In 1692 -- 300 years ago -- the Maryland Assembly established the Church of England as the colony's official religion. The colonial legislators divided counties into parishes and made provisions for taxing inhabitants for "the building of churches and support of the clergy." Their actions ensured that for much of its first century in Maryland, Anglicanism would enjoy a privileged status.
Things changed dramatically in 1776 for all religious groups when Maryland adopted a Declaration of Rights. The act took away the Episcopal Church's special status and tax support but left its property intact. By 1792, the Episcopal Church in Maryland had recovered sufficiently to establish the Diocese of Maryland -- another anniversary being commemorated this week.
It is fitting that the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church has brought its annual meeting to Baltimore this year to help the Diocese of Maryland celebrate three centuries of history and usher in a fourth. As the Diocese of Maryland stands at a significant juncture in its history, so does the Episcopal Church itself. In recent years, tensions among bishops over the direction of the church as well as social issues such as the ordination of openly gay clergy have risen to the boiling point.