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“Representatives of All that is Noble”: The Rise of the Episcopal Establishment in Early-Twentieth-Century Philadelphia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 June 2018

Abstract

The United States has never had an established religion, but, by the early twentieth century, many Episcopalians had come to think of themselves as the nation's religious establishment. No other denomination, they believed, was as well-suited to provide moral leadership for the nation and unite its people in faith. This article argues that their commitment to a national civic mission provided Episcopalians with a sense of collective purpose that diverted attention from internal divisions and helped propel the church to a position of prominence within American religious life. It also reveals how many of the prime proponents and beneficiaries of the church's ascendancy were members of the social and financial elite. Committed to a patrician creed of social responsibility, these “representatives of all that is noble” gained status and moral authority through their public support of the church and its mission. To trace the contours of the Episcopal ascendancy, this article focuses on developments within the Diocese of Pennsylvania, one of the largest, wealthiest, and most influential within the church. Over the course of the early twentieth century, its members overcame their prevailing parochialism, strengthened their denominational identity, and brought their influence to bear on the nation's religious life. Their exercise of religious and cultural authority can be seen in their support of three ecclesiastical projects—the proposed diocesan cathedral, historic Christ Church, and the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge— that helped fashion the public image of the Episcopal Church as the nation's religious establishment.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture 2009

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References

Notes

I would like to thank John McGreevy for his constructive advice and encouragement throughout the larger dissertation project from which this piece is drawn, as well as those who commented upon earlier drafts of this article, including David Contosta, Meg Garnett, Timothy Gloege, Matthew Grow, and Tamara Van Dyken. I would also like to extend a word of gratitude to Nathanael Groton, Jr., for sharing his father's diaries.

1. Diocesan Affairs Committee, Minutes, May 28, 1919, Episcopal Churchwomen Records, Acc. 2106, Historical Society of Pennsylvania (hereafter cited as HSP).

2. For surveys of the history of the Episcopal church and the Diocese of Pennsylvania, see Prichard, Robert W., A History of the Episcopal Church (Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse, 1991)Google Scholar; Hein, David and Shattuck, Gardiner H. Jr., The Episcopalians (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004 Google Scholar); and Wesley Twelves, J., A History of the Diocese of Pennsylvania of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA, 1784–1968 (Philadelphia: Diocese of Pennsylvania, 1969)Google Scholar. On the theme of the Episcopal establishment, see Digby Baltzell, E., The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Caste in America (New York: Random House, 1964)Google Scholar; Kit, and Konolige, Frederica, The Power of Their Glory: America's Ruling Class, The Episcopalians (New York: Wyden Books, 1978)Google Scholar; and Hein, David, Noble Powell and the Episcopal Establishment in the Twentieth Century (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001)Google Scholar.

3. On nineteenth-century efforts to promote church unity, see Holmes, David L., A Brief History of the Episcopal Church (Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press, 1993), 125–26.Google Scholar See also Huntington, William Reed, The Church Ideal: An Essay Toward Unity (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1870)Google Scholar; Huntington, William Reed, A National Church (New York: Charles Scribners’ Sons, 1898)Google Scholar; and John Frederick Woolverton, “William Reed Huntington and Church Unity: The Historical and Theological Background of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1963).

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5. In 1920, for instance, the Episcopal church reported 1,096,895 communicants out of a total United States population of 117,823,165, or 0.93 percent. For membership statistics, given in five-year increments, see Living Church Annual (Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse Publishing, 2003), 20–21. Within the Diocese of Pennsylvania, the Episcopalian presence was somewhat stronger, where they comprised 2.69 percent of the population in 1920, as calculated from U.S. census figures and diocesan statistics reported in the Living Church Annual . For a fuller portrait of the nation's religious composition, see Scott, Edwin Gaustad, and Barlow, Philip L., New Historical Atlas of Religion in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)Google Scholar.

6. Sociologist E. Digby Baltzell has been credited with popularizing the term WASP, which came into usage in the 1950s, the point in American history when the group had already begun its decline. On the history of the WASP religious establishment, see Baltzell, The Protestant Establishment; Schrag, Peter, The Decline of the WASP (New York: Touchstone Press, 1970)Google Scholar, quote on 15; Silk, Leonard and Silk, Mark, The American Establishment (New York: Basic Books, 1978)Google Scholar; Christopher, Robert C., Crashing the Gates: The De-WASPing of America's Power Elite (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989)Google Scholar; Hutchinson, William R., ed., Between the Times: The Travail of the Protestant Establishment in America, 1900–1960 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989)Google Scholar; Brookhiser, Richard, The Way of the WASP: How It Made America and How It Can Save It, So to Speak (New York: Free Press, 1991)Google Scholar; and Kaufmann, Eric P., The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004)Google Scholar.

