An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

A - Z Glossary

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Emancipation, African American, and the Episcopal Church

Beginning with the founding of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts in 1701, Anglican slave holders sought to incorporate African Americans within the traditions of Anglicanism. In the nineteenth century, evangelicals developed an active, paternalistic ministry among slaves. White Episcopalians encouraged household servants to sit in special sections in their churches and occasionally allowed separate African American congregations (guided by white clergy) to be formed. But when emancipation came, most ex-slaves chose the Baptist and Methodist denominations instead of the Episcopal Church. At the 1868 General Convention, all southern dioceses reported major losses of African Americans. South Carolina had the most dramatic decline, with a reduction of nearly ninety percent of its African American membership. The Episcopal Church had limited appeal in the African American community. Most southern dioceses refused to grant equal status to African American communicants, and most African American parishes were led by white clergy. The 1865 General Convention attempted to address this problem by creating the Protestant Episcopal Freedman's Commission as an agency for the evangelization and education of ex-slaves. But the commission often lacked funding and was eventually dissolved in 1878. A report to the 1877 General Convention noted that there were only thirty-seven congregations and fifteen African American Episcopal clergy among the four million African Americans in the southern states.

The freeing of slaves after the Civil War had a negative effect on the institutional strength of the Episcopal Church in the South. Episcopalians experienced "a wholesale exodus" of African Americans from their denomination in the late 1860s.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.