• David Joyce

The Decline of the Established Church of England and its Impact on Colonial Virginia

When researching your ancestors from Colonial Virginia, it becomes clear that religion played a crucial role. From participating in the Established Church to joining one of the dissenting denominations, it is important to know how to research your forefathers. Perhaps, one of the best examples is exploring the history of the Established Church of England, also commonly known as the Anglican Church, to learn why many Anglicans eventually left their church. As already mentioned in my previous posts, society in Colonial Virginia was managed by a church-state government. The consequences that followed, for better or worse, gave the Anglican Church supreme political and ecclesiastical power. Besides the penalties Anglicans imposed on Presbyterians, Quakers, and other dissenting denominations, what other factors influenced colonists in this movement? To fully understand this answer, one must first learn about Anglican society vs other denominations.

From the beginning, the Established Church had a cultural disadvantage vs more expressive Christians, such as Presbyterians and Baptists. While Anglican Priests only gave communion, sermons, scheduled prayers, and readings of scripture, Presbyterians and their Baptists counterparts did all of this and more. Preferring to light the spirit and passion of Christians, their religious leaders engaged in preaching. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it became evident that the Anglican parishes were suffering, and that the Church in Virginia was in decline. Although It is true that the county parishes provided a basic education to parishioners, this paled in comparison to the education and spirit of enthusiasm offered by religious dissenters.

Despite these circumstances, the Established Church would later be saved by a reformation that occurred within its own denomination. Lead by the Rev. John Wesley and his Methodist followers, the church managed to survive the American Revolution. However, by this time, it had lost its influence and would soon lose the support of the American government.

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