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8. Statistics listed in the Living Church Annual show that the Diocese of Pennsylvania was second only to the Diocese of New York in numerical size and financial strength throughout the early twentieth century. See, for instance, “General Table of Statistics,” Living Church Annual and Whittaker's Churchman's Almanac (Milwaukee: Young Churchman Co., 1911), 350–53; and “General Table of Statistics,” Living Church Annual (Milwaukee: Morehouse Publishing, 1931), 504–9.

9. On immigration concerns, see Higham, John, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925, 2d ed. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1988)Google Scholar; and Behdad, Ali, A Forgetful Nation: On Immigration and Cultural Identity in the United States (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On the religious response to social change, see White, Ronald C. Jr., and Howard Hopkins, C., eds., The Social Gospel: Religion and Reform in Changing America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1976)Google Scholar; and Boyer, Paul, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820–1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978)Google Scholar.

10. Lukacs, John, Philadelphia Patricians and Philistines, 1900–1950 (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1981)Google Scholar; and Sugeno, Frank, “The Establishmentarian Ideal and the Mission of the Episcopal Church,” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church (December 1984): 285–92Google Scholar.

11. Hein, and Shattuck, , The Episcopalians, 5162 Google Scholar.

12. Gough, Deborah Mathias, “The Roots of Episcopalian Authority Structures: The Church of England in Colonial Philadelphia,” in Friends and Neighbors: Group Life in America's First Plural Society, ed. Zuckerman, Michael (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982), 90114 Google Scholar.

13. Statistics are derived from the diocesan figures published in the Living Church Annual and Whittaker's Churchman's Almanac (1911).

14. Such comments appear regularly in Whitaker's addresses to the annual diocesan convention during his tenure. In particular, see the Bishop's Address, Journal of the Proceedings of the Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Diocese of Pennsylvania), for 1881, 1885, and 1909 (hereafter cited as Journal of the Annual Convention ).

15. Bishop's Address, Journal of the Annual Convention (1917); and “Report on the Nation-Wide Campaign,” Journal of the Annual Convention (1921), 88–90.

16. Clowes Chorley, E., Men and Movements in the American Episcopal Church (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1946)Google Scholar; and Twelves, , History of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, 2526 Google Scholar.

17. Baltzell, , Philadelphia Gentlemen, 236–46, quote on 235.Google Scholar

18. Prepared for Us to Walk In: The History of All Saints’ Church, Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, 1911–1986 (Wynnewood, Pa.: All Saints’ Church, 1986), 28–29.

19. The most famous dispute involved the introduction of ritualist practices at St. Clement's Church during the 1870s. The clash between Stevens and the church's rector, Oliver Prescott, was captured in a series of widely circulated pamphlets written by parties on both sides of the dispute. In particular, see Daniel R. Goodwin, “The New Ritualistic Divinity: Neither the Religion of the Bible and Prayer-Book nor of the Holy Catholic Church; being a Defense of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Pennsylvania, against the attack of Henry Flanders, Esq. of the Philadelphia Bar,” 2d ed. (Philadelphia, 1879); and Oliver S. Prescott, “Is Fairness in Religious Controversy Impossible? A Letter to Rev. Daniel R. Goodwin, DD, LLD” (Philadelphia, 1879). On the diocesan position, see “Report of the Committee of Inquiry Appointed by the Convention of the Diocese of Pennsylvania in the Matter of St. Clement's Church” (Philadelphia, 1879). See also Twelves, , History of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, 2829 Google Scholar; and Lilly, May, The Story of St. Clement's Church, Philadelphia, 1864–1964 (Philadelphia: St. Clement's Church, 1964)Google Scholar.

20. For Whitaker's views, see Bishop's Address, Journal of the Annual Convention, for 1891, 1904, and 1905. On the schism, see Guelzo, Allen, For the Union of Evangelical Christendom: The Irony of the Reformed Episcopalians (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994)Google Scholar.

21. The need for the election emerged unexpectedly when Alexander Mackay-Smith, Whitaker's coadjutor and appointed successor, died within one year of taking over the leadership of the diocese. On Rhinelander's background and election, see Twelves, , History of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, 3233 Google Scholar; and Washburn, Henry Bradford, Philip Mercer Rhinelander: Seventh Bishop of Pennsylvania, First Warden of the College of Preachers (New York: Morehouse-Gorham, 1950)Google Scholar.

