Reformed Episcopal bishop of St. Stephen

The Reformed Episcopal Diocese of the Southeast is about to consecrate a new bishop.

It recently elected the Very Rev. Alphonza Gadsden of St. Stephen, and his consecration is tentatively set for 2 p.m. Nov. 17 in Redeemer Reformed Episcopal Church in Pineville.

Invitations will go out as soon as a few remaining standing committees officially endorse the election, said the Rev. Canon J. Ronald Moock. The invitation list will include the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, he said.

The Reformed Episcopal Diocese was formed in the 1800s when the Episcopal Church would not ordain black clergy. The local Reformed Episcopal diocese and the local Episcopal diocese officially bridged the old racial divide with a joint Communion service in 2003, the same year the national Episcopal Church consented to the consecration of an openly gay bishop. Both diocese issued statements opposing the Episcopal Church’s action.

The Reformed Episcopal Church is aligned with the Common Cause Partnership, a network of Anglican churches that view the Episcopal Church as out of fellowship with the majority of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina is a partner through the Anglican Communion Network.

Read it all from the front page of the Faith and Values section of the local paper.


Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, * South Carolina, Anglican Continuum, Other Churches

16 comments on “Reformed Episcopal bishop of St. Stephen

  1. Bob from Boone says:

    As a high school senior I did a research paper on the formation of the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1873 (I think that’s the right date). In no source I consulted did I find the information that the split occurred over the question of ordaining black clergy–I would certainly have remembered that. The main reasons, as I recall, that Bp. Cummins and others left PECUSA had to do with a dispute over the doctrine of regeneration in baptism and the introduction of “Romish” practices in liturgies.

    And, of course, TEC has never stopped being “committed to the cause of Christ,” despite the insinuation quoted in this article.

  2. recchip says:

    The article is partly right. The work of the REC in South Carolina started because the Episcopal church would not ordain Blacks to the clergy. The seminary which “covered” the area (Sewanee) would not admit them either. (As an alumnus of Sewanee, that brings me shame by the way). So, the split did not occur for the racial reason but it is the reason for the founding of the REC in the Southeast. At first, the Southeast was a Mission Diocese and more recently a “full” diocese. Bishop West (May he rest in peace) led the Diocese until his death in 2006. He was a great man of God as is Bishop Elect Gadsden.

  3. APB says:


    I will leave the actual cause to others, and which may be cause and effect, but there is evidence that the issue of freed slaves was at least a factor. In discussing this with REC members, especially African American ones, this is always given as a major issue in their being members. And in fact, the REC is one of the very few denominations where worship services do not constitute what has been called the “most segregated hour in America.”

    Interestingly, the issues you mentioned are the offcial ones found on the REC website. On the other hand, perhaps it is just another comfortable myth, similar to the belief by many TEC members that it is still a Christian organization. 🙂


  4. Drew says:

    As a white Southerner who’s also a presbyter in the Reformed Episcopal Diocese of the Southeast, the issue of ordaining freed slaves had nothing to do with the founding of the Reformed Episcopal Church but everything to do with the founding of what eventually became this diocese.

    The issues that led Bishop Cummins to found the REC were the freared loss of the “Protestant” part of the Protestant Episcopal Church’s heritage. When some freed slaves who had been trained for the ministry by the Rev. Peter Fassoux Stevens were refused ordination by the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina (the bishop was in favor of ordaining them), they contacted Bishop Cummins and he received them.

    The reported got it wrong.

  5. Drew says:

    The last part of my last post should have read “The reporter got it wrong.” Actually, in looking over the story he didn’t per se as he qualified it as the diocese. He didn’t get it completely right either.

  6. Bob from Boone says:

    Thanks to all of you for the clarification and information on the mission work of REC in the SE (except for the cutesy comment of ABP).

  7. recchip says:

    All our prayers of Thanksgiving to up to the Lord for the Election of Bishop Elect Gadsden!! It has been a long time coming. Please know that the people of Holy Trinity REC in Fairfax have been praying for y’all down in the Southeast.

    Thanks for linking that story from our Parish Website. I am so glad that our website was helpful to you. We will pray for your group in Elk Grove. I hope you have become a mission church. We did that several years ago and next week we will be moving into a (semi) permanant location for worship.


  8. Martin Reynolds says:

    I noticed this interesting letter in the Church Times – it is written by a regular contributor who is a very conservative Roman Catholic.

