Episcopal Church observes 300th anniversary It was established as state's official church in 1692.

May 18, 1992|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Anglican vestments hadn't changed enough in 300 years for the Rev. William N. McKeachie to deviate from the black cassock, white surplice and linen preaching bands that he wears most Sundays preaching at Old St. Paul's in Baltimore.

He came as he was to the 300th anniversary celebration yesterday of the establishment of Anglicanism, now the Episcopal Church, as the official church of Maryland.

"Some people say that I haven't changed since the 17th century," Father McKeachie said as dozens of participants, some in barristers' wigs, some in knee breeches, prepared for a procession in Annapolis from the St. Anne's Episcopal Church parish house to the sanctuary.

The procession led by bagpipers and the Evensong service, using a 1662 version of the Book of Common Prayer, were meant to commemorate the church's past in Maryland, said Father McKeachie, who headed the group that organized the event. It was also meant to "look ahead to commitment and mission," he said.

One of his longtime parishioners, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, said in brief remarks during the service that part of the church's mission was to heal the wounds of society. Since the recent rioting in Los Angeles, the governor said, "I worry about us" in Baltimore.

After emerging from Sunday worship to the secular world, Mr. Schaefer said his faith constantly poses the question, "What do we do when we leave?"

The Evensong service drew a crowd, dressed up in both contemporary and Colonial finery, that nearly filled St. Anne's, which has a seating capacity of about 800.

Old St. Paul's and St. Anne's were among 30 churches formed 300 years ago as the act of establishment divided the state geographically into parishes for reaching all its inhabitants.

Until then, Maryland churches operated under a policy of religious toleration, which meant freedom for different denominations but also that the government supported none of them.

For that reason, Anglican priests and prayer books were few among the existing log house churches.

"Very few priests were going to leave England to come to a wilderness without any support," said the Rev. Canon Arthur Pierce Middleton, author of "Anglican Maryland, 1692-1792," a book due out this summer. "Those few who did come took grants from Lord Baltimore and grew tobacco."

Establishing the church meant collecting taxes to support it.

Each taxpaying Marylander, whether Anglican or not, paid 40 pounds of tobacco a year in revenue to the church.

The amount would hardly have made Maryland a tax hell at the time, considering that a hogshead -- the huge casks used for shipping tobacco -- held as much as 1,000 pounds of tobacco.

Tobacco was the main currency in an economy based on growing the crop, Dr. Middleton said.

That currency proved solid enough then to build churches, pay priests and finance the obligations of parish leaders to provide for the poor and prosecute offenders of public morality.

Establishment lasted until 1776, when Maryland adopted a Declaration of Rights that guaranteed religious freedom and ended church-support taxes.

More important than the revenue, the act of 1692 also brought the appointment of a priest in England, Thomas Bray, as the supervisor of churches in Maryland.

Raising money from the English royal family and nobility, he founded two missionary societies that worked to recruit priests and send libraries to parishes where books were scarce.

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