Reformed Episcopal Church

Reformed Episcopal Church
Scriptural · Traditional · Liturgical · Evangelical
Classification Protestant
Orientation Anglican
Polity Episcopal
Leader Presiding Bishop Leonard W. Riches
Associations Anglican Church in North America, Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas
Geographical areas United States and Canada
Founder George David Cummins
Origin December 2, 1873
New York City
Separated from Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA
Congregations 141
Members 13,600+

The Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) is an Anglican church in the United States and Canada and a founding member of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). In 2009, the Reformed Episcopal Church reported 13,600 members, but within the ACNA forms a denomination of approximately 100,000 members.

The REC has approximately 141 parishes and missions in the United States, Germany, Brazil, India, Cuba,Croatia and Liberia. The current Presiding Bishop is the Most Reverend Leonard W. Riches.[1]

The REC was founded in 1873 by Bishop George David Cummins, formerly of the Protestant Episcopal Church. The church's services are celebrated according to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer or its own edition of the Book of Common Prayer.



G.D. Cummins, DD, founding bishop.

In the 19th century, as the Oxford Movement urged that the Protestant Episcopal Church and the Church of England return to Anglicanism's roots in pre-Reformation Catholic Christianity, George David Cummins, the Assistant Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky, became concerned about the preservation of Protestant, Evangelical, Reformed, and Confessional principles within the church.[2][3]

The founding of the Reformed Episcopal Church followed an 1873 controversy about ecumenical activity. In October of that year, Bishop Cummins joined with Dean Smith of Canterbury, William Augustus Muhlenberg, and some non-Anglican ministers at an ecumenical conference of the Evangelical Alliance. During the conference, held in New York City, Cummins, Smith and the non-Episcopalian ministers presided at joint services of Holy Communion. The retired missionary bishop, William Tozer, who visiting in New York at the time, criticized Smith and implicitly Cummins for participating in a rite different from that in the Book of Common Prayer. Tozer's criticism appeared in a letter published by the New York Tribune on 6 October 1873.[4]

Bishop Cummins defended his actions in a letter published 10 days later, but after criticisms from Anglo-Catholic clergy, he resigned his position on November 10. Three weeks later, joined by 21 Episcopalian clergy and lay people, he organized the first general council of the Reformed Episcopal Church in New York City on 2 December 1873.[4][5] At this time, as recorded by his wife in her biography of him, Cummins and the other early members spent much time in writing their "35 Articles" which encapsulated the faith they wished to express in the REC.

Early growth

In the United States

Within six months of its founding in 1873, the REC grew to comprise about 1,500 communicants. These were served by two bishops and 15 other ministers.[6] In 1875, over 400 African-American Protestant Episcopal communicants in South Carolina's Low Country joined the REC as a group.[7]

In Canada

Within a year from the founding of the REC, like-minded Canadian Anglicans in New Brunswick and Ontario seceded from that Church and formed Reformed Episcopal congregations. In October 1874, Edward Cridge, dean of the Anglican cathedral in Victoria, British Columbia, withdrew with about 350 of his congregation and joined the Reformed Episcopal Church. Cridge was consecrated a bishop for the REC in 1876.[8]

In England

In 1877, in response to a petition from REC sympathizers in England, the REC's Fifth General Council acted to establish the Reformed Episcopal Church in that country.[9] Former Church of England minister Thomas Huband Gregg was consecrated a bishop to lead adherents there. By 1910 there were 28 ministers and 1,990 communicant members constituting the Reformed Episcopal Church in that country.[10] In 1927, the Reformed Episcopal Church in England merged with the Free Church of England.[11]

2009 split in Canada

In 2009, Bishop Michael Fedechko retired as Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese of Central and Eastern Canada. In 2010, he organized the “Reformed Episcopal Church of Canada” and disassociated himself from the General Council of the Reformed Episcopal Church. All but one parish (St. George's Anglican Church) within the diocese left with Bishop Fedechko.

