The Forms of Prayer given at the back of the 1662 BCP contain an echo of Anglican polity before Lambeth. They belong a time where the Kingdom of Great Britain had spread her branches far across the globe by merchant and colonial enterprise. With Navy crews and Company plantations naturally followed the rites of the English Church, which the Diocese of London regulated, keeping common order and uniting prayers of scattered communities. The Prayers for Use at Sea hearken back to this era, evidencing the old jurisdiction before revolution.
On Oct. 1st 1633, Englishmen in Holland were placed under the beginnings of a missionary district supervised by the Bishop of London for British emigres. This system started through the auspices of Bishops Laud and Juxon in the London Orindary(1), and, though it briefly suffered vacancy during the Commonwealth, it continued roughly until the American Revolution. During this hundred-and-fifty year period, Anglicans outside England were appointed the doctrine and order as decided by the province of Canterbury through the London bishopric. This relation was first proposed by Archbishop Laud to Charles I who then charged the royal privy council to square the details. Arthur Cross quotes Peter Heylyn, describing London’s authority over British abroad:
“Laud (at this time Bishop of London) not thinking that he had done enough for the peace and uniformity of the church at home, sets out to look after it abroad.’ And after detailing the steps by which that prelate succeeded in obtaining his desired authority [raised to the Archbishopric], our author concludes as follows: ‘And now, at least, we have the face of an English church in Holland, responsible to the bishops of London for the time being as a part of their diocese, directly and immediately subject to their jurisdiction. The like course was also prescribed for our factories in Hamborough and those farther off; that is to say, in Turkey, in the Mogul’s dominions, the Indian Islands, the plantations in Virginia, the Barbadoes, and all other places where the English have any standing in the way of trade.'” (p. 234, Schemes)
What’s interesting is the mutual supervision of the British navy and English commerce coincides with maintenance of church order overseas. The 1662 BCP’s Prayer for Sea are a relic of an earlier polity where the altar belonged to an ecclesiastical center.
Unfortunately, by Laud’s time the American colonies had become notorious harbors for dissent. The Life and Times of Archbishop William Laud records troubles related to migration and radicalism in 1637:
“Eight ships were stationed in the Thames, to convey a host of zealots across the Atlantic, but they were stopped by an order of Council; and as many of the Puritan ministers, regardless of the amor patriae, resolved to gratify that extravagance which they could not indulge in their own country, and were ready to follow that which they termed “the gospel” into New England. An order of Council also prohibited “all ministers unconformable to the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England; and that no clergyman should be suffered to pass to the foreign plantations without the approbation of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London.” (p. 141-142)
Frere says the 1661 revision adopted sea prayers from the presbyterians and ‘Anglicized’ them for the Navy. Sea prayers first appeared in the Puritan Directory of Public Worship, introduced by the Long Parliament, with the intent to replace use of the Prayer Book in the British Fleet (p. 651, The Annotated). The use of ‘forms’ rather than fixed prayers for mariners tells something about the situation abroad, namely, that dissent was more common the further removed from ecclesiastical authority(2). This was compounded by the lack of educated chaplains.
Often, what happened on shipboard was likewise true in colonies. The growth of non-conformity in the colonies was a common complaint, pictured by this 1716 letter sent from Pennsylvania to London:
“For want of an Episcopacy being established among us, and that there has never been any bishop sent to visit us, our churches remain unconcecrated, our children are grown up and can not be confirmed…But more especially for want of that holy power which is inherent to your apostolic office the vacancies which daily happen in our ministry can not be supplied for a considerable time from England, whereby many congregations are not only become desolate, and the light of the gospel thereby extinguished, but great encouragement is given to sectaries of all sorts which abound and increase amongst us; and some of them pretending to what they call the power of ordination, the country is filled with fanatic teachers debauching the inclinations of many poor souls who are left destitute of any instruction or ministry.” (p. 237,Schemes)
Complaints of this sort were typical of ‘fronteir Anglicanism’ , and the weight of the blame fell on London Ordinaries during the mid-18th century with scholarly divines like Dr. Robert Lowth who repeatedly rebuffed Wesley’s plea for the supply american priests (3). Nonetheless, the growth of the British territories outpaced meager support London provided. Much involved the necessary education of colonial priests, namely, their having competence in ecclesiastical language(s). Royal bible societies like SPCK assisted London by funding oversea church buildings, book materials, as well as circuit clergy for colonial congregations. Resources were endemically short.
In 1784 two developments powerfully shook the old high church foundations between England and America: First, John Wesley’s appointment of Thomas Coke for superintendent of American Methodism; and, second, the episcopal ordering of the Samuel Seabury by non-Juring Bishops in Scotland. Both events posed the very real possibility of a church independent from England, particularly the government of the church under Supremacy. Even Dr. White and Smith would consider their own irregular episcopacy, eventually forcing London to lift terms of full-subscription for oversea churchmen. In 1787, two bishops for the United States and one for Nova Scotia were consecrated in London with only the Nova Scotia one tendering the royal oath of allegiance.