  9. TomRightmyer says:

    Between 2001 and 2004 the Episcopal Church and the REC with the APA held three dialogue meetings. Bishop Salmon was the Episcopal co-chair and Bishops Riches of the REC and Grundorf of the APA were also co-chairs. Bishop West participated. I was impressed with the grace and learning of all the bishops and regret that the approval of Canon Robinson’s election led to the suspension of the dialogue.

    Tom Rightmyer in Asheville, NC.

  10. Drew says:

    7. When I come to Anglicanism via the REC in 2000 I was living in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Liberty Church in Jamestown was (and still is) the closest REC parish. Bishop-elect Al Gadsden was my Rector and I served an internship under him. He’s a good friend who presented me for ordination as both a deacon and a presbyter and I think he’ll make a great Bishop.
    The Rt. Rev. Christopher E. Gadsden served as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina from 1840 to 1852 and there is a [i][b]very[/i][/b] nice [url=]retirement community [/url] named for him on John’s Island. D.V., we Reformed Episcopalians will soon have our own Bishop Gadsden!

  11. wvparson says:

    Allen Guelzo’s history of the REC recounts the story of the defection of African-America Episcopalians to the Reformed Episcopal Church shortly after its foundation. I have the book in my stdy bt can’t summon up from memory its precise title. It is a splendid book to read at this moment of separations and new beginnings. The warnings are all there and have contemporary applications.

  12. Dale Rye says:

    I second #11’s general recommendation to look back at the 1870s as the center of a period (roughly 1833-1890) when Anglicanism very nearly fell to bits as a result of doctrinal disputes over some very critical issues, particularly about soteriology, ecclesiology, and sacramental theology. Some divisions at the time (the REC and the Church of England in South Africa) have never been healed, but the main body of Anglicans was held together through the peacemaking abilities of men like James de Koven and William Reed Huntington who developed new formulas (the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is one) to provide a coherent basis for our common life. We need men and women of their like today.

  13. recchip says:

    I thought I might point out that, for the most part, the REC has re-gained its Anglican Ethos. Some of the things Bishop Cummins got upset about are now very, very common in the REC. (Candles, Vestments, incense in some cases). Frequent communion is common (our parish does weekly). We have moved past the “Presbyterians with a Prayer book” of 20 years ago. (Again, there are some who are still there.) We are, as well as being part of the Common Cause Partnership, close partners with the Anglican Province of America which can by no means be called “low church.” We stayed “under cover” and are now emerging back into the Anglican World. Watch out, the REC is back!!!

  14. Drew says:

    #13, true. It’s also worth noting that although Bishop Cummins was himself a Low Churchman he was a friend and great admirer of William Augustus Muhlenberg, the High Church (but Evangelical) Rector of Church of the Holy Communion in New York City. Cummins used the Muhlenberg Memorial of 1853 as his inspiration for the REC’s Declaration of Principles and had Cummins had his way Muhlenberg would have been the first bishop elected in the new church (Muhlenberg declined the invitation).

    All that to say that Cummins had more of an Anglican ethos than the REC eventually came to represent. One also must remember that in the Churchmanship of the 19th Century some things that are fairly standard today weren’t — it was a different time. to get a flavor of this, note the following from Dr. Alan Horres’ presentation on the history of the Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston, South Carolina:

    [blockquote]Following the War, attention was directed toward making the church a more suitable place for worship and instituting changes in the liturgy as practiced in the churches of South Carolina. The prevailing influence in the diocese was decidedly Calvinistic and services of holy communion were infrequent. The churches were generally without ornamentation but beautiful in architecture. Dr. [Anthony Toomer] Porter was aware of this state of the church while he was a teacher at St. Michael’s and was likely influenced by the Oxford Movement occurring in the Church of England to return more to our Catholic roots in ritual and sacrament. His pronounced stand was to return to the Anglican liturgy and to have a suitable church with appropriate furnishings and ornamentation to enhance worship.

