Ministers and the Ministry

Ministers and the Ministry Ministers who came to the New World in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries landed in a turbulent and disorienting environment. There were various congregations scattered about, competing religious sects, an inadequate number of ministers, and hardly any of the supports for the ministerial authority found in the Old World, such as bishops or consistories to ordain and discipline ministers. Outside New England, there was no theological education or dependable salaries, and no assurance of continuity in any parish. Yet ministers came to the New World with their hopes and the energy to minister to these diverse groups of people with different religious needs, and they attempted to nourish and build a moral base for society, politics, and commerce. In 1607, Jamestown, Virginia, became the first successful English colony established in America. The Virginia Company of London sponsored these first visionary settlers with the primary purpose of making a profit for the company. These nascent Virginians brought to the New World their Protestant religious institution, known as the Church of England (Anglican Church) and later as the Episcopal Church. (The Church of England had emerged from the 1534 Reformation that occurred during Henry VIII’s reign.) Anglican priests began to minister to the colonists and, to some degree, to Native Americans. Both the Pilgrims and Puritans saw the Church of England as corrupt and too papist. The Pilgrims did not think it possible to reform the Church of England, so they completely separated from England and its state church. In 1620, the Pilgrims obtained a land grant from the Virginia Company and established a colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Some powerful Puritans held stock in the Massachusetts Bay Company, and, under the leadership of John Winthrop, they landed in New England in 1630. The Puritans also sought to reform the Anglican Church. They wanted to discard priestly vestments and the order of worship required by the Book of Common Prayer, reserve the Sabbath for worship only, recognize only the sacraments of baptism and communion (called the Lord’s Supper), and install a congregational form of government instead of government by the bishops. With this emphasis upon the involvement of the laity in church government, the Puritans became known as the Congregational Church. While the Puritans had no confidence that their reforms could happen in seventeenth-century England, they did not separate completely from England, as did the Pilgrims. Instead the Puritans came to America with a mission to build a city upon a hill to demonstrate the model for a Christian society, and then take that model back to England as the foundation for a new society.

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