The increased urbanization and dramatic population increase occasioned by the industrial revolution presented a variety of difficulties to society as a whole and to Churches in particular. Increased immigration brought with it the specter of ethnic strife and xenophobia, only exacerbated by the increase of poverty and slums. As nations at the forefront of the Industrial revolution the United States and Great Britain had to face the reality that the fabric and framework of society also had to evolve and strengthen if it was to support the weight of the new industrial complex and maintain any semblance of humanity in doing so. Because of this fact, the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United States were each forced to work out what an appropriate Christian response to these realities would look like; there were a variety of answers to that question, but each provided a sense of order and security to those involved.

In the United States the reunification of the nation and the coincident reunion of the Episcopal Church brought a renewed sense of purpose and excitement. The church-party conflicts, though still apparent, were gradually pushed to the fringe as the evangelicals of the Reformed Episcopal Church, following Bishop Cummins, left the Protestant Episcopal Church and a broad church consensus began to hold sway. The growth of the Church Congress movement (1874-1934) was the primary institutional manifestation of this emerging consensus and its “American” theology.1 In England the church parties were still very much in evidence and each responded in their own way to the social ills they encountered. In both England and the
United States however, one sees the success of the social gospel message in both high church
and evangelical responses to the social problems they encountered.

Throughout the closing stages of the 19th century, elements of the Episcopal Church had awakened to the needs of social ministry. Indeed, as early as 1846 William Augustus Muhlenberg established the Church of the Holy Communion in New York and included an unemployment fund among its ministries.2 While not exactly Anglo-Catholic, Muhlenberg—a self-described Evangelical Catholic—did emphasize the sacraments in his ministry, employing weekly communion as a central aspect of the Church’s life.3 The emphasis on the sacraments, especially Holy Eucharist, is a recurring theme in urban ministries during this time, on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, from very early in its development Anglo-Catholicism was seen to have
“a special relationship with East London and to the slums of other English cities.”4 While F.D. Maurice had fallen into despair by the 1860s at what he considered to be the end of Christian Socialism; and yet, there were still priests who went to live among the poor, seeking to give aid and comfort and hope, people like C.F. Lowder at S. George’s-in-the-East, R.W.R. Dolling at Portsmouth5 or Father Mackonochie of St. Alban’s, Holborn who worked among the poor of central London or men such as Father Stanton who did their share of work among the poor and destitute. Indeed, it was this long-lasting commitment to the poor, and not necessarily the distinctive practices of the Ritualist movement that accounted for the success of many Ritualist churches.6

It seems that social consciousness within the Church increased correspondingly to social ills, and while the Episcopal Church may not always have been quick to act, Episcopalians can be proud that it responded more quickly corporately than any other American religious body.7 The face of America was changing rapidly during this period—from 1880 to 1920 the population of the nation increased from 50 to 105 million—and the Episcopal Church had to evolve if it was to face these challenges. As is often the case, the need for change was first recognized at the parish level. In the 1880s Trinity Church, New York realized that builders who operated housing complexes on the Church’s property were crowding them; the church was “shocked by charges that the parish was a ‘slumlord,” which led them to begin a program to improve housing in the city.8 The reaction of Episcopalians to social ills multifaceted; indeed, the Church reflected a trend in the broader society that included the increase in the number of and amount of involvement in voluntary associations. In particular during this period the Episcopal Church saw the formation of things such as parish-based boys’ clubs, trade schools, mens’ clubs, cadet battalions, and other social programs such as gymnasiums—as we will see shortly, such programs mirrored what was transpiring across the Atlantic in England. By the first few decades of the 20th century the church had seen the development of womens’ ministries such as:

“the Girls’ Friendly Society (1877), which devoted attention to the needs of female
factory workers; the Church Periodical Club (1888), which purchased Christian literature
for parishes in the American West; the Daughters of the King (1885), which was devoted
to prayer and evangelism; and the United Thank Offering (1889), which provided
funding for female missionaries.”9

Additionally during this period, the number of deaconesses increased and their training
improved—a sign both of the increased visibility of women in Church affairs and the greater
societal need for such ministries. Male groups too (often influenced by the Ritualist movement)
such as the Order of the Holy Cross and the brotherhood of St. Andrew, saw growth during this
period. Additionally, there were a number of general organizations that supported temperance or
labor movements, as well as ministries among the poor and ethnic minorities.10

