Scottish Influence on the American Book of Common Prayer

Lack of American Bishops

The lack of an Anglican Bishop in America before the Revolutionary War stemmed from a complex interplay of religious, political, and social factors, including:

  1. Fear of a “Popish Hierarchy”: Many colonists, particularly in New England, held deep suspicion of the Church of England due to its association with the Catholic Church and the perceived threat of Anglican authority. They feared the establishment of a bishop would infringe upon religious freedom and potentially revive Catholic practices.
  2. Colonial Self-Governance: Colonists in the South cherished their autonomy and resisted attempts by the British Crown to exert greater control, including in religious matters. The appointment of a bishop, seen as a representative of the Crown, was viewed as another imposition of royal authority.
  3. Protestant Resistance: America harbored a diverse religious landscape, with numerous Protestant denominations alongside Anglicans. Many non-Anglicans feared that an Anglican bishop would favor their own church at the expense of others, jeopardizing religious pluralism.

An oft-overlooked obstacle was the cost and time of travel to England for consecration. The complications of administering a bishopric in America due to distances between parishes in America further discouraged the effort. As political tensions between Britain and the colonies escalated throughout the 18th century, attitudes against closer religious ties to English institutions, including the Anglican Church, hardened.  Colonists saw an Anglican bishop as another symbol of British control.

Conditions did not significantly improve after the war as English bishops refused to consecrate an American who could not pledge fealty to the King.  Samuel Seabury was forced to rely on Scottish bishops for his consecration. Even so, many Anglicans did not recognize his authority as the consecrating bishops were not approved by the English church to perform consecrations.

Scottish Influences on Episcopal Church

Consecration by Scottish Bishops

In 1784, Samuel Seabury, an Anglican priest from Connecticut, knelt before three Scottish bishops, receiving the sacred mantle of bishopric through a clandestine ordination. Seabury’s quest for ordination stemmed from the tumultuous aftermath of the Revolution. Political sensitivities in post-Revolution America made securing episcopal orders within the British church impossible.  Seabury subsequently turned to the Scottish Episcopal Church, an Anglican branch separated from the Church of England due to the Scots’ unwillingness to swear an oath to the King.

The Scottish consecration defied British authority, established an independent American episcopate, and paved the way for the formation of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.  As a condition of his ordination, Seabury agreed to include part of the Scottish liturgy in the new American Book of Common Prayer.

The first American Book of Common Prayer, published in 1789, did not directly adopt large portions of the Scottish Book of Common Prayer (1637). Nevertheless, the Scottish liturgy influenced several key areas, including:

  • Eucharistic Prayer.  The American prayer included an epiclesis, a prayer invoking the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine, similar to the Scottish version. This differed from the English BCP, which lacked an explicit epiclesis.
  • Daily Office Structure. The American BCP followed the Scottish model of combining Morning and Evening Prayer into a single service, unlike the English BCP’s separate structures.
  • Ordination Rites.   While not directly adopting the Scottish ordination rites, the American BCP incorporated some modifications based on the Scottish model, such as the addition of the laying on of hands by all three consecrating bishops.
  • Simpler Language: The American BCP, like the Scottish BCP, employed a more contemporary and simplified language compared to the archaic English BCP.