Bishops in an American church

Daily Reading for August 17 • Samuel Johnson, 1772, Timothy Cutler, 1765, and Thomas Bradbury Chandler, 1790, Priests

Timothy Cutler was ordained and installed Pastor of the Congregational Church in Stratford, Conn., on the 11th of January, 1710. Here he sustained a very high reputation, as a preacher, and was regarded as one of the most influential clergymen in the Colony. Yale College, having, after a serious and somewhat protracted conflict, become established in New Haven, the Trustees of that institution convened in March, 1719, and requested Mr. Cutler to take charge of it, until their next meeting. He consented to do so, and immediately entered on his duties; and so satisfactorily did he discharge them, that the Trustees, at their next meeting, in September, regularly appointed him Rector. . . .

The new Rector was exceedingly popular with the General Assembly, the Clergy, and the Students; and everything seemed auspicious of peace and usefulness. But, while the bright hopes which were now indulged had scarcely begun to be realized, they were suddenly checked by an event which left the institution again, in a short time, without a Head. The day after the Commencement in 1722, a paper was presented to the Clergy and others assembled in the College Library, signed by the Rector, and one of the Tutors, together with the Ministers of several of the neighbouring parishes, in which they say,—“Some of us doubt of the validity, and the rest are more fully persuaded of the invalidity, of Presbyterian ordination, in opposition to Episcopal.”

There was not, at this time, a single Episcopal Church in Connecticut, and but few Episcopal families, though there was a Missionary of the Church of England,—Mr. Pigot, residing in Stratford, with whom some of these gentlemen had formed an agreeable acquaintance. Such an announcement, therefore, might be expected to occasion great surprise; and fears seem to have been entertained lest the introduction of Episcopal worship into the Colony should have a tendency gradually to undermine the foundations of civil and religious liberty. In these circumstances it was thought expedient that there should be a public discussion of the subject of Episcopacy between the Trustees and the gentlemen who had signed the declaration.

Accordingly, in October following, at a meeting of the Trustees in the College Library, the Divine Right of Episcopacy was freely debated, in the presence of a large number of both Clergy and Laity, the Rector and Mr. Johnson (afterwards Dr. Johnson of Stratford) being the chief speakers on the affirmative, and Governor Saltonstall on the negative. The result of the discussion was that three of the clergymen who had doubted concerning the validity of Presbyterian ordination, professed to be satisfied with their former views; while the rest, and among them the Rector, were more fully confirmed in their Episcopal tendencies. On the 27th of October, the Trustees voted to “excuse the Rev. Mr. Cutler from all further service, as Rector of Yale College.”

Mr. Cutler now lost no time in making his arrangements to procure Episcopal ordination. Early in November following he sailed from Boston for England, in company with Mr. Johnson and Mr. Browne, and on his arrival there, about the middle of December, was received with every demonstration of respect and kindness. In March of the next year, he was ordained both as Deacon and Priest, by Dr. Green, Bishop of Norwich. He also received the degree of Doctor of Divinity, from both Cambridge and Oxford Universities.

Dr. Cutler, having accomplished his object in England, embarked for America in July, and arrived in Boston in November. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel had accepted him as their Missionary, and designated him to a new church, (Christ Church,) which had just been established in Boston. They erected a new edifice in the course of the year 1723, and, on the 29th of December, it was first opened for public worship, on which occasion Dr. Cutler commenced his labours as Rector by preaching from the text,—“My house shall be called an House of Prayer for all people.” At the commencement of his ministry here, his audience usually consisted of about four hundred; but it gradually increased to nearly double that number.

Dr. Cutler continued in the diligent discharge of his ministerial duties, until he was far advanced in life. He seems to have had little to do with the controversies of his time, though he always showed himself a consistent and earnest Episcopalian. About the year 1756, his labours were interrupted by an attack of illness from which he never recovered.

From Annals of the American Episcopal pulpit or Commemorative Notices of Distinguished Clergymen of the Episcopal Church in the United States, from the Early Settlement of the Country to the Close of the Year 1855 by William B. Sprague (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1859).

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