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Churchmanship (or churchpersonship; or tradition in most official contexts) is a way of talking about and labelling different tendencies, parties, or schools of thought within the Church of England and the sister churches of the Anglican Communion.



The term is derived from the older noun churchman, which originally meant an ecclesiastic or clergyman but, some while before 1677, it was extended to people who were strong supporters of the Church of England and, by the nineteenth century, was used to distinguish between Anglicans and Dissenters. The word "churchmanship" itself was first used in 1680 to refer to the attitude of these supporters but later acquired its modern meaning. While many Anglicans are content to label their own churchmanship, not all Anglicans would feel happy to be described as anything but "Anglican". [1] Today, in official contexts, the term "tradition" is sometimes preferred.

"High" and "Low", the oldest labels, date from the late seventeenth century and originally described opposing political attitudes to the relation between the Church of England and the civil power. Their meaning shifted as historical settings changed and, towards the end of the nineteenth century, they had come to be used to describe different views on the ceremonies to be used in worship. Shortly after the introduction of the "High/Low" distinction a section of the "Low" Church was nicknamed Latitudinarian because of its relative indifference to doctrinal definition. In the nineteenth century this group gave birth to the Broad Church which, in turn, produced the "Modernist" movement of the first half of the twentieth century. Today, the "parties" are usually thought of as Anglo-Catholics, evangelical Anglicans, and Liberals and, with the exception of "High Church", the remaining terms are mainly used to refer to past history. The precise shades of meaning of any term vary from user to user and mixed descriptions such as liberal-catholic are found. Today "Broad Church" may be used in a sense that differs from the historical one mentioned above and identifies Anglicans who are neither markedly high, nor low/evangelical nor liberal. [2]

It is an Anglican commonplace to say that authority in the church has three sources: Scripture, Reason and Tradition. In general, the Low churchman and the Evangelical tends to put more emphasis upon Scripture, the Broad churchman and the Liberal upon reason and the High churchman and/or Anglo-Catholic upon tradition. [3] [4] The emphasis on "parties" and differences is necessary but in itself gives an incomplete picture. Cyril Garbett (later Archbishop of York) wrote of his coming to the Diocese of Southwark:

I found the different parties strongly represented with their own organizations and federations... But where there was true reverence and devotion I never felt any difficulty in worshipping and preaching in an Anglo-Catholic church in the morning and in an Evangelical church in the evening"... and when there was a call for united action... the clergy and laity without distinction of party were ready to join in prayer, work and sacrifice.

Garbett, [5]

and William Gibson commented that

the historical attention given to the fleeting moments of controversy in the eighteenth century has masked the widespread and profound commitment to peace and tranquility among both the clergy and the laity.... High Church and Low Church were not exclusive categories of thought and churchmanship. They were blurred and broad streams within Anglicanism that often merged, overlapped and coincided.

Gibson, [6]

A traditional poem to describe churchmanship is "Low and Lazy, Broad and Hazy, and High and Crazy." Lazy refers to simpler worship, hazy to unclear tradition or beliefs, and crazy to excessive ceremonialism; but the author of the poem may have been a humorist.

Sometimes the concept of churchmanship has been extended to other denominations. In Lutheran churches it can be liberal Protestant, pietist, confessional Lutheran, or evangelical Catholic.

In the United States a "churchman" is a member of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA). Usage of the term began in the nineteenth century and has been modified in the twentieth century. [7]

See also

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Anglicanism Practices, liturgy and identity of the Church of England

Anglicanism is a Western Protestant Christian tradition that has developed from the practices, liturgy, and identity of the Church of England following the English Reformation, in the context of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. It is one of the largest branches of Protestant Christianity, with around 110 million adherents worldwide as of 2001.

Anglo-Catholicism Anglicanism that emphasises its Catholic heritage

Anglo-Catholicism, Anglican Catholicism, or Catholic Anglicanism comprises people, beliefs and practices within Anglicanism that emphasise the Catholic heritage and identity of the various Anglican churches.

Oxford Movement 19th-century English religious movement

The Oxford Movement was a movement of High Church members of the Church of England which eventually developed into Anglo-Catholicism. The movement, whose original devotees were mostly associated with the University of Oxford, argued for the reinstatement of some older Christian traditions of faith and their inclusion into Anglican liturgy and theology. They thought of Anglicanism as one of three branches of the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" Christian church. By the 1840s many participants decided that the Anglican Church lacked grace, and converted to Roman Catholicism.

Anglican Diocese of Sydney

The Diocese of Sydney is a diocese in Sydney, within the Province of New South Wales of the Anglican Church of Australia. The majority of the diocese is evangelical and low church in tradition.

High church Christian denominations which emphasize ritual and form

The term high church refers to beliefs and practices of Christian ecclesiology, liturgy, and theology that emphasize formality and resistance to modernisation. Although used in connection with various Christian traditions, the term originated in and has been principally associated with the Anglican tradition, where it describes churches using a number of ritual practices associated in the popular mind with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The opposite tradition is low church. Contemporary media discussing Anglican churches erroneously prefer the terms evangelical to low church and Anglo-Catholic to high church, even though their meanings do not exactly correspond. Other contemporary denominations that contain high church wings include some Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches.

Broad church Latitudarian churchmanship in Anglicanism, particularly in the Church of England

Broad church is latitudinarian churchmanship in the Church of England in particular and Anglicanism in general. The term is often used for secular political organisations, meaning that they encompass a broad range of opinion.

Low church Christian denominations without much ritual

In Anglican Christianity, the "low church" wing of one of the Anglican churches includes those who give relatively little emphasis to ritual, sacraments, and sometimes the authority of clergy. The term is most often used in a liturgical context. "Low church", in a contemporary Anglican context, denotes a Protestant emphasis, and "high church" denotes an emphasis on ritual, often as Anglo-Catholicism.

