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Transatlantic Sermonizing: The Influence of Changing Sermon Styles in England on Anglican Clergy in Colonial Philadelphia

Presentation #1 Abstract

During the eighteenth century, a transformation took place in the style of Anglican sermons in England. Like much of British culture, this preaching style crossed the Atlantic and inspired clergy in the colonies to alter the character of their sermons. One can observe this influence particularly in Philadelphia. While the changes in style among the Philadelphia clergy probably had nothing to do with politics, the changes in England certainly did.

Tory churchmen dominated the Church of England in the seventeenth century. Their sermons provided a detailed expositions of the text or focused on the sinfulness of the congregation with dire warnings about future punishments. A new style of homiletics became popular in the eighteenth with the accession of George I and the triumph of the Whigs. The new king’s rancor towards the Tories forced them from power, replaced by loyal Whigs. The Whig approach suited an increasingly metropolitan environment. The new urbanites concerned themselves about civic decorum and good manners, about interaction with others in polite society. The Whig churchmen had similar concerns. Improvement of manners and breeding became tantamount to being a good Christian. Attraction, not coercion, became necessary to draw people into the churches following the Toleration Act.

Sermons preached in London were read by clergy outside of London and crossed the Atlantic. Philadelphia had become the center of book trade. The Anglican preachers who held forth from the pulpit of Christ Church or St. Peter’s were clearly familiar with the sermons of eminent London peers.

At-A-Glance Bios- Presenter #1

R. Barry Levis is Professor of History Emeritus at Rollins College, Florida, where he taught for forty-five years. His research has focused on the relationship between church and state in eighteenth-century England and more recently in colonial America. He just published a monograph, Render Unto Caesar: Ecclesiastical Politics in the Reign of Queen Anne (Cambridge, England: James Clarke and Co., 2022).

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Transatlantic Sermonizing: The Influence of Changing Sermon Styles in England on Anglican Clergy in Colonial Philadelphia

During the eighteenth century, a transformation took place in the style of Anglican sermons in England. Like much of British culture, this preaching style crossed the Atlantic and inspired clergy in the colonies to alter the character of their sermons. One can observe this influence particularly in Philadelphia. While the changes in style among the Philadelphia clergy probably had nothing to do with politics, the changes in England certainly did.

Tory churchmen dominated the Church of England in the seventeenth century. Their sermons provided a detailed expositions of the text or focused on the sinfulness of the congregation with dire warnings about future punishments. A new style of homiletics became popular in the eighteenth with the accession of George I and the triumph of the Whigs. The new king’s rancor towards the Tories forced them from power, replaced by loyal Whigs. The Whig approach suited an increasingly metropolitan environment. The new urbanites concerned themselves about civic decorum and good manners, about interaction with others in polite society. The Whig churchmen had similar concerns. Improvement of manners and breeding became tantamount to being a good Christian. Attraction, not coercion, became necessary to draw people into the churches following the Toleration Act.

Sermons preached in London were read by clergy outside of London and crossed the Atlantic. Philadelphia had become the center of book trade. The Anglican preachers who held forth from the pulpit of Christ Church or St. Peter’s were clearly familiar with the sermons of eminent London peers.