishops by the Church of England. Seabury’s Scottish consecration helped motivate Parliament and the Church of England to do this. Both continue to be rectors. The second General Convention adopts basically the present Episcopal Church structure. A Revised Book of Common Prayer, prepared by White, is adopted; this version of the Book of Common Prayer is based on the 1662 Prayer Book with the exception of the 1764 Scottish Communion Service.

1789: William White becomes the first Presiding Bishop by virtue of a geographical rotation.

1795: William White becomes the first Presiding Bishop by virtue of seniority and served in that position for over 40 years.

1804: Absalom Jones is ordained the first black priest in The Episcopal Church.

The early 1800s: Bishop Provoost of New York secures for New York a fair share of the inheritance left by Queen Anne (d. 1714). Methodism gains strength in England and the United States.

1817: General Convention authorizes the founding of the General Theological Seminary in New York City.

1823: The Diocese of Virginia establishes a second Episcopal seminary, Virginia Theological Seminary, in Alexandria.

1833: The Oxford Movement (Anglo-Catholic) begins in England. In the following decades, many new Religious Orders (i.e., monastic communities) were formed.

1839: The Diocese of Virginia establishes the first high school in Virginia, Episcopal High School (adjacent to Virginia Theological Seminary).

1861-65: During the American Civil War, Southern Episcopal dioceses join the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Confederate States of America, but are welcomed back after the war ends. Other denominations experience long term (100+ years) splits.

1873: Evangelical, “low church”-oriented Reformed Episcopal Church is founded.

1885: The House of Bishops adopts the Chicago Quadrilateral. General Convention approves the Quadrilateral in 1886.

1919: The National Council (now the Executive Council) is established by General Convention. The Office of the Presiding Bishop is established to oversee national church programs.

1928: The revised Book of Common Prayer includes language updates and a new translation of Psalms. “Love, honor, and obey” is dropped from the bride’s vows in the service of Holy Matrimony.

1929: John Gardner Murray becomes the first Presiding Bishop elected to the office. Previous Presiding Bishops served by virtue of seniority in the House of Bishops and initially on a geographical rotation.

1944: Henry St. George Tucker becomes The Episcopal Church’s first Presiding Bishop having such duties on a full-time basis, resigning his diocesan jurisdiction.

1961: John Hines of Texas is elected Presiding Bishop. Strong social justice commitments elicit a negative reaction from conservatives.

1970: The first authorized women members join the House of Deputies.

1973: John Allin of Mississippi is elected Presiding Bishop for a 12-year term.

1974: The first eleven women are ordained to the priesthood in an “irregular” service in Philadelphia.

1976: General Convention approves the ordination of women, and “regularizes” 1974-75 ordinations. First reading on new Prayer Book.

1977: Pauli Murray was ordained the first African American woman priest.

1985: Edmond Browning of Hawaii is elected Presiding Bishop for a 12-year term.

1997: Frank Griswold of Chicago is elected Presiding Bishop for a 9-year term.

2000: General Convention approves “Called to Common Mission,” a revised version of the Lutheran Concordat, establishing full communion between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The Episcopal Church, effective January 1, 2001.

2003: General Convention approves the Diocese of New Hampshire’s election of the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest in a long-term committed relationship, as Bishop Coadjutor.

2006: Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada is elected the 26th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church for a 9-year term. She is the first and only woman to be a churchwide leader in the Anglican Communion. 

2009: General Convention charges the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to develop theological and liturgical resources for same-sex blessings and report back to the General Convention in 2012.

2015: The Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry was installed as the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church on November 1, 2015.

History of The Episcopal Church

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