In response, the REC appointed Bishop Ordinary David Hicks of the Diocese of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to be the Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese of Central and Eastern Canada. [12] According to the Minutes of the 139th Council of the Diocese of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic (held on November 4-5, 2010), “The effectiveness of the work of the church in Ontario has not diminished, as St. George's Church is larger in number than all of the clergy and laity, who have left with Bishop Fedechko, combined.[13]

In Spring 2011, Bishop Fedechko, as Bishop Primus, left the Reformed Episcopal Church of Canada and joined Independent Anglican Church Canada Synod, together with his parish, Trinity Anglican Church in New Liskeard, Ontario, leaving one or two parishes in the Reformed Episcopal Church of Canada under the oversight of Bishop Ordinary Ivan Chan, with total attendance of less than 10 people (excluding clergy and families).[citation needed]

Current status

Church of the Holy Communion in North Dallas, Texas. Seat of Bishop Ray Sutton.

As of 2009, the Reformed Episcopal Church reports that it has 13,600 members. The Church has six dioceses in the United States and Canada, and includes 141 parishes and missions. Congregations are also located in Germany, Brazil, India, Cuba,Croatia and Liberia.[1]


The current Presiding Bishop of the Church is the Most Rev. Leonard W. Riches.[1] The Diocese of Mid-America is led by Bishop Royal Grote, the Coadjutor of the Diocese is Ray Sutton, and an assisting Bishop in the diocese is Sam Seamans. The Rt. Rev. Alphonza Gadsden is the Bishop of the Diocese of the Southeast and the Rt. Rev'd William White is the Suffragan Bishop of that Diocese. The Rt. Rev. Richard Boyce is the Bishop of the Diocese of the West. The Rt. Rev. Daniel Morse is the Bishop of the Missionary Diocese of the Central States. The Rt. Rev. Charles Dorrington is the Bishop of the Diocese of Western Canada and Alaska. Bishop Dorrington also provides oversight for six churches and a variety of preaching stations in Cuba.

Relations with other jurisdictions

Formation of Anglican Church in North America

In 2009, the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) became a founding member of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA),[14] a denomination seeking to create a new Anglican Communion province distinct from the Episcopal Church. ACNA is in communion with the Anglican Churches of Uganda and Nigeria, with approximately 26 million members world-wide, representing approximately one-third of the faithful of the Anglican Communion.[15][16][17]

Earlier developments

The Reformed Episcopal Church in North America has been in full communion with the Free Church of England since 1927, when Reformed Episcopal congregations and clergy in England merged with the FCE. Bishops of the two Churches take part in episcopal consecrations of the other, and there are periodic visits between them. On occasion REC clergy have served in FCE parishes and vice versa.[11]

In 1998 the REC signed a concordat of intercommunion for the first time with an Anglo-Catholic communion, the Anglican Province of America (APA).[18][1] A 2005 renewal of the agreement also established intercommunion with the Anglican Communion's Church of Nigeria.[19][20].

An additional proposal would have led to an eventual merger between the APA and the REC,[21] but the APA's decision not to join the new Anglican Church in North America in 2008[22] is an obstacle to the proposed merger.


REC Diocese of Mid-America 103rd Synod
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Founding principles

The founders of the Reformed Episcopal Church professed a faith rooted in the English Reformation, regarding the Holy Scripture as the Word of God, and accepting the authority of the Nicene, Apostles' and Athanasian Creeds, the first four ecumenical councils, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion (in the form published in 1801 by the Protestant Episcopal Church), and the Declaration of Principles of the Reformed Episcopal Church.[23]

They emphasized the Protestant, Reformed, Evangelical and Reformational aspects in the history of the Church of England, making frequent allusions to Archbishop Cranmer, Bishop Ridley, Bishop Hugh Latimer, Bishop John Hooper, Archbishop Matthew Parker, Bishop John Jewel, Archbishop Edmund Grindal and other Reformers in the Church of England.[24] Early leaders of the Church, in lectures and sermons, warned against Ritualism as a denominational proclivity in the Episcopal Church.[25][26]

Concluding the final day of the First General Convention of The Reformed Episcopal Church, December 2, 1873, the principles and ethos were summarized:

"One in heart and in faith with our fathers, who at the very beginning of this nation sought to mold and fashion the ecclesiastical polity which they had inherited from the Reformed Church of England, by a judicious and thorough revision of the Book of Common Prayer, we return to their positions and claim to be the old and true Protestant Episcopalians of the days immediately succeeding the American Revolution, and through these, our ancestors, we claim an unbroken historical connection through the Church of England, with the Church of Christ, from the earliest Christian community."[27]

Declaration of Principles

The first general council of the REC approved this declaration on 2 December 1873:[5]

1. The Reformed Episcopal Church, holding "the faith once delivered unto the saints", declares its belief in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the Word of God, as the sole rule of Faith and Practice; in the Creed "commonly called the Apostles' Creed;" in the Divine institution of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper; and in the doctrines of grace substantially as they are set forth in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.

