Tomorrow is the commemoration of the Consecration of Samuel Seabury, the first American Bishop. One of the popular stories about the origins of Anglicanism in this country is that he was ordained by the Scottish Episcopal Church in exchange for the use of their Communion liturgy in our new province.
It turns out that this story is not only oversimplified, but exaggerated to inaccuracy. As this very informative recent article by Drew Keane reports, the agreement was between three Scottish bishops and Samuel Seabury, who was representing Episcopalian clergymen in Connecticut. So, at the first, there was nothing binding upon the American Episcopal Church, as it didn’t exist yet. And secondly, the Scottish bishops did not demand or require anything of Seabury or those in his cure, but rather, simply encouraged him to consider the Scottish liturgies. Yes, “liturgies” in the plural. There was a standard Communion text from 1637, a standard reprinting from 1743, and there was another form in circulation by 1764. And they’re all slightly different, in terms of the precise order of service. The link above includes a handy table to line up those three against the first American Prayer Book of 1789. We learn here two critical things:
- The “Scottish form” of the liturgy was not standardized at this time, making the common “Scots-American” label for a particular Order of Communion somewhat of a contrivance.
- There was no particular deal or obligation put upon the Americans by the Scots.
We American Anglicans do owe gratitude to the Scottish Church, of course, and there are traces of Scottish features that have been preserved in the American tradition. But the way we sometimes speak of it can be rather overstated. The English Prayer Book of 1662 was still the strongest standard by which the Scottish and American liturgies were measured.
Thankfully, this correction does not require me to retract any significant errors on this blog so far; I’ve only mentioned the “Scottish connection” once before, when reviewing the 1928 Prayer Book, and didn’t go too far down the rabbit trail. Our exploration of the epiclesis (invocation) may also be further informed by Keane’s article.
All that to say, go read “Seabury and the Scottish Liturgy” by Drew Keane. Here’s the link again: http://northamanglican.com/seabury-and-the-scottish-liturgy/