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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

EPISCOPALIANS - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

EPISCOPALIANS. As the WESTERN RESERVE opened up as part of the new frontier, the Episcopal church found that reliance on its hierarchy meant difficulties in keeping up with a restless population marching continually westward. A frontier was no place for a bishop, and the early 19th-century Episcopal missionaries in central and northeastern Ohio (Joseph Doddridge, Roger Searle, and James Kilbourne) worked almost without official church sanction. Finally, in 1817, the Episcopal church's General Convention officially formed the Ohio Diocese, and by 1818, had elected Philander Chase as the first bishop (1818-31). By that time Congregationalists and Presbyterians had already established churches in the Western Reserve. Chase acquired a national reputation as "the frontier bishop." No stranger to Cleveland, he traveled all over Ohio and settled in Gambier, setting the stage for the double focus on Cleveland and central Ohio that existed in the diocese for nearly 80 years. Chase founded and consecrated many churches, of which Trinity (1829) was later to assume primacy in the diocese as TRINITY CATHEDRAL. By the end of Chase's episcopacy, Cleveland had a population of 4,000 and a full Episcopal parish on the southeast corner of St. Clair and W. 3rd streets. Bp. CHARLES PETTIT MCILVAINE† (1832-73) built on Chase's efforts; he attended the founding of ST. JOHN'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH (1836) and consecrated Trinity (1854) and ST. PAUL'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH (1859). Church growth was not unimpeded, however; the western stretches of the area were not always hospitable to parish growth. With a lack of both ministers and buildings, Presbyterian churches and sometimes school buildings were pressed into Episcopalian service.

In the mid-19th century, in response to the English publication of "Tracts for the Times" (1833), Episcopalians nationally experienced a resurgence of the high church-low church argument. Clevelanders engaged in this ancient debate about the place of clerical vestments, medieval ceremonies, the keeping of holy days, and making the sign of the cross in religious services. The Protestant Episcopal Church of America and its Ohio Diocese were generally low-church (or evangelical). But as the dispute continued, Cleveland's Trinity and Grace churches became identified as high-church and St. John's and St. Paul's as low-church. As the diocese became more urbanized, high-church tendencies edged into Episcopal services in Cleveland. By 1880, Bp. GREGORY BEDELL† (1873-89) had to admonish the rectors of Trinity, Grace, and St. Mary's about wearing white and colored stoles. Earlier, Bishop McIlvaine had explained why processional singing by surpliced choirs was not consistent with church policy. Although the Civil War interrupted these discussions, Cleveland witnessed sporadic breakouts of the debate into the 20th century.

The Civil War became, another source of Episcopalian concern. McIlvaine, a staunch Union supporter, made his ideas known to both clergy and laity, and they inspired Bishop Bedell's pastoral letter, approved by the Episcopal House of Bishops in 1862. The letter supported the Northern cause, and up to its time was the only Episcopal position that pledged the support of the church to the state in a political matter. Unlike other national churches, the Protestant Episcopal church in America did not split over the issue of slavery. Cleveland Episcopal churches before the Civil War did not use their forums to examine the peculiar institution, and during the war they focused on the Union cause and not the moral question of slavery. Even the 1861 diocesan convention meeting in Cleveland 2 months after Ft. Sumter concerned itself with politics, not morality. Both Episcopal clergy and laity could let political discussions carry them away, and by 1863 both McIlvaine and Bedell had to warn the clergy about discussing politics in the pulpit.

After the war, the Ohio Diocese's dominion gained the attention of the 4 Episcopal parishes in Cleveland, and politics remained an important component of parish affairs. By 1867 the Convocation of Cleveland asked to form a separate diocese, which touched off a debate and led to an 1873 decision to examine such a division. This division materialized in 1875, when the 41 southern counties in Ohio became the Diocese of Southern Ohio, while the 47 northern counties remained as the Diocese of Ohio, with headquarters in Cleveland. Bishop Bedell's relocation from Gambier to Cleveland and a Huron St. address recognized this fact and refocused the attention of the Ohio Diocese on the city. The theretofore peripatetic bishops now resided in the city and it was not long before an idea for a cathedral surfaced.