22. Bishop's Address, Journal of the Annual Convention (1912).

23. Bishop's Address, Journal of the Annual Convention (1887).

24. Bishop's Address, Journal of the Annual Convention (1917).

25. “The 129th Convention of the Diocese,” Church News (June 1913), 10; and “Report of the Commission on Church Building of the Diocese,” Appendix T, Journal of the Annual Convention (1914), 286–91.

26. On Garland, see Twelves, , History of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, 3637 Google Scholar. There is no comprehensive study of the social composition of the lay representatives on diocesan bodies, but their status is not difficult to surmise. In 1911, for instance, the laymen on the standing committee of the diocese—R. Francis Wood, W[illiam] W. Frazier, John E. Baird, S[amuel] F. Houston, and E[dward] H. Bonsall—were powerful figures in industry, banking, and real estate. See “Officers of the Convention of the Diocese,” Journal of the Annual Convention (1911), 3. For a discussion of the general class character of church boards in the early twentieth century, see Davis, Jerome, “A Study of Protestant Church Boards of Control,” American Journal of Sociology 38 (November 1932): 418–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

27. Bishop's Address, Journal of the Annual Convention (1923). Rhinelander's remarks were later reprinted as “The Creed: Its Place in the Life of the Church and in the Duty of the Church's Officers,” Church News (May–June 1923), 263–64.

28. On Rhinelander's teaching career, see Washburn, Philip Mercer Rhinelander, ch. 6. On his involvement in the Philadelphia Divinity School, see Overseers and Joint Board, Minutes, 1912–1923, RG4, Philadelphia Divinity School Records, Episcopal Divinity School Archives, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

29. Rev. Nathanael Groton, Diary, May 11, 1914 and April 6, 1914. [Privately held by Nathanael Groton, Jr.]

30. Bishop's Address, Journal of the Annual Convention (1919).

31. Groton, Diary, May 5, 1914.

32. For a discussion of this trend in New York, see Bourgeois, Michael, All Things Human: Henry Codman Potter and the Social Gospel in the Episcopal Church (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 8183 Google Scholar.

33. On the Social Gospel, and its influence on religious progressivism, see Hopkins, Charles Howard, The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865–1915 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940)Google Scholar; Crunden, Robert, Ministers of Reform: The Progressives’ Achievement in American Civilization, 1889–1920 (New York: Basic Books, 1982)Google Scholar; and Fox, Richard Wightman, “The Culture of Liberal Protestant Progressivism, 1875–1925,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 23 (Winter 1993): 639–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

34. Charles Custis Harrison, Memoirs (1925), Box 13, Folder 14, Charles Custis Harrison Papers, University of Pennsylvania Archives. See also, “Dr. C. C. Harrison Dies in 85th Year,” New York Times, February 13, 1929, 23; and George L. Harrison, “Philadelphia as I Remember It, 1875–1950,” 3 vols., Harrison Family Papers, Acc. 2048, HSP.

35. [Harrison, Charles C.], “Report of the Provost of the U of Penn.,” Church Standard (March 19, 1898): 657 Google Scholar. On the religious character of the University of Pennsylvania during this period, see Cheyney, Edward Potts, History of the University of Pennsylvania, 1740–1940 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1940)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Baltzell, , Philadelphia Gentlemen, 322 Google Scholar.

36. Pepper, George Wharton: Philadelphia Lawyer: An Autobiography (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1944), 290 Google Scholar; and “Why the University,” in Pepper, Men and Issues: A Selection of Speeches and Articles, comp. Horace Green (New York: Duffield and Co., 1924), 13–24. For a later editorial on public responsibility, see also “Churchmen in Public Service,” Church News (January 1935): 114; and for an assessment of Pepper's character, see Lukacs, , Philadelphia Patricians and Philistines, 219–39.Google Scholar

37. On the theme of public responsibility among the elite, see Baltzell, The Protestant Establishment.

38. Groton, Diary, March 27, 1914.

39. Although the formal announcement came in 1918, plans for a cathedral date back to 1913, when Rhinelander met with several prominent laymen about the project. See “Parkway Cathedral will be Memorial, P.E.,” Public Ledger, November 29, 1918, 9 Google Scholar; and Cathedral Church of Christ of the Diocese of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Diocese of Pennsylvania, [1934]), HSP.

40. Cathedral Church of Christ of the Diocese of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Diocese of Pennsylvania, [1922]), HSP; and “The Bishop Announces Selection of Site for Cathedral,” Church News (January 1927), 114–15.

