glory of god

glory of god

Monday, July 4, 2011

Celebrating independence, 235 years later

It probably comes as no surprise that Anglicans in the American colonies were conflicted when it came to the prospect of independence. Clergy, in particular, were forced to choose between the vows they had solemnly made at their ordination as priests of the Church of England and the hope of independence of their friends and neighbors. Many ended up fleeing to Canada or England. Some who stayed supported the struggle for independence, but others ministered to loyalists and even the king's armies. One such loyalist priest was Samuel Seabury, who ministered as a chaplain to the king's army. After the war, this former loyalist would be consecrated as the first bishop in the new United States.

The first American Book of Common Prayer was proposed in 1786. Strongly influenced by Latitudinarianism, it was unique in that (among other things) it omitted the Nicene Creed in the Communion liturgy, altered the Articles of Religion (reducing their number to 20), distilling the psalms to just 20, and including prayers of thanksgiving for American Independence. This Prayer Book was adopted by various dioceses, but never by the Protestant Episcopal Church as a whole. Indeed, it came under strong criticism for its deviation from the 1662 Prayer Book of the Church of England.

When the first Book of Common Prayer was adopted by the full Episcopal Church in 1789, many of the innovations of the proposed book were reversed. Notably omitted were the prayers in thanksgiving for American Independence. Many Episcopalians, and especially clergy, felt that they could not in good conscience offer these prayers, as they had been opposed to the Revolution. In fact, prayers for the Fourth of July were not added to the American Prayer Book until the 1928 revision.

235 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it probably is safe for Episcopalians to give thanks for the blessings of this still young nation. In honor of this day, the following prayer from the proposed Prayer Book of 1786 is offered. Many of its sentiments and hopes are as appropriate today as they were in the days following the War of Independence.

O God, whose Name is excellent in all the earth, and thy glory above the heavens, who on this day didst inspire and direct the hearts of our delegates in Congress, to lay the perpetual foundations of peace, liberty, and safety; we bless and adore thy glorious Majesty, for this thy loving kindness and providence. And we humbly pray that the devout sense of this signal mercy may renew and increase in us a spirit of love and thankfulness to thee its only author, a spirit of peaceable submission to the laws and government of our country, and a spirit of fervent zeal for our holy religion, which thou has preserved and secured to us and our posterity. May we improve these inestimable blessings for the advancement of religion, liberty, and science, throughout this land, till the wilderness and solitary place be glad through us, and the desert rejoice, and blossom as the rose. This we beg through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

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