American colonies

What’s the deal between America’s Episcopal Church and the Church of England?

What’s the deal between America’s Episcopal Church and the Church of England?


If Henry VIII founded the Anglican Church, does that mean today’s head of the Episcopal Church is the reigning monarch of England?


No. After the American colonies won independence, Anglican leaders in the new nation met in 1789 to form the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America” as a totally separate, self-governing denomination, though with shared heritage, sentiment, and liturgy with the mother church.

The current distinction between these two bodies was dramatized when the Church of England bishops issued a new consensus report upholding “the existing doctrinal position on marriage and sexual relationships” (meaning the tradition that disallows same-sex partners) and supported it by 43-1 at a February 15 General Synod session. In separate votes, lay delegates favored the proposed “take note” motion by 58 percent but clergy delegates killed it with 52 percent opposed. (See

By contrast, the U.S. Episcopal Church has turned solidly liberal. It endorsed consecration of the first openly gay bishop in 2003, affirmed ordination of priests living in same-sex relationships in 2009, and rewrote the definition of marriage in 2015 to authorize same-sex weddings.

Since King Henry broke from Roman Catholicism in 1534, yes, the reigning monarch has been the head of the Church of England (odd as that seems from the U.S. standpoint). Upon coronation, the king or queen becomes the church’s “supreme governor” and takes a public oath to “maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England.”

Nonetheless, modern-day monarchs are figureheads without any of the religious leverage exercised by Henry and his royal successors.

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The Atlantic locks in on that 'secret Catholic' subplot in the Jamestown reliquary mystery

The Atlantic locks in on that 'secret Catholic' subplot in the Jamestown reliquary mystery

It's rare to write about the same news topic twice in the same day, unless it's one of those hot-button topics that's driving people crazy on social media. That's a sobering thing to say, but there you have it.

However, I am truly fascinated with the depth of the questions being raised in early discussions of the silver box recently unearthed by the Jamestown Rediscovery team. This morning I raised some questions about a massive Washington Post piece on this topic and now, lo and behold, The Atlantic has posted a report on the same topic.

The Post piece pivoted on a question: Is the small silver box, containing human bones, found buried with colonial leader Gabriel Archer a reliquary or not? If it is a reliquary, in the ancient Christian sense of that word, then what saint or martyr were some of the colonialists venerating in this manner? 

Now editors at The Atlantic -- based on interviews with some of the same experts -- have published a lengthy piece that appears to be much more certain about several key facts. Check this out:

After 400 years in the Virginia dirt, the box came out of the ground looking like it had been plucked from the ocean. A tiny silver brick, now encrusted with a green patina and rough as sandpaper. Buried beneath it was a human skeleton. The remains would later be identified as those of Captain Gabriel Archer, one of the most prominent leaders at Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America. But it was the box, which appeared to be an ancient Catholic reliquary, that had archaeologists bewildered and astonished.

“One of the major surprises was the discovery of this mysterious small silver box,” said James Horn, the president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation. “I have to say, we’re still trying to figure this out. You have the very strange situation of a Catholic reliquary being found with the leader of the first Protestant church in the country.”

If that box is what Horn, in this new interview at least, seems certain that it is, then there are logical conclusions that can be drawn. Big ones.

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