Michael Cromartie once quipped, “if evangelicals could elect a pope, [John] Stott is the person they would likely choose.” We would like to suggest that if the North American Evangelical Anglican Tradition had a patron-saint, it should be Bishop Charles Pettit McIlvaine. McIlvaine is to the North American Evangelical Anglican Tradition what J.C. Ryle is to the Church of England’s Evangelical Tradition.
As a man of great and varied talents, Charles Pettit McIlvaine did many things and he did them well. Combining evangelical fervor and liturgical dignity in equal measure, he distinguished himself as a leader, author, scholar, educator, preacher, revivalist, reformer, ecumenist, and Sunday school pioneer. His literary and scholarly gifts advanced the evangelical cause in the Episcopal Church, defended Christian doctrine more generally, and addressed important social issues. He was an active delegate at the first Lambeth Conference.
Throughout his career, Bishop McIlvaine emphasized spiritual rebirth. Hence he preached at numerous revivals, conducting them in good Episcopal fashion, “decently and in order.” His awakening at age seventeen matched the experience he recommended. “It was in the college of which I was a student,” he recalled. “It was powerful and prevailing, and fruitful in the conversion of young men to God; and it was quiet, unexcited, and entirely free from all devices or means, beyond the few and simple which God has appointed…In that precious season of the power of God, my religious life began. I had heard before; I began then to know.”
Though raised in the East, McIlvaine served as Ohio’s second bishop for forty-one years and, during that time, rose to become the undisputed leader of the evangelical wing of the denomination. Earlier, he served churches in Washington, D. C. and Brooklyn, N.Y.; twice served as U. S. Senate chaplain; lectured on Christian evidences at the University of the City of New York, and served as chaplain and professor at the U. S. Military Academy, where he transformed the reigning secular ethos into one of Christian awareness, setting a new tone for the nation’s officer corps.
During the first dozen years of his episcopate, he also served as president of Kenyon College and Seminary. He stabilized the college’s finances, built academic structures and faculty housing, and set the standard for racial harmony.
Early in the American Civil War, he served President Lincoln as envoy to Britain, where his wise counsel and diplomatic bearing assured the British would not ally themselves with the Confederacy. Later, he brought the Gospel to soldiers in the field, tended the wounded, and sought reconciliation between victors and vanquished.
In the address, McIlvaine urges his clergy to obey the original charge and command of Christ to “Preach the Gospel”. He goes on to say,
Faith by hearing, gospel faith by hearing gospel truth, and such hearing by the preaching of the Word of God, is his standing rule according to which he bestows his Spirit for the conviction, conversion and sanctification of men. But it is manifest from the Scriptures that the Apostles identified the gospel with Christ; so that, in their view and practice, to preach the gospel was neither more nor less than to preach Christ.
EFAC-USA member, Thomas Garrett Isham has written a biography of McIlvaine entitled A Born Again Episcopalian: The Evangelical Witness of Charles Pettit McIlvaine.
Isham is the person who is responsible for bringing McIlvaine and his contributions back into our consciousness as Evangelicals. It was also Isham who recognized that McIlvaine has never been formally recognized by The Episcopal Church or any of its offshoots. To that end, Isham produced a short biography of McIlvaine (used above), propers to be used at a communion service commemorating McIlvaine (see below), and a suggested date for such a service (March 12). March 12 is just around the corner and if your parish is in the habit of having these types of commemorations, please consider commemorating McIlvaine. If you do hold a commemoration, please produce a simple bulletin or other item denoting that a commemoration took place. If a sufficient numbers of the commemorations take place we will petition the Episcopal Church’s Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music to include McIlvaine in the next edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts.
We will also petition the ACNA to recognize McIlvaine in the same way.
Collect for Charles Pettit McIlvaine
O gracious God, thou hast kindled in thy servant Charles Pettit McIlvaine a burning zeal
for the salvation and sanctification of souls, and equipped him to those ends with great
gifts of leadership, preaching and writing. Grant us, we beseech thee, to heed the example
and teaching of this thy servant Charles, that we too may have a hand in bringing to faith
those whom thou hast called; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who livest and reignest with
thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
O gracious God, you kindled in your servant Charles Pettit McIlvaine a burning zeal for
the salvation and sanctification of souls, and equipped him to those ends with great gifts
of leadership, preaching and writing. Grant us to heed the example and teaching of this
your servant Charles, that we too may have a hand in bringing to faith those whom you
have called; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Readings in commemoration of Charles Pettit McIlvaine
Proverbs 4: 20-27
Psalm 119: 121-136
Romans 8: 31-39
Mark 8: 31-38