Anglican church music

Anglican church music is music that is written for Christian worship in Anglican religious services, forming part of the liturgy. It mostly consists of pieces written to be sung by a church choir, which may sing a cappella or accompanied by an organ.

Ritualism in the Church of England

Ritualism, in the history of Christianity, refers to an emphasis on the rituals and liturgical ceremony of the church, in particular of Holy Communion.

Cyril Garbett Archbishop of York 1942-1955

Cyril Forster Garbett was an Anglican bishop and author. He was successively the Bishop of Southwark, the Bishop of Winchester and the Archbishop of York from 1942 to 1955.

Evangelical Catholic Variant of Lutheran

The term Evangelical Catholic is used in Lutheranism, alongside the term Augsburg Catholic, with those calling themselves Evangelical Catholic Lutherans or Lutherans of Evangelical Catholic churchmanship stressing the catholicity of historic Lutheranism in liturgy, beliefs, practices, and doctrines. Evangelical Catholics teach that Lutheranism at its core "is deeply and fundamentally catholic". The majority of Evangelical Catholic Lutheran clergy and parishes are members of mainstream Lutheran denominations.

High church Lutheranism

High church Lutheranism is a movement that began in 20th-century Europe and emphasizes worship practices and doctrines that are similar to those found within both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy and the Anglo-Catholic wing of Anglicanism. In the more general usage of the term, it describes the general high church characteristics of Lutheranism in the Nordic countries such as Sweden, Finland, and the Baltics. The mentioned countries, once a part of the Swedish Empire, have more markedly preserved Catholic traditions.

Anglican eucharistic theology

Anglican eucharistic theology is diverse in practice, reflecting the comprehensiveness of Anglicanism. Its sources include prayer book rubrics, writings on sacramental theology by Anglican divines, and the regulations and orientations of ecclesiastical provinces. The principal source material is the Book of Common Prayer, specifically its eucharistic prayers and Article XXVIII of the Thirty-Nine Articles. Article XXVIII comprises the foundational Anglican doctrinal statement about the Eucharist, although its interpretation varies among churches of the Anglican Communion and in different traditions of churchmanship such as Anglo-Catholicism and Evangelical Anglicanism.

Branch theory

Branch theory is an ecclesiological proposition that the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church includes various Christian denominations whether in formal communion or not. The theory is often incorporated in the Protestant notion of an invisible Christian Church structure binding them together.

Anglican Communion and ecumenism

Anglican interest in ecumenical dialogue can be traced back to the time of the Reformation and dialogues with both Orthodox and Lutheran churches in the sixteenth century. In the nineteenth century, with the rise of the Oxford Movement, there arose greater concern for reunion of the churches of "Catholic confession". This desire to work towards full communion with other denominations led to the development of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, approved by the Third Lambeth Conference of 1888. The four points were stipulated as the basis for church unity, "a basis on which approach may be by God's blessing made towards Home Reunion":

Anglican devotions

Anglican devotions are private prayers and practices used by Anglican Christians to promote spiritual growth and communion with God. Among members of the Anglican Communion, private devotional habits vary widely, depending on personal preference and on their affiliation with low-church or high-church parishes.

Central churchmanship

Central churchmanship describes those who adhere to the middle way in the Anglican Communion of the Christian religion and other Anglican church bodies, being neither markedly high church/Anglo-Catholic nor low church/evangelical Anglican in their liturgical preferences. The term is used much less frequently than some others. In The Claims of the Church of England, Cyril Garbett, Archbishop of York, used the term along with Anglo-Catholic, liberal, and Evangelical as a label for schools within the Church of England, but also states:

Within the Anglican Church are Anglo-Catholics, Evangelicals, Liberals and the great mass of English Churchmen who are content to describe themselves as Churchmen without any further label.

Church Society

Church Society is a conservative, evangelical Anglican organisation and registered charity formed in 1950 by the merger of the Anglican Church Association and National Church League. In May 2018, Church Society merged with two other evangelical Anglican organisations, Reform and the Fellowship of Word and Spirit to provide a united voice for conservative evangelicals within the Church of England.

The Parish Communion movement is a movement in the Church of England which aims to make Parish Communion on a Sunday the main act of worship in a parish.

Evangelical Anglicanism Tradition within Anglicanism

Evangelical Anglicanism or evangelical Episcopalianism is a tradition or church party within Anglicanism that shares affinity with broader evangelicalism. Evangelical Anglicans share with other evangelicals the attributes of "conversionism, activism, biblicism and crucicentrism" identified by historian David Bebbington as central to evangelical identity. The emergence of evangelical churchmanship can be traced back to the First Great Awakening in America and the Evangelical Revival in Britain in the 18th century. In the 20th century, prominent figures have included John Stott and J. I. Packer.


  1. Neill, Stephen (1960). Anglicanism. London: Pelican. p. 398.
  2. Hylson-Smith, Kenneth (1993). High Churchmanship in the Church of England. Edinburgh: T&T Clark. p. 340.
  3. Holmes III, Urban T. (1982). What is Anglicanism?. Wilton, Connecticut: Moorehouse-Barlow Co. p. 11.
  4. Carey, George (1996). "Celebrating the Anglican Way". In Bunting, Ian (ed.). Celebrating the Anglican Way. London: Hodder & Stoughton. pp. 14–16.
  5. Garbett, Cyril (1947). The Claims of the Church of England. London: Hodder & Stoughton. p. 27.
  6. Gibson, William (2001). The Church of England: 1688-1832. London: Routledge. pp. 1, 2.
  7. The Churchman's Human Quest (1995-1996) ISSN 0897-8786 ISSN 0009-6628 is one of the titles of a periodical which has changed many times