    The first movement in the desired direction was to make the simple 40’ by 70’ church structure larger. Dr. Porter expressed this desire to the Vestry in 1867 and Mr. Theodore Wagner told him to get a draftsman and contractor and if the cost was reasonable that he would pay for the alterations. Thus, the rear wall was removed and a recessed chancel and a chamber to accommodate a new organ was constructed in 1868. The side galleries and rear gallery were removed, the flat ceilings was removed and altered, pews were added and provision for a center aisle was accomplished. A white marble altar was installed, and a white marble cross placed upon it. This altar cross was a first in the Diocese. In 1871, the rear of the church was once again removed and the present domed recessed chancel was constructed and paid for entirely by Dr. Porter. The congregation at that time pledged funds to construct the transepts and raise the roof to install our present hammer-beam roof modeled after that in Trinity Hall, Cambridge, England. Stained glass windows were also installed. The building was complete. It was a building filled with Christian symbolism – a far cry from the absence of such things in our colonial churches. The stained glass windows each had appropriate symbols to be reminders of writers of the Gospels and the sacraments. Even the tiles paving the sanctuary that we gaze upon as we receive communion depict “the Way of the Cross” and the “Crucifixion.” In all it became a magnificent church full of color and reverent symbolism.

    Immediately following the architectural alterations of the church, Dr. Porter began introducing other changes. He tells of expressing his wishes to Mr. Trenholm that his choir boys wear surplices to cover their shabby clothes during worship. Mr. Trenholm told him he would purchase the cloth if Dr. Porter would enlist the women of the Parish to sew the vestments. In this way involving the women should assure the acceptance – and it did. It is related that the women became anxious to see the choir vested. He began using colored stoles with seasonal color hangings for the pulpit and reading desk. He placed candles on the altar and introduced a processional cross causing quite a stir in the community. He also began wearing Eucharistic vestments and introduced the vested choir and choral Eucharist on Easter Sunday of 1872. This was done with permission of Bishop Howe, his congregation, and the Vestry. To quote the Vestry minutes of April 2, 1872: “Whereas it has been the aim and desire of the Rector and Vestry of the Parish to advance in every possible way, within their power, its spiritual interest and growth by the full and consistent exercise of the teachings, privileges and customs of the Protestant Episcopal Church; it is with unfeigned gratitude and approbation that the Vestry witnesses the initial steps of the Rector towards the re-establishing of the time honored usage in the form of worship in our Venerable Church, as practiced in the Old and in many parts of the New World; but, unhappily, so long abandoned in our mist; and we congratulate him upon the success and sweet influence of the new services of Easter Day, in which we recognize the dawn of a more Church-like form of worship, and a heartier rendering of praise to our Heavenly Father from “these cold hearts of ours.” While the congregation, vestry, and Bishop approved the vested choir and choral Eucharist, it caused quite a stirring in the City. Much was said about “going to Rome,” but now these customs are widespread in the Diocese. Being first often results in initial condemnation but finally general acceptance. Dr. Porter’s and the Church of the Holy Communion’s most outstanding contribution to the diocese was the improvement of the use of the liturgy to raise the standards of worship. [/blockquote]
    In other words, many of the practices that the REC didn’t widely practice at its founding in mid-19th Century America weren’t widely practiced in the Episcopal Church of the time either — otherwise Anthony Toomer Porter wouldn’t have had to introduce them in Charleston, South Carolina!

    Had Cummins lived past 1876 thngs likely would have been different. If Muhlenberg had agreed to become the first bishop elected in the REC things may have been different as well (or maybe not — Muhlenberg only outlived Cummins by one year). Regrardless, the REC is increasingly reaching out to other orthodox Anglicans and for that I am very thankful!

  15. wvparson says:

    To be fair it wasn’t Bishops Cummins and Cheney who drew the REC away from its Anglican roots. When Cummins died Nicholson, a Dispensationalist, began the pull towards Bible College type evangelicalism, abolishing vestments etc, while Fellows espoused a more liberal stance. Only in Chicago did the surplice survive. In England the Free Church of England and the Reformed Episcopal Church, they later merged, retained most low church Anglican customs. Strong personalities in a small emerging movement may easily pull a separated body away from its roots.

  16. Drew says:

    #15 The fellow that you’re thinking of was Bishop Samuel Fallows, and, like all of us, he was a mixed bag. While he avoided the fundyism evident in other parts of the new movement, he was a bit liberal (one can avoid funyism without going too far in the other direction!).

    [blockquote]Strong personalities in a small emerging movement may easily pull a separated body away from its roots. [/blockquote]

    And frequently do. Another factor is the vacuum created when a key leader dies shortly after the founding of said moment. It happened with Cummins in the REC and the Machen in the Othodox Presbyterian Church.