Scottish Roots of the Episcopal Church - Scotland

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The Scottish Roots of the Episcopal Church

Whilst many people today are aware of the Presbyterian Church’s Scottish roots, few realise that the Episcopal Church in the United States shares a common heritage with their Presbyterian brothers and sisters. While many think that the Episcopal Church came from the Church of England, it was actually Scottish Episcopalians, many of them ardent Jacobites, supporters of the exiled Stuart family, that were responsible for the foundation of an Anglican Church independent of the British Crown in the new country of America.  

During the colonial period, the whole continent of America was part of the Diocese of London, although the Bishop of London never visited the various Anglican congregations, and no confirmations or ordinations of clergy were ever held, isolating colonial Anglicans from their Mother Church. After the American Revolution, the Anglican Church in the former colonies was in a quandary: clergy in the Anglican tradition could only be ordained by bishops in apostolic succession, and Church of England Bishops could no longer ordain American clergy. Rather than accept a temporary form of ordination without Bishops, ten Anglican clergy from Connecticut met in 1783 to find another solution. They elected one Samuel Seabury, a former missionary in New   

Arms of the Episcopal Church

York and ironically, a Loyalist who supported the British cause, to be their bishop. Seabury travelled to England, but was refused to be consecrated by Church of England Bishops, who said that they could not consecrate a person who would not take the required oath of loyalty to the British monarchy. Undaunted, Seabury then went to Scotland.


The Scottish Episcopal Church, unlike the Church of England, was not the state church of Scotland. It had been disestablished and replaced by the Presbyterian Church (known after as The Church of Scotland) in 1689. Many of the clergy, including 14 bishops and 900 clergymen, had sworn allegiance to the deposed King James II, and therefore, William of Orange recognised the Presbyterian faction for supporting his efforts to secure the throne during the Glorious Revolution. The Episcopal Church suffered under harsh penal laws during the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite Rebellions, which saw attempts to return the Stuarts to the throne. Episcopal Chapels were closed, clergy imprisoned, and the Church was forced to go “underground”, much like their Covenanting Presbyterian counterparts in the 1600’s.  From 1690, it can be said that the Scottish Episcopal Church was a separate, autonomous church, and that this status would assist in the creation of a separate American Episcopal Church as well.

On November 14, 1784, in the Long Acre Chapel of Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, Samuel Seabury was consecrated Bishop for America, the first Anglican Bishop to serve outside the British Isles, and thus laying the foundations for the worldwide Anglican Communion. Seabury’s consecration by Bishop Robert Kilgour of Aberdeen, Bishop Arthur Petrie of Moray, and John Skinner, Rector of St. Andrew’s and Bishop Co-adjutor of Aberdeen was the first since 1688 in Scotland and forced the Church of England to allow fully organised daughter churches throughout the British Empire, complete with ordained Bishops.  For the first time, an Anglican Church had been created in a country not subject to the sovereignty of the British Crown, and unlike the Church of England or Scotland, an integral part of the British state.


Today, in St. Andrew’s Cathedral, the Seabury Memorial window stands in honour of the first American Bishop and the three Scottish Bishops who consecrated him. In the north aisle of the Cathedral, the coats of arms of 48 American states are adorned on the vaulted ceiling, a unique and fitting tribute to the bond between American and Scottish Episcopalians.


On this side of the pond, the Scottish origins of the Episcopal Church are commemorated on the Church’s official shield and Flag (see graphic). Adopted in 1940 by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the shield is: Argent, a cross gules, on a canton azure nine cross-crosslets argent in saltire.

The red cross on white is for the Church of England, of which the Episcopal Church is the American representative, the white cross-crosslets represent the nine original dioceses and the blue canton with the crosses in saltire is a reminder of the Episcopal Church of Scotland from whom the first American bishop Samuel Seabury received his consecration as bishop. 

By Todd Wilkinson FSA (Scot)


Flag of the Episcopal Chaurch


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Episcopal Church Scottish Roots - Scotland