The Church of the Good Shepherd

Rosemont, Pennsylvania

An Anglo-Catholic Parish

 People might wonder how a church can be Anglican and Catholic at the same time.  Although Good Shepherd is a parish of the Episcopal Church, it has some unique characteristics that distinguish it from other Episcopal parishes.  At the beginning of the nineteenth century, some members of the Church of England felt that the church suffered from a lack of vitality and from growing competition from other religious traditions.  They also worried that the government had helped weaken its position as the established church.  A group of concerned clergy at Oriel College, Oxford University, raised an alarm about what they saw as the deteriorating condition of the church. One of them in particular, John Keble,[1] in an 1833 sermon titled “National Apostasy,” called for renewal in the church.  Because so many of those involved in this effort came from the university, it became known as the Oxford Movement.

These clergy and scholars began producing a series of pamphlets that they called Tracts for the Times. (Another name for the group became Tractarians).  They argued that the Church of England was part of the catholic church equal to the Orthodox Church of Russia and the Roman Church in Italy, for instance. Each nation had its own branch of that universal church. They looked back at the glorious history of the church in England, especially from the Middle Ages and the seventeenth century.  Many, especially Edward Pusey, even disavowed the Protestant name associated with the Reformation, especially since that had been brought on by Henry VIII’s marital problems.  They insisted that the English Church was catholic. They wanted to restore what the seventeenth-century Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, called “the beauty of holiness.”

This first generation of reformers primarily concentrated on ecclesiology. The next group of reformers focused more on the outward expression of the Catholic nature of the Church of England.  They wanted to restore the liturgy, vestments, ritual, and practices associated with the English Catholicism before Protestantism had abolished them.  They sought to return to the use of rich vestments appropriate for the celebration of what they now called the Mass. They embellished the service with the use of incense, bells, holy water, genuflections, and the elevation of the host. They called for oral confession to a priest for absolution. Because of an expanding population, new churches had to be constructed to accommodate them.  These churches now had to be constructed in the neo-gothic style, appropriate to the new emphasis on medieval traditions.  Naturally, when these ideas were put into use, riots occurred outside of these churches; and the government of Queen Victoria attempted to outlaw them.

Nevertheless, these concepts and practices began to catch on in some quarters in England. While not all churches went as far as others, incrementally various aspects of the Tractarians proposals were accepted.  They also crossed the Atlantic to the former colony in North America.  Many Anglican churches in the United States began adopting many of these customs, and the Neo-gothic style of architecture became very popular.  The church even changed its name from the Protestant Episcopal Church to what it is now, The Episcopal Church.  Certain churches followed the Tractarian position to its fullest extent—incense, bells, genuflection—and are called Anglo-Catholic as a result.  The Church of the Good Shepherd was specifically established as an Anglo-Catholic parish on the Main Line in this tradition, from its architecture to the ritual.  We continue to honor our traditions but are not mired in the nineteenth century, enthusiastically adopting the new inclusiveness of today’s Episcopal Church. Many, including our parish, affirm the dignity of every human being as they understand themselves and strive to work for justice and peace in the Name of Jesus Christ. Here, at the Church of the Good Shepherd, one can experience the beauty of holiness.

[1] John Keble’s image appears on the triptych in the Lady Chapel.