Of course, the 1789 American prayer book omitted those parts of Oversea Prayers pertaining to the Crown of which older BCP’s (like the 1717) said, “that we may be a safeguard unto our most gracious Sovereign Lord, King George and his kingdoms, and a security for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasions; that the inhabitants of our Island may in peace and quietness serve thee our God and that we may return in safety to enjoy the blessings of the land”. The 1789 kept much of the above but removed “Island” for “land” and replaced ‘King’ with the phrase, “that we may be a safeguard unto the United States of America”. The last collect inserted “our country” rather than “our Soveriegn” as these alterations were wanted to better account for ‘american circumstances’ made by the Revolution.
Frere notes that the BCP’s seafaring prayers were not intended to “form a service in themselves, but are merely supplemental devotions, to be used as occasion requires.” (p. 644, New History). Nonetheless, the incorporation of ‘forms of prayer’ into the BCP started as late as 1662. By 1790, when the American BCP was compiled, further forms made there way into common prayer, namely, those for prisoners, families, and public thanksgivings. This mild comprehension demonstrates how the Church of England found ways to rope in dissent, usually by giving greater flexibility in liturgy. Given the Puritanical culture of early America, PECUSA would naturally add further forms, vindicating perhaps Smith’s BCP revision principles.
Thoughts: A common analogy holds between the Prayers at sea and Bishop Machray’s ordering of ‘Rupert’s Land’. Both were high church campaigns to tame certain ecclesiastical wilderness(es). Perhaps modern Anglicans face similar challenges in the reform of our own church? Not that a literal wilderness requires taming, but that many jurisdictions have wandered from the Anglican Settlement chose their own standards. Originally, the throne of Canterbury-London was part of an ordered Kingdom where royal prerogative passed fro the Crown through under-ministers in dominions elsewhere.
In contrast, Lambeth was founded in 1886 upon the autonomy of nation-states rather than earlier ‘kingdom’ model. However, this is a revolutionary arrangement compared to the the 1662 prayer book’s record of the older polity– found in the order of petition in the litany, state prayers in mattins and evensong, whole church prayers, and the biddings before the sermon. Thus, Sea Prayers add another testimony for the older polity, reminding churchmen of how throne and altar once projected itself from the church of Great Britain into distant parts.
The original hymn was written by William Whiting of Winchester, England, in 1860. It was originally intended as a poem for a student of his, who was about to travel to the United States. In 1861, John B. Dykes, an Anglican clergyman, composed the tune “Melita” for this hymn. “Melita” is an archaic term for Malta, an ancient seafaring nation and the site of a shipwreck involving the Apostle Paul mentioned in Acts of the Apostles. Eternal Father is the Royal Navy’s hymn.
(1) Bishop William Juxon curiously simultaneously held three offices crucial to early colonial church policy: the Lord Admiral, London Bishopric, and Lord Treasurer. If there is an ‘Anglican’ form of economic policy, it is mercantilism shaped by the English Church, Royal Navy, and Company Charter. Juxon was ciritical to this development and seems to have coordinated all three for the Common Weal. Thomas Mun’s Treasure by Foreign Trade (1664) seems a seminal work.
(2) In his footnotes, Frere demonstrates the importance of conformity upon ships, quoting the Navy’s Articles of War, “Officers are to cause Public Worship, according to the Liturgy of the Church of England, to be solemnly performed in their ships, and take care that prayers and preaching by the chaplains be performed diligently, and that the Lord’s day be observed” (p. 645, New History). Incidentally, Puritans ‘forms’ were very long and their tendency was to use extemporaneous prayer to propagandize against the Crown’s prerogative and authority of Bishops in the church.
(3) Blame for the lack of Anglican clergy in the colonies has frequently been charged. To England’s credit vis-a-vis revivalism, priests were expected to have a scholarly background. John Bramhall described England’s order: ”This hath always been the doctrine and practice of our English Church. First, it is so far from admitting laymen to be directive interpreters of Holy Scripture, that it allows not this liberty to clergymen so much as to ‘gloss upon the text’, until ‘they be licensed to become preachers.’ Secondly, for judgement of discretion only, it gives it not to private persons above their talents, or ‘beyond their last.’ It disallows all fantastical and enthusiastical presumptions of incompetent and unqualified expositors. It admits no man into Holy Orders, that is, to be capable of being made a directive interpreter of Scripture, howsoever otherwise qualified, ‘unless he be able to give a good account of his Faith in the Latin tongue’. so as to be able to frame all his expositions according to the analogy thereof. It forbids the licensed preachers to ‘teach the people any doctrine as necessary to be religiously held and believed, which the Catholic Fathers, and old Bishops of the Primitive Church, have not collected out of the Scriptures.’ It ascribes a judgment of jurisdiction over preachers to Bishops, in all manner of ecclesiastical duties, as appears by the whole body of our canons; and especially where any difference or public opposition hath been between preachers, about any point or doctrine deduced out of Scripture. It gives a power of determining all emergent controversies of Faith above Bishops to the Church, as to the ‘witness and keeper of Sacred Oracles’, and to a ‘lawful Synod’, as the ‘representative Church.'”
- Blunt, John Henry. The Annotated Book of Common Prayer. London (1866)
- Class, Arthur Lyon. Schemes for Episcopal Control of the Colonies. Harvard (1862)
- Frere, Walter and Procter, Francis. A New History of the Book of Common Prayer. MacMillan (1908)
- Lawson, John Parker. George Life and Times of William Laud D.D. Archbishop of Canterbury, V. II London (1894)