The booming post-Civil War years helped Cleveland's economy but were not as kind to the Episcopal diocese. Spending for missions lagged, parishes were faulted for lack of leadership and coordinated missionary efforts, and church membership fell. Partially, these troubles stemmed from the church's inability to come to grips with the new wave of immigrants. While other Protestant denominations recruited immigrant members, the Episcopal church in Cleveland followed the national Episcopal example, demonstrating little success. The only real achievement was the foundation of Christ German Protestant Episcopal Church on Orange St. (1870). The church did succeed in facing the social needs brought on by rapid industrialization. Along with the Congregational churches, the Episcopal church nationally was credited with many leaders of the Social Gospel movement. That was also true in Cleveland: Charles D. Williams, dean of Trinity Cathedral, served as first president of HIRAM HOUSE (1896); Lewis Burton, rector in a number of Cleveland parishes, helped initiate the founding of the ELIZA JENNINGS HOME (1888); and FRANK DUMOULIN†,, while a dean at Trinity, spurred efforts leading to the formation of the Federated Churches of Greater Cleveland (1911, later the INTERCHURCH COUNCIL OF GREATER CLEVELAND).

Individual parishes also worked to alleviate social problems. In 1874 and 1875, Trinity founded a children's charity, the Scovill Ave. Home for Helpless Children, and in 1916 it opened Trinity House on E. 22nd St. The EAST END NEIGHBORHOOD HOUSE sprang from the efforts of Emmanuel Church (1907). During the 1930s, Trinity helped provide musical and film entertainment along with refreshments to those suffering through the Depression. Local missionary activities were more coordinated than the piecemeal social-work efforts. Population shifts between 1890-1918 meant movement to the SUBURBS. For example, Christ German relocated to SHAKER HEIGHTS To ensure membership as people drifted out of the central city, a Cleveland Church Club was formed in 1898. Ironically, this drift took place at the same time that the idea for the construction of an Episcopal cathedral in Cleveland reached fruition. During the 1890s, church construction nationally was affected by prosperity, allowing many denominations to vie with each other in the construction of edifices reflecting Gothic or Romanesque influences. So it was in Cleveland.

Bp. WILLIAM LEONARD† (1889-1930), WILLIAM G. MATHER†, and Cleveland architect CHARLES F. SCHWEINFURTH† were instrumental in planning and completing the cathedralization of Trinity parish and the building of a suitable church as the headquarters for the diocese. A large donation from SAMUEL MATHER† helped support the construction of the cathedral at Euclid and E. 22nd St., with the cornerstone laid in 1903 and the building consecrated in 1907. The cathedral, along with mission development and a growing suburban population, meant a new attention to finances. Early national Episcopal fundraising efforts date from 1780; from the beginning the Ohio Diocese petitioned the church hierarchy for money. Mostly, though, the diocese relied on its own--sometimes scant--resources. In the early days, bishops and rectors often went unpaid; in the Depression, Bp. WARREN RODGERS† (1930-38) had to severely cut his own salary in order to make ends meet. All the bishops after Bedell copied his efforts, planning a series of fundraising campaigns.

The local Episcopal church founded Church Life in an effort to communicate effectively about fundraising and other concerns with area laity. Its first issue was 2 July 1887, and in different forms it has continued publication under the same name. This and other publications reflect church opinions on political concerns. As early as 1876, the diocese's 59th convention agreed that women should be allowed to vote in the election of church officers, (although women could not hold office themselves). By the 1970s this opinion had developed into a controversial agreement to ordain women as priests, and 2 women priests were accepted by the Ohio Diocese. The 1960s-70s also showed an Episcopal willingness to embrace other liberal or reformist ideas. Bp. John Burt (1968-84) spoke out against the VIETNAM WAR, and other Cleveland clergy worked for racial and ecumenical progress and harmony. As the 1980s ended and the last decade of the 20th century progressed, Episcopal concerns began to focus again on the local, as reflected in the decision agreed to by Trinity Cathedral's congregation to substantially change the interior of the building so that its configuration may be changed to meet the needs of the variety of events seeking accommodation in the cathedral. From a denomination struggling for survival in adverse frontier conditions, the Episcopal church became a thoughtful religious pillar of a metropolitan community.

Michael V. Wells

Cleveland State Univ.

See also RELIGION.

Last Modified: 16 Jul 1997 10:29:59 AM

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