WilliamWhite.WilliamBirch.SmithsonianAmericanArtMuseum

William White is the George Washington of the Episcopal Church: chaplain of the Continental Congress and later the U.S. Senate; architect of the democratic Episcopal constitution, including laypeople in church governance for the first time; twice Presiding Bishop. He picked up the pieces of the defeated, demoralized Church of England in the Colonies and somehow turned it into the leading church in the United States. It’s long since lost that position, of course, but never the memory of Bishop White of Pennsylvania. He made us what we are today. (William Birch, Smithsonian American Art Museum)

In most former British colonies, the Church of England morphed fairly easily into a new Anglican province when independence came, but not in the United States; the church had no bishops and had to be rebuilt from scratch. William White, the rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia who was elected Bishop of Pennsylvania, is the man who led its rebuilding. From New York City up through Boston and beyond, most Anglican clergy were royalists who fled to Canada or back to Britain. But in Philadelphia all but one priest favored independence; they formed the nucleus of a new, national church governed by democratic and republican principles. As chaplain to the Continental Congress and later the United States Senate, White had heard all the debates about secular governance, and wrote a new constitution for the Episcopal Church adopting the Federal model. For the first time, laymen and non-episcopal clergy had voice and vote. (William Burch, Smithsonian Museum of American Art)

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