41. Rev.DeWolf Perry, J., DD, Memorial Sermon Preached at the Convention of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, May 9, 1911 in Memory of The Rt. Rev. O. W. Whitaker, DD, LLD (Philadelphia, 1911), 7 Google Scholar. Whitaker's reluctance is also hinted at in “The Bishop Announces Selection of Site for Cathedral,” Church News (January 1927), 114–15.

42. Bishop's Address, Journal of the Annual Convention (1919); and Church News (April 1925), 253.

43. On the history of the founding of the Cathedral Chapter and its early work, see Scull, William Ellis, William Ellis Scull, Sometime Quaker: An Autobiography (Philadelphia: John C. Winston, 1939)Google Scholar, ch. 17; a reference to the pamphlet appears in “The Bishop's Address at Cathedral League Meeting,” Church News (April 1920), 179.

44. Bishop's Address, Journal of the Annual Convention (1925). Advertisements encouraging support for the National Cathedral appeared in issues of Church News throughout 1927 and 1928.

45. “The Bishop Announces Selection of Site for Cathedral,” Church News (January 1927), 114–15; “The Bishop Breaks Ground for St. Mary's Chapel on the Cathedral Site in Upper Roxborough,” Church News (October 1932), 22–23.

46. The Lady Chapel now serves as a parish church, St. Mary’s, Cathedral Road. On the redevelopment of the land, see Shearer, F. A., ed., Cathedral Village: The First Decade, 1979–1989 (n.p., 1989)Google Scholar, unpaginated.

47. This language is most often associated with the Washington National Cathedral but was also employed in relation to the Philadelphia Cathedral and other projects. See “Parkway Cathedral will be P.E. Memorial,” Public Ledger, November 29, 1918, 9; and the speech of Canon Bratenahl, G. C. F. in Cathedral Church of Christ of the Diocese of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Diocese of Pennsylvania, [1922])Google Scholar, HSP.

48. Diocesan Affairs Committee, Minutes, May 1918, Episcopal Churchwomen Records, Acc. 2106, HSP.

49. Williams, Peter W., Houses of God: Region, Religion, and Architecture in the United States (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997)Google Scholar; and Kilde, Jeanne Halgren, When Church Became Theatre: The Transformation of Evangelical Architecture and Worship in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

50. For a narrative and visual depiction of the liturgical changes within the Episcopal church, see Our Common Prayer: A Bicentennial Book Celebrating the History of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, 1784–1984 (Philadelphia: Diocese of Pennsylvania, 1984).

51. For a comprehensive history of the parish, see Gough, Deborah Mathias, Christ Church, Philadelphia: The Nation's Church in a Changing City (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995)Google Scholar.

52. Ibid., 276. While one of the first, Christ Church was not alone in installing such “historical windows.” Examples can be found in other parishes in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, like Christ Church, Ithan, established in 1919, whose rear central window depicts key figures in the history of the Anglican and Episcopal churches.

53. The windows installed at Christ Church in the 1890s were not the first stained glass to adorn the sanctuary. The large east window directly behind the altar had its clear glass replaced with stained glass in the 1850s as a means of preventing unsightly views from disturbing worship. The memorial windows were removed and put in storage in the 1980s as part of the church's most recent restoration, which emphasized historical authenticity and returned the sanctuary to its original colonial appearance. See ibid., 234–36, 260–62, 276–78, 307–8, 386, and photographic insert. Information about the windows can also be obtained by searching the Christ Church Philadelphia Archives online database: http://www.christchurchphila.org/Historic_Christ_Church/Collections_Genealogy/Online_Archives/90/.

54. Gough, , Christ Church, 316 Google Scholar; “Old Christ Church Is a Center of Interest to Sesqui Visitors,” Church News (October 1926), 13; “Church Exhibit at the Sesqui-Centennial, Church News (October 1926), 12; and “Spiritual Sources from which Signers Drew Their Inspiration,” Church News (October 1926), 18–19.

55. On colonial-era political tensions over episcopal leadership, see Bridenbaugh, Carl, Mitre and Sceptre: Transatlantic Faiths, Ideas, Personalities, and Politics, 1689–1775 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962)Google Scholar; and Woolverton, John Frederick, Colonial Anglicanism in North America (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1984)Google Scholar.

56. W. Herbert Burk, “Washington the Churchman,” delivered February 22, 1903, courtesy of Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

57. In his address, Burk rebukes the “modern self-appointed iconoclast, who would discount the religion of whom we honor.” For a discussion of Washington's religious views, see Mapp, Alf J. Jr., The Faiths of Our Fathers: What America's Founders Really Believed (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), 6679 Google Scholar.