2. This Church recognizes and adheres to Episcopacy, not as of Divine right, but as a very ancient and desirable form of Church polity.

3. This Church, retaining a liturgy which shall not be imperative or repressive of freedom in prayer, accepts The Book of Common Prayer, as it was revised, proposed, and recommended for use by the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, A.D. 1785, reserving full liberty to alter, abridge, enlarge, and amend the same, as may seem most conducive to the edification of the people, "provided that the substance of the faith be kept entire."

4. This Church condemns and rejects the following erroneous and strange doctrines as contrary to God's Word: First, that the Church of Christ exists only in one order or form of ecclesiastical polity; Second, that Christian Ministers are "priests" in another sense than that in which all believers are a "royal priesthood"; Third, that the Lord's Table is an altar on which the oblation of the Body and Blood of Christ is offered anew to the Father; Fourth, that the Presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper is a presence in the elements of Bread and Wine; Fifth, that regeneration is inseparably connected with Baptism.

Doctrine on ministry

At its founding in 1873, the REC did not maintain three historic orders of ministry (bishop, priest, and deacon), but only two, with a primitive and low form of episcopacy. The Bishop was a senior presbyter, primus inter pares, chosen from brother-presbyters.


In his letters, Bishop George Cummins wrote that the role of a bishop was an "office" of service not a "monarchialist order." Bishop Cummins wrote in a private letter on January 1, 1873 to a Protestant Episcopal clergyman, "I contend that the Episcopate is not of apostolic origin; that the Bishop is only primus inter pares, and not in any way superior in order to the Presbyter. We are acting on this principle. We set apart a Bishop to his work by a joint laying on of hands of a Bishop and the presbyters. I act as a Bishop, not claiming a jure divino right, or to be in any Apostolic Succession, but only as one chosen of his brethren to have the oversight. If others look upon me as retaining the succession, that does not commit us to their understanding."[28]

According to the Church's early founders, bishops were "presiding presbyters, not diocesan Prelates."[29] The Rev. Mason Gallagher, one founding minister, argued that the true episcopate had come through the 1785 line of evangelicals. In his view, the Protestant Episcopal Church had changed its principles and thereby lost any claim to valid episcopacy when it adopted the 1789 Book of Common Prayer containing a "Scoto-Romish Communion service and a thoroughly Sacerdotal Institution Office", and when it created a House of Bishops with power to overrule the existing House of presbyters and laymen: "If there is such a thing as the Historic Episcopate, and it is of any value, the parties making this offer in the present case cannot deliver the goods." [30]


From its founding in 1873, the REC designated its clergy as presbyters, pastors, and ministers, but not as "priests",[31] and the word "priest" was expunged from the REC's Book of Common Prayer in favor of the word "minister."[5] This usage reflected the terminology used in the Cranmerian 1552 Book of Common Prayer.

Acceptance of other Evangelical clergy

REC ministers, unlike ministers of the Protestant Episcopal Church, exchanged pulpits with fellow evangelical clergymen of non-episcopal traditions. They viewed the ministries of the Word and Sacraments in other evangelical denominations as equally valid. True churches of Christ existed outside episcopal church structures, they held, contrary to Tractarian and High Church teaching. Inter-evangelical collegiality was an important issue for the REC, because Bishop Cummins had been censured for participation with Presbyterian and Methodist ministers in an inter-faith communion service.[27] This practice of the founders' praxis and belief has now been abandoned. The current praxis is to require reordination and regularization of orders if ordained outside Episcopal ordination.

At its first general council on December 2, 1873, the REC also reformed the transfer of clergy credentials from other denominations. In the Episcopal Church, such transfers had involved a process of application, examination, reception, and in some cases, conferral of holy orders, understood as a "regularization." In contrast, the REC allowed for examination in points of doctrine and discipline for validation of conformity yet without re-ordination.[32]

Contemporary positions and controversies

Theological pluralism

Although the REC was founded as an evangelical and Reformed Anglican body, it now has Anglo-Catholics among its members and has entered into an intercommunion agreement with an Anglo-Catholic body, the APA.[18] A 2006 document of the REC bishops, "True Unity by the Cross of Christ",[33] grants wider flexibility to re-interpret the Thirty-nine Articles in an Anglo-Catholic manner while maintaining the perspective of the English Reformers. It uses the terms "priest", "altar", and "Real Presence", and speaks of the authority of tradition as well as that of Holy Scripture.

