History of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut

The Episcopal Church in Connecticut is the oldest organized diocese in in the United States. It formally began with the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Samuel Seabury as Bishop of Connecticut on November 14, 1784 in Aberdeen, Scotland. Bishop Seabury convened the first Clergy Convocation the following year in Middletown, Connecticut.

Prior to Bishop Seabury’s election at the historic Glebe House in Woodbury and his consecration, the Anglican Church had been quite active in the colony of Connecticut. The first recorded services were held in New London from September 12-15, 1702 by two missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), George Keith and John Talbot. The first parish, Christ Church, Stratford, was constructed in 1704, though gathered in 1692.

The growth of the Anglican Church in a heavily Congregationalist colony was enhanced on September 13, 1722 when Dr. Timothy Cutler, president of Yale College, Samuel Johnson, Daniel Brown and James Wetmore announced their conversion to the Church of England and departed for Great Britain for ordination by the Bishop of London. By the close of the American War of Independence there were 44 parishes in Connecticut. The current Diocesan Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, is the 15th bishop of Connecticut.

The Episcopal Church in Connecticut has been a leader in The Episcopal Church and in the state of Connecticut for many years, championing worldwide mission, social justice, ecumenical collaboration, the contributions of youth and laymen, civil rights and education. The early bishops saw a need for education outside of the Congregational reach. More than seven Episcopal preparatory schools were founded in Connecticut, as well as Trinity College and Berkeley Seminary. Throughout our history, the emphasis on the role of lay ministries has become more vital.

The Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Brownell, founder of Washington (now Trinity College in Hartford) also was a founder of the African Mission School in Hartford, and subsequently ordained two African American postulants to the Priesthood. The Rt. Rev. John Williams, a founder of Berkeley Episcopal Seminary, now part of Yale Divinity School, served as Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church while, at the same time, serving as diocesan bishop of Connecticut, as did his predecessor, Bishop Brownell. As the Civil War came to a close, the House of Bishops elected Williams to lead a commission to minister to freedmen. Williams taught and served as President of Washington College in addition to his duties as Bishop of Connecticut for several years, until his duties as bishop became too demanding.

The Rt. Rev. Walter Henry Gray, a leader in the international Anglican Communion organized three Anglican Congresses and served as editor of the magazine Pan Anglican. He also served as the first chair of the Civil Rights Commission in Connecticut. Bishop Gray was a major presence at two meetings of the Lambeth Conferences. Following in his footsteps, Bishop Arthur Walmsley was a leader in Civil Rights movement in the U.S., and opposed Apartheid in South Africa, inviting Bishop Desmond Tutu to preach at the celebration of the Seabury Bicentennial. Reaching across the Anglican Communion, he also instituted the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer and with a charismatic lay leader, held a Pan Anglican symposium on the theology of Mission in Connecticut. The latter initiative occurred during the diocesan bicentennial Venture in Mission and Festival of Renewal. One outgrowth of this symposium is a book Crossroads are for Meeting: Essays on the Mission and Common Life of the Church in a Global Society. Globalism and relations with the Anglican World have continued their importance to our current diocesan bishop, Ian T. Douglas, who has worked organizing the Lambeth Council and as a member of the Anglican Consultative Council.

The diocesan library collects bishops’ published books and just as importantly, books published by Connecticut Episcopalians. Additionally, the library owns collections in local histories, parish histories, books on Anglicanism and the American Colonial period.