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Reformed Episcopal Church


A denomination formed in 1873 as a result of a revolt by a small group of Protestant Episcopalians of Low Church sympathies. Bp. George David Cummins of Kentucky, a former Methodist, became the presiding bishop of the new church. Cummins, who belonged to the evangelical low church faction of the Episcopal Church, had objected to the increased use of liturgical vestments, ornaments and rituals that arose from the Anglo-Catholic Tractarian movement. The immediate occasion for the schism was a union communion service at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City in which Bishop Cummins and the then dean of Canterbury, England, participated. Both were severely criticized by fellow Episcopalians for their action. Cummins called a meeting on Dec. 2, 1873, attended by seven clergymen and 20 laymen; the result was the establishment of the Reformed Episcopal Church. This action climaxed a long debate over ritualism and sacramentalism in the Protestant Episcopal Church.

The dissenters held that the episcopal form of church government was an ancient and desirable polity, but did not rest on divine command. They affirmed their adherence, with some reservations, to the thirty-nine articles of anglicanism and rejected the beliefs in transubstantiation and baptismal regeneration.

The Reformed Episcopal Church recognizes the spiritual authority of ministers of all other Protestant denominations. It receives clergymen from other denominations into its ministry without reordination. At the same time, this church claims to stand in the apostolic succession and to maintain that only bishops have the right to confirm and ordain. Worship is liturgical and is based on the book of common prayer. However, the Reformed Episcopal Church revised that book, deleting and changing some elements and words that it considered objectionable because of a sacerdotal emphasis. Thus "priest" was changed to "minister" throughout the Book of Common Prayer; prayers for the dead were removed from holy communion and the burial service; and the phrase "now regenerate" was taken out of the baptismal service. Unlike those of the Protestant Episcopal Church, the Reformed Episcopal bishops do not form a separate house at the triennial general council.

Bibliography: f. s. mead, s. s. hill and c. d. atwood, eds., Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 11th ed (Nashville 2001).

[w. j. whalen/eds.]

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