The End of “Churchmanship?”

Past generations of Episcopalians were familiar with the term, “Churchmanship.” It referred to the liturgical style and other customs of a given parish.

Thus, a “high church” parish had incense and elaborate vestments, while a “low church” parish preferred Morning Prayer to Holy Communion. The rector of the former was addressed as “Father;” the rector of the latter was known as “Mr.” (or “Dr.” or “Canon,” if he was lucky.) Moreover, in those days, “churchmen” referred to all Episcopalians. It wasn’t regarded as sexist, as all persons were included under the word, “men.”

Since those olden times, there have been so many changes to the styles of worship in the Episcopal parish that the high/low church distinction barely registers any more. Rectors of parishes with very relaxed liturgies go by “Father”–or “Mother;” “Mr.” is hardly ever heard, these days.

Perhaps the most important change with the years has been a general coming together of both Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical styles. Most churches wear vestments and favor the Eucharist on Sundays. Most clergy also attempt to preach engaging sermons; they don’t see preaching as “low church.” While in Manhattan, individual parishes are still distinguished by their historic practices–St. Mary the Virgin being the paradigmatic High Church and Grace the example of Low Church–still, the majority of churches wouldn’t see themselves under either banner.

For what it’s worth, I classify the Church of the Incarnation as “Broad Church!”–J. Douglas Ousley

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