Reformed critics characterize these developments as rejecting the 35 Articles of Bishop Cummins, revising the force of the Declaration of Principles, as well as departing from the Church's evangelical and Reformed heritage in order to accommodate Anglo-Catholicism.[34]

The role of women in ministry

The Church does not ordain women as bishops, presbyters, or deacons. In 2002, the denomination approved a canon that provides for the "setting apart" of qualified women as deaconesses, who were not to be considered as ordained female deacons.[23] [35]

Clergy transfers

Under the canons of the Reformed Episcopal Church, a non-REC minister entering into the REC ministry as a deacon or presbyter is to receive Holy Orders if he has not already been ordained by a bishop recognized by REC as in the historic succession.[23] If previously ordained in a non-episcopal church, the applicant to the REC may need to be "regularized." The practical result, unlike the English Reformed Church, renders a view of non-episcopal ministers as "irregular," if valid at all.

Book of Common Prayer of The Reformed Episcopal Church

1873 edition

The founding First General Council of the REC approved a Book of Common Prayer for the Church, with a text based on the proposed 1785 BCP prepared by William Smith and William White (later the first Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania).[36]

This text,[37] published in 1786, had been offered to the First General Convention at Philadelphia held in 1785.[38] Although initially authorized in some states, its changes met with considerable resistance, and the Episcopal Church adopted a different text in 1789 as its Book of Common Prayer.[39][40]

In accord with prevailing Evangelical preferences and in opposition to Tractarianism, the 1873 REC Council made various changes in order "to eliminate from the Prayer-Book the germs of Romish error, which the compromises of the Elizabethan era have transmitted to us." The REC Book replaced the word "priest" with "minister" throughout, dropped saints' days from the calendar, and struck from the Apostles' Creed the words "He descended into hell". From the service of Holy Communion expressions such as "holy mysteries" and "eating the flesh and drinking the blood" were removed. References to baptismal regeneration were modified in accordance with evangelical views,[41] as were the services of Ordination and Marriage.[5]

Later editions

Over the next century a few minor changes were made to the REC Book of Common Prayer with the result that the 1963 BCP[42] retained the particular REC distinctives noted above, in contrast to the 1662, 1789 and 1928 BCPs of the Protestant Episcopal Church.[citation needed]

The Reformed Episcopal Church began a process of historical revision, theological transformation and liturgical revision in the 1990s with the first revised BCP for trial use being produced in 1999.[citation needed] The 49th and 50th General Councils of the REC approved a revision of the Book of Common Prayer, to be based on the 1662 Book, with elements drawn from several later Books (PECUSA 1928 and 1945, REC 1963, Australia 1978). The revised version was issued in 2003.[43]

Parishes in the Reformed Episcopal Church predominantly conduct services with the 2003 REC BCP, although other liturgies can be used with the approval of the Bishop Ordinary. REC parishes also use the 1963 REC BCP,[42] the 1928 Protestant Episcopal BCP, the 1962 Canadian BCP, and the Australian BCP.[citation needed]


The Reformed Episcopal Church has four seminaries, serving under 100 full time students.[citation needed]

Reformed Episcopal Seminary

The Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, founded in 1887, offers a Certificate in Bible and Theology, a Diploma in Divinity for undergraduates, and the Master of Divinity (MDiv), through courses in residence and online.

Cummins Seminary

Cummins Memorial Theological Seminary, located in Summerville, South Carolina, near Charleston, is named for Bishop George Cummins, the founder of the Reformed Episcopal Church. The seminary was founded at the end of the nineteenth century as a rogative college, meaning it was located wherever the Bishop of the Southeast took up residence. In 1912, the Diocese of the Southeast purchased property for a permanent campus.

The seminary offered residential programs leading to the degrees Bachelor of Theology and Master of Divinity, and the Certificate in Theological Studies. The Seminary offers distance education through its External Studies Department.

