Anglicanism is one of the largest branches of Christianity in the world and the largest Protestant communion. Its adherents number upwards of 85 million people worldwide. The roots of Anglicanism are in the Church of England, and its international footprint stems from the universal scope of the former British Empire. Anglicanism has existed in America since English settlers landed in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. America’s original 13 Colonies were subsequently heavily populated with Anglicans and especially so in the middle and southern colonies. About two-thirds of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Anglicans. Notable American Anglicans include: George and Martha Washington, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Gerald and Betty Ford, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, Olivia de Havilland, T.S. Eliot, Duke Ellington, and Jan Karon. Other famous Anglicans include: Thomas Cranmer, Elizabeth I, Richard Hooker, John Donne, George Herbert, George Whitefield, John Newton, William Wilberforce, Jane Austen, William Wordsworth, William Butler Yeats, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, J. I. Packer, J.R.W. Stott, P.D. James, and J.K. Rowling.
The Church of England
While English Christianity has roots in the fifth century and beyond, the Church of England as an institution was the result of the transformation of the church in England by the ideas and ideals of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. Striking a “middle way” between the divergent factions of the day, the English church adopted the central Protestant principles of the normative authority of Holy Scripture, justification by faith alone, and the priesthood of all believers, while retaining the liturgies and church organization of its ancient past. So, for example, the Church of England places a high priority on the public reading of the Scriptures and it is governed by bishops centered at historic sees, especially the fifth century Diocese of Canterbury in southern England.
The Book of Common Prayer
The balance of Reformation doctrine and classical worship and polity can be found in the Book of Common Prayer, a collection of the liturgies of the church first edited and translated by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during the Protestant Reformation. Few works of literature have had a greater impact on the modern English language than the liturgies found in this book. The works of Shakespeare come to mind, but even he often quotes from or alludes to this book, which was the official form of worship in the England of his day. We continue to use liturgies largely based on the Book of Common Prayer at Holy Trinity Parish.
The Anglican Communion
As the English people spread around the globe in the age of discovery and colonization, they took their church with them. These churches, while outside England, retained the worship and doctrine of their mother church. As these churches grew, they both solidified their official connection to the Church of England through a global network of like-minded bishops (who now care for nearly 85 million souls in 165 countries), and established their own independence in the adaptation of the Book of Common Prayer for their own local contexts. Called “Anglican” to identify their heritage and connection, the largest Anglican churches in the world today are increasingly in the global south, places like Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda.
The Global South and the Anglican Church in North America
The Episcopal Church in the United States was the product of this process in the English colonies of North America. It came into being in the aftermath of the American Revolution as the earliest expression of post-colonial Anglicanism. The Episcopal Church’s history and influence in America is significant far beyond its numbers. During the last twenty-five or so years, many in the Episcopal Church were grieved to see the historic Christian truths of the Anglicanism abandoned and its traditional beliefs revised. At the urging of Anglican churches in the global south and with their full support, old churches were called out and new churches were formed in the United States and called “Anglican” to communicate this relationship. Holy Trinity Parish is one of those churches. Together with nearly 1,000 other Anglican congregations in the United States and Canada, we form the Anglican Church in North America.