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High Church Worship in 19th Century American Protestantism

Discussion in 'Traditional Theology' started by The Liturgist, Sep 24, 2021.

  1. The Liturgist

    The Liturgist Traditional Liturgical Christian

    United States
    Generic Orthodox Christian
    My friend @bbbbbbb wrote a reply to another thread, discussing the worship practices of a non-traditional denomination, which prompted me to write a summary of emergent high church movements in the US in the 19th century; I realized this reply would not be interesting or edifying if posted to that thread, or in that particular forum, but would be of potential interest to those of us who greatly enjoy the Traditional Theology forum, particularly those of us with an interest in traditional worship and liturgics.

    There was actually high church liturgical worship in American Protestant churches in the 19th century, especially in the Lutheran and Moravian denominations, but also in large parts of the Protestant Episcopal Church, especially in the second half of the 19th century when High Church liturgics and Anglo-Catholicism began to flourish in the US as much as in the UK, thanks to the impact of the Oxford Movement, and in many respects, the Protestant Episcopal Church had always been at least in theory more high church than the Church of England (because it used the Eucharistic liturgy of the Non-Juring Episcopalians in the North of England and Scotland, which featured an Epiklesis from the ancient Divine Liturgy of St. James, and was intended to more clearly convey the idea of the Real Presence of the Eucharist).

    Anglo-Catholic influence had a discernible impact on the 1892 edition of the BCP,* and around this time the Benedictine Order of the Holy Cross was founded, which would produce one of the great liturgical theologians and Anglo Catholic theologians of all time, Dom Gregory Dix. Now, there was also an active Low Church / Evangelical movement in the Episcopal Church, particularly in certain areas of Virginia, from what I have been told, and indeed, according to one Episcopal Priest I am friends with, this still persists in that region to this day, in that there are parishes where Morning Prayer is the norm, rather than the Eucharist. But the high church aspect of the Protestant Episcopal church actually scandalized some Episcopalians, resulting in the formation of the Reformed Episcopal Church based on explicitly Calvinist theology and with a much more Low Church Book of Common Prayer.

    Additionally, it was the high church liturgy of the BCP that formed the basis for the English language Common Service that the Lutheran churches slowly adopted in preference to their native languages (the Moravians have their own distinct service books and a number of unique hymns not found in other denominations). I previously mentioned that of American churches in the 19th century, the most high church on a denominational level were the Moravian Church and the very numerous Lutheran denominations which existed at the time, and today we see this epitomized in the Evangelical Catholic parishes of LCMS / LCC, of which our friend @MarkRohfrietsch is a member, but which also used to exist in the ethnically Swedish Augustana Synod, as the Church of Sweden along with the Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of Saxony, were historically the most Evangelical Catholic Lutheran churches (it is not a coincidence that Dietrich Buxtehude, who was a mentor for Johann Sebastian Bach, was an organist in the Swedish church, and that Bach himself became Thomascantor, where he composed his exquisite liturgical music for use by the main churches in Leipzig (the Thomaskirche being the primary church, but Bach was also responsible for music at the Nicholaskirche, which is, in American terms, a block away from the Thomaskirche, and at other churches in the city).

    Likewise, the Liturgical, High Church Congregationalism that was epitomized in the UK by the King’s Weigh House in London, where what I consider to be the most exquisite liturgical text to be originally written in the English language, Devotional Services, was composed by Rev. John Hunter, featuring eight services of Morning and Evening Prayer, several Litanies, and a gorgeous Eucharist vaguely reminiscent of the BCP service, but frankly, prettier, elements of which are still in the Book of Worship of the United Church of Christ. You can see the influence of the high church movement in American congregationalism in the Neo-Gothic architecture of several 19th century and early 20th century Congregational churches, the apex of which might be the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles, and also, to a profound extent, in the exquisite neo-Byzantine building that is home to the Old South Church in Boston.

    While it is true that the 19th century did see the Methodist Episcopal Church fail to live up to the liturgical expectations of John Wesley, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South retained the Sunday Service Book well into the 19th century, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church still uses a derivative of it to this day. And by the end of the 19th century, the high church Methodist movement was clearly in motion, which has continued until the present, with seemingly each Book of Worship more high church than the last, and the foundation of the monastic Order of St. Luke (I pray that the impending schism, which I strongly object to, does not result in the traditional Methodist parishes being cut off from the OSL.

    The Reformed Churches also became more liturgical, worldwide, in the 19th century; not all of them, to be sure, and indeed there were schisms and some fierce resistance occurred in Scotland and the US, as a result of the implementation of Mercersburg Theology and also what came to be known as Scoto-Catholicism, the Caledonian cousin of Anglo-Catholicism. Recently I viewed a Choral Evensong at the main Church of Scotland Kirk in Glasgow, and initially I thought I was listening to a Scottish Episcopal service, until I read the description of the video more closely, and was shocked. The only difference between it and what one usually hears on BBC Radio Three is that it featured a prominent sermon. Worship in the Dutch and Swiss Reformed Churches, and their American derivatives, also became more high church during this time. Now, I am less acquainted with the precise history of liturgical worship in the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches in the US, other than I know it exists, because the hymnals and the Book of Worship of the PCUSA, and the hymnals of the Reformed churches of Dutch origin, contain liturgical services which more or less follow in the Anglican tradition. My friend @hedrick recently remarked on the excellence of the PCUSA’s Book of Worship, and I agree with him.

    Liturgical Christianity even cropped up in unexpected places. The Stone-Campbell movement, which produced the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ (of which Ronald Reagan was a member) has always had a high church, liturgical element, primarily in the Christian Church side of the denomination.

    *There has been a steady high church movement in American editions of the Book of Common Prayer. The 1928 BCP was dramatically Anglo Catholic in comparison to the 1662 English BCP, rivaled in this respect only by the 1928 Deposited Book which the Church of England attempted to introduce to replace the 1662 BCP (but was blocked by Parliament, despite a majority of Anglicans voting for it), the 1929 Scottish BCP, the 1962 Canadian BCP, and interestingly, the 1938 Melanesian BCP. The 1979 BCP was in many respects still more Anglo Catholic, which is why I find it slightly ironic that most Continuing Anglican churches are also Anglo Catholic and reject either the 1979 BCP, despite the traditional Rite I, the flexibility for additional liturgical services via the so-called Rite III, and the traditional language derivative, the Anglican Service Book, which could be coupled with the one year lectionary (the Collects, Epistles and Gospels from the 1928 BCP, as the Anglican Service Book did not include a lectionary), would provide an even more high church experience. Our friend @Shane R might be able to comment on this.
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