Although I referred to the Rev. Francis E. Lawrence as an Anglo-Catholic, that is perhaps not entirely accurate. He was a pupil of William Augustus Muhlenberg (1796-1877), who was a great-grandson of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (1711–1787), the father of Lutheranism in America.
William Muhlenberg became an Episcopal priest. His first significant work was in education.
The Young Muhlenberg
Muhlenberg resigned as rector of St. James’ Church, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1826, and moved to Flushing, Long Island. He became supply priest at St. George’s Church in Flushing, and later became the rector. Several men in Flushing wanted to establish an academy for boys and asked Muhlenberg to be the head instructor. He accepted, and the school opened in the spring of 1828. Muhlenberg served in this position for eighteen years. He made the school the model for other church schools in the United States. Flushing Institute stressed the ideals of a Christian atmosphere, the role of the Bible in the curriculum, physical education, and a sense of family life. One of the most famous schools influenced by Flushing is St. Paul’s School, Concord, New Hampshire.
St Paul’s (the Flushing Institute) existed from 1836-1848. There Francis Lawrence was educated. (The Lawrences had lived in Flushing for centuries). Lawrence said
I think–when I claim that the influence for good of St. Paul’s College can hardly be overestimated, not merely in the religious training of its students, although in that respect its success was most remarkable–at least one hundred of the clergy, numbering among them some of our most eminent Bishops, Professors, and Pastors, tracing, it is said their choice of the sacred ministry to the impressions received at College Point–but it made honorable the hitherto slighted office of the teacher and woke the dormant conscience of the Church generally to the vast importance of a Christian training of the young.
St. Paul’s College / The Flushing Institute
The Flushing Institute provided a model for the Episcopal prep schools of the US.
Muhlenberg’s religion has been described as Evangelical Catholicism.
He began to call his religion “evangelical and catholic.” To Muhlenberg “evangelical” meant devotion to Jesus Christ, dedication to the Scriptures and the responsibility to live and share the Gospel. “Catholic” denoted roots in a universal faith and order, with guidelines and discipline.
Muhlenberg explained his stance:
In a word, Catholicism, as such, is more objective than subjective, while Evangelicism, is more the latter than the former, though, of course, in respect to the great facts of revelation, it is equally objective with Catholicism. Accordingly, Evangelicism deals more with the inward and spiritual. It considers the Church as the society of all true believers, the “blessed company of all faithful people;” ministers of the Gospel, as having a call within from the Lord, rather than as ordained by man; the various forms of worship, as comparatively indifferent, so there be the “worship in spirit and in truth.”
Agreeable to these distinctions, our Church is both Catholic and Evangelic — Catholic in adhering to the ancient documents of the faith; Evangelic in requiring the faith of the heart and immediately in Christ.
Muhlenberg hoped for a Pan-Protestant union. He wanted the Episcopal Church to offer ordination to clergymen of other churches and offer a very general supervision if they would use certain elements of the Book of Common Prayer. This was the Memorial Movement.
Lawrence said of Muhlenberg:
The prayer of that Redeemer, “that they may be one as We are one,” seemed to him to be a call to unity, which could not but be heard by the devout believer. Hence, with great ability, in the columns of the “Evangelical Catholic,” which he edited for several years, as well as in the pamphlets published by him, a broader Catholicity was advocated than was familiar at that time to the thought of the Church. The freer use of our inherited forms of prayer, the adaptation of the service more fully to the Christian year, and especially the extension of the Orders of the Church to those who stumbled at a full reception of our whole ecclesiastical system–our Episcopate thus becoming a golden bond of union between the divided followers of Christ–these were among the subjects upon which he wrote with power..
It was supported by Bishop Potter but High Church bishops objected and it got nowhere.
Muhlenberg’s attitude is very appealing:
I confess, as I advance in life, I grow increasingly tolerant of the various organizations of genuine Christianity, and proportionably impatient of the exclusive claims of any one of them to be that of Christ or His apostles. I come to look more and more at the Church simply as the Congregation of the Brethren in Christ. This is the Ecclesia of the Gospel, having equally the universal Christian consent. Brotherhood in Christ is eminently Evangelic Catholicism. What idea of the Church is more Catholic than that of the Society of men, in all ages and everywhere, united by faith to Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, taking their nature upon Him, and so becoming their God- Brother, the one and only Mediator between God and man ? What virtue more Evangelic than the love of the brethren as brethren in Him? What more Evangelic and Catholic, pre-eminently both, than Charity, the informing spirit of the Church on earth, and so to be of the Church forever in heaven? May such be the Evangelic Catholicism of our Union, making it a true brotherhood in Christ, for a new bond of love to one another in Him, and a new encouragement to all such works of love as “He hath ordained for us to walk in.”
The Elderly Muhlenberg
The differences between Anglo-Catholicism and Evangelic Catholicism are not doubt very significant theologically, but I doubt they were noticed by anyone in the pews. The worship of the Episcopal Church in the US must have been rather stark and Calvinist before Muhlenberg’s work at the Church of the Holy Communion, where (according to Lawrence)
were introduced, for the first time it is believed in this country, the Daily Service, the Weekly Communion, Choirs of boys, the Chanting of the Psalter, the Christmas Tree–inherited from Dr. Muhlenberg’s German ancestry–the use of flowers at Easter as symbols of the Resurrection….
As we shall see in his work at the Church of the Holy Communion, Muhlenberg is a most engaging and most Christian man.