58. Kammen, Michael, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (New York: Knopf, 1991), 196 Google Scholar.

59. See Rev.Herbert Burk, W., “Washington Memorial Chapel Valley Forge,” Church News (October 1915), 2728 Google Scholar; and for his explanation on how he came to hear the story of Washington at prayer, see Rev.Herbert Burk, W., Valley Forge: What It Is, Where It Is, and What to See There (North Wales, Pa.: Norman B. Nuss, 1928), 6365 Google Scholar. On the popularity of the devotional story, which seems to have originated with Mason Locke Weems's The Life of George Washington, originally published in 1802, see Loewen, James W., Lies across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong (New York: New Press, 1999), 362–66.Google Scholar

60. Burk, Eleanor H. S, In the Beginning at Valley Forge and the Washington Memorial Chapel (North Wales, Pa.: Norman B. Nuss, 1938)Google Scholar.

61. In sanctifying George Washington, Burk was following a well-trod path. For the deification of Washington and the other founding fathers, see Kammen, , Mystic Chords of Memory, 202–4Google Scholar; and Rabinowitz, Howard N., “George Washington as Icon, 1865–1900,” in Icons of America, ed. Browne, Ray B. and Fishwick, Marshall (Bowling Green, Ohio: Popular Press, 1978)Google Scholar.

62. Treese, Lorett, Valley Forge: Making and Remaking a National Symbol (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995), 8384 Google Scholar.

63. Ibid., 82–89. For an example of Burk's funding solicitation advertisements, see Church News (February 1913), 35.

64. Treese, , Valley Forge, 101 Google Scholar.

65. Burk, “Washington Memorial Chapel Valley Forge,” 27.

66. Treese, , Valley Forge, 98 Google Scholar.

67. For evidence of the Harrison family's interest in history and genealogy, see Harrison, Mary, Annals of the Ancestry of Charles Custis Harrison and Ellen Waln Harrison (Philadelphia: Printed for Private Circulation by J. B. Lippincott Co., 1932)Google Scholar.

68. Waston, Robert C., First Ladies of the United States: A Biographical Dictionary (Boulder, Colo.: Lynn Rienner, 2001), 918 Google Scholar.

69. Treese, , Valley Forge, 99 Google Scholar; and [Harrison], “Report of the Provost of the U of Penn.,” 657.

70. On the character of elite education, see Cookson, Peter W. Jr., and Persell, Caroline Hodges, Preparing for Power: America's Elite Boarding Schools (New York: Basic Books, 1985)Google Scholar; and Frederick W. Jordan, “Between Heaven and Harvard: Protestant Faith and the American Boarding School Experience, 1778–1940” (Ph.D. diss., University of Notre Dame, 2004). A glimpse of Harrison's own college-day views on social responsibility can be seen in an essay he wrote while a student at the University of Pennsylvania, “Respectability,” December 2, 1858, Box 4, Folder 7, Charles Custis Harrison Papers, University of Pennsylvania Archives.

71. Burk, , Valley Forge, 91 Google Scholar.

72. Treese, , Valley Forge, 215–18.Google Scholar

73. Gough, , Christ Church, 331–45.Google Scholar

74. These claims can be found on the churches’ respective websites: http://www.stjohns-dc.org;http://www.oldnorth.com/congregation/index.htm; and http://www.brutonparish.org/history.htm.

75. For the official history of the National Cathedral, see Feller, Richard T. and Fishwick, Marshall W., For Thy Great Glory, 2d ed. (Culpeper, Va.: Community Press [1965], 1979), esp. 38 Google Scholar.

76. David R. Bains's ongoing research on national churches in Washington, D.C., has offered invaluable guidance on this point. In particular, I thank him for sharing “National Cathedral?: Protestant Reception of National Cathedral” (paper presented at Legacies and Promise: 400 Years of Anglican/Episcopal History, Williamsburg, Virginia, June 24–27, 2007). While the National Cathedral dominates the capital's religious landscape, other denominations were also determined to stake their place. The Methodists, for instance, had established a national church as early as 1869. In an effort that rivaled the National Cathedral in scope, the Catholic church began construction of a national shrine in 1913. (The district did not possess a cathedral until 1939, when the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was carved from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.) Presbyterians had also promoted plans for a national church during the opening decades of the twentieth century, but none was established until after World War II.

77. Bellah, Robert N., Varieties of Civil Religion (New York: Harper and Row, 1980)Google Scholar.

78. For a parallel discussion about how the collapse of the establishment ethos affected the Episcopal church's missionary activities, see Douglas, Ian T., Fling Out the Banner! The National Church Ideal and the Foreign Mission of the Episcopal Church (New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1996), 268341 Google Scholar.