Cranmer House

Cranmer Theological House was founded in 1994 in Shreveport, Louisiana and is named for the English reformer, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. Now located in Spring, Texas, just north of Houston, Cranmer House offers residential and distance learning programs for people not seeking ordination, a certificate in Anglican Studies, a Master of Arts in Religion (MAR), Master of Divinity (MDiv), and Master of Theology (ThM). A Deaconess Studies program was added to the 2009–2010 academic catalog.

Andrewes Hall

Cranmer Theological House also has a branch in Phoenix, Arizona, founded in 2002 and called Andrewes Hall, named for Lancelot Andrewes, and offering the same degrees as Cranmer. Andrewes Hall's dean is the Rev. Steven R. Rutt, ThD, with seven faculty.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "History", Reformed Episcopal Church official website. Accessed: 2009.01.09.
  2. ^ Price, Annie Darling (1902). A History of the Formation and Growth of the Reformed Episcopal Church, 1873–1902. Philadelphia: James M. Armstrong. pp. 18–19. 
  3. ^ William Simcox Bricknell (1845) The judgment of the bishops upon tractarian theology,
  4. ^ a b Badertscher, Eric A. (1998). "Chapter 2: Background of the "Continuing Church" Movement" (PDF). The Measure of A Bishop. Project Canterbury. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Rev. Dr. Sabine's Church". New York Times. 1874-11-23. 
  6. ^ Price, p. 154.
  7. ^ Price, p. 164, 241–242.
  8. ^ Price, 234–238.
  9. ^ Price, p. 227.
  10. ^ Schaff, Philip (1953). "Reformed Episcopalians". The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. IX. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book Company. 
  11. ^ a b The Free Church of England
  12. ^ Selected Reports from the Reformed Episcopal Church 53rd General Council
  13. ^ Minutes of 139th Council of the Diocese of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic
  14. ^ The provisional constitution of ACNA is at
  15. ^ Anglican Church of Nigeria (estimate)
  16. ^ 2002 Uganda Population and Housing Census, Ugandan Bureau of Statistics
  17. ^ The Anglican Communion Official Website
  18. ^ a b Articles of Intercommunion,
  19. ^ Anglican Communion's Church of Nigeria
  20. ^[dead link] Episcopal Church News Service article]
  21. ^[dead link] The Rev. Mark Clavier, "History of the Anglican Province of America"
  22. ^[dead link]
  23. ^ a b c The Constitutions and Canons of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Version 3.2, October 2008
  24. ^ Voices of the Past – Truths for the Present, 2nd edition, Jan 1995, Reformed Episcopal Church
  25. ^ Reasons for Entering the Reformed Episcopal Church, Address delivered by John McDowell Leavitt, Oct 20, 1889, Reformed Episcopal Church
  26. ^ Aycrigg, Benjamin (1880). Memoirs of the Reformed Episcopal Church and of the Protestant Episcopal Church. New York: Edward O. Jenkins. 
  27. ^ a b Price, p. 123.
  28. ^ Price, page 149. Emphasis in original.
  29. ^ Price, page 133.
  30. ^ Gallagher, Mason (1890). The True Historic Episcopate. New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls. pp. xvi–xviii. 
  31. ^ Rev. Robert N. McIntyre “Don’t Call Me Father”, A Biblical Perspective on the use of the term “father”, Reformed Episcopal Church
  32. ^ Journal of the First General Council of the Reformed Episcopal Church. New York: Edward O. Jenkins. 1874. pp. 23–24. 
  33. ^ True Unity by the Cross of Christ, 2006, Reformed Episcopal Church
  34. ^ Dissimilitude in High Places,
  35. ^ See "A Brief Apologia for Deaconesses", The Order of Deaconesses, Reformed Episcopal Church, as retrieved 23 Dec 08.
  36. ^ Bishop Charles Edward Cheyney, The Book of Common Prayer, Reformed Episcopal Church
  37. ^ The Book of Common Prayer (1785). 1873. 
    Reprint from 1789 London edition includes REC Declaration of Principles and statement by Bp. Cummins.
  38. ^ 1786 Proposed U. S. Book of Common Prayer
  39. ^ History of the American Prayer Book – Illustrative documents
  40. ^ History of the Prayer Book by William McGarvey
  41. ^ Bishop Charles Edward Cheney Baptism and the Bible
  42. ^ a b 1963 BCP
  43. ^ Book of Common Prayer, 2003 Edition, 690 pages.

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