The increasing number of ministries to the poor during this period is testament to the
power of the social gospel just as their character is often reflective of the success of the Ritualist
movement, which began in England as the successor to the Oxford/tractarian movement—though
even in evangelical forms there was a demonstrable trend toward order and social support. In
England for example, evangelical and reform-minded Anglicans were instrumental in passing
progressive legislation (Lord Shaftesbury) and in combating moral vice through abstinence
societies and the work of Josephine Butler, who worked in Liverpool for forty years helping
young men develop moral virtues through the Young Men’s Christian Association.11

During this period, both the Church of England and the Episcopal Church underwent institutional change in order to deal with the multiple social issues facing them. The Church of England for example, in the last half of the 19th century, formed its first new dioceses since the Reformation and began planting new parishes and establishing new theological colleges for the education of its clergy.12 The Episcopal Church too, implemented structural changes, including the founding of theological schools in the west, i.e. Western Seminary in Chicago (1883) and Church Divinity School of the Pacific (1893), increasing the number of its dioceses from fifty-eight in 1880 to eighty-seven in 1910. Perhaps most importantly, The Episcopal Church recognized the need for a national headquarters, establishing one in New York in 1894.13

The institutional changes within the American Episcopal Church, combined with the success of the Church Congress movement and its national theology, sparked many changes whose ramifications are felt in the American Church and in the global Anglican Communion to this day. The increased emphasis on the National Church encouraged Episcopalians to fold independent missionary organizations into the official Domestic and Foreign Missionary society. Additionally, the national theology promulgated in the United States was taken abroad by American missionaries in such places as Panama, Brazil and Haiti and led American-founded Anglican churches to be locally governed earlier than their British counter-parts. “In Mexico (1904) and Puerto Rico (1923) the Episcopal Church merged with local churches that had taken
the name La Iglesia de Jesus.”14 In both England and the United States the success of the social gospel movement, coupled with the subsequent Christian Socialism movement exerted tremendous influence on the work of the Church and the self-image of the two churches. The Church party conflict is all but non-existent in the United States where broad-churchmanship (perhaps with the theological flavor of Catholicism or evangelicalism—sometimes both) is the order of the day. This is true across the current divide of “liberal/conservative” or “reappraiser/reasserter.”

Perhaps the most functional way that the reactions of the American Church to the problems presented by the industrial revolution continue to present themselves, is in the organization of our church. The American theology promulgated by the Church Congress movement seems to have affected the Episcopal Church more deeply than many realize. From our structure to the way we deal with missions—both missionary societies and the missions themselves—seems to bear the imprint of this time period. Certainly the shape of our church, with the role of the church headquarters, the presiding Bishop, an increased visibility for women and minorities in ministry and the formation of many diocese and seminaries coming out of this period, and the organization of provinces shortly following, there is no doubt that the work of
these men and women is still keenly felt in the contemporary Episcopal Church.


Ahlstrom, Sydney E. A Religious History of the American People. New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1972.

Avis, Paul D. L. Anglicanism and the Christian Church : Theological Resources in Historical
Perspective / Paul Avis. Rev. and expanded ed., 2nd ed. ed.

Chadwick, Henry, ed. Not Angels, but Anglicans: A History of Christianity in the British Isles.
Norwich: SCM-Canterbury Press, 2000.

Moorman, JRH. A History of the Church in England. Third ed. Harrisburg: Morehouse, 1980.

Prichard, Robert. A History of the Episcopal Church. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 1999.

Ramsey, Michael. The Anglican Spirit, Seabury Classics. New York: Church Publishing, 2004.

Reed, John Shelton. Glorious Battle: The Cultural Politics of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism.
Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1996.

World Missions and the Social Gospel. In, Project Canterbury, (accessed 1/4/2005.

  1. Robert Prichard, A History of the Episcopal Church (Harrisburg: Morehouse
    Publishing, 1999), 184-88.

  2. World Missions and the Social Gospel (Project Canterbury, [cited 1/4/2005); available
    from []

  3. Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven: Yale
    University Press, 1972), 629.

  4. John Shelton Reed, Glorious Battle: The Cultural Politics of Victorian Anglo-
    (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1996), 148. []

  5. JRH Moorman, A History of the Church in England, Third ed. (Harrisburg: Morehouse,
    1980), 378. []

  6. Reed, Glorious Battle: The Cultural Politics of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism, 148. []

  7. Prichard, A History of the Episcopal Church, 175. []

  8. Ibid., 175-76. []
  9. Ibid., 178. []
  10. Ibid., 178-79. []

  11. Moorman, A History of the Church in England, 379. []

  12. Henry Chadwick, ed., Not Angels, but Anglicans: A History of Christianity in the
    British Isles
    (Norwich: SCM-Canterbury Press, 2000), 223. []

  13. Prichard, A History of the Episcopal Church, 174. []

  14. Ibid., 196. []