Sunday, November 8, 2009

Church of England and the New Lights

Earlier this week I made a statement in a post which, upon further reflection, I felt needed a bit of explanation. I wrote something along the lines of wanting to see the reaction of Charles Inglis, Nova Scotia's first Anglican Bishop, were he to learn that one of his churches was being taken down and sold to the New Lights. Of course, this was in relation to All Saints Anglican Church in Granville Centre being taken down and apparently sold to a Baptist congregation in Louisiana. Well, since Bishop Inglis is long in his grave I will never get to see his reaction but, I can assume that it would not have been positive. Why would this be?

This is the point in this post where I try to explain centuries old religious debate in a very concise form. Believe me, it will be concise. In the years before the start of the American Revolution a wave of revivalist preaching made its way across the American colonies (I am including Nova Scotia in this context). One of the first of these preachers was actually an Anglican named George Whitefield. Certain denominations (Baptist, Methodist, Congregationalist, etc.) started to lean toward this revival style preaching centered on ecstatic experience. Those who practised this style of preaching were called New Lights. The emergence of these groups rankled the established Church of England whose services usually did not include these sorts of ecstasies. Another problem was that the gaining popularity of the New Lights drew members away from the Church of England. While there are other and deeper doctrinal differences, I am going to keep the explanation this level since it resonates with the poem at the bottom of this post.

On a political level, the followers of the New Lights and the Church of England became divided over the dogma of the American Revolution. The New Lights embraced an egalitarian and democratic view while the Church of England was a staunch supporter of the established British hierarchical system. Each group was representing one of the sides in the conflict. As the Revolution progressed, these religious and political differences led to much animosity.

The Rev. Jacob Bailey had come to Annapolis Royal as a Loyalist fleeing Maine. A man of education, he had been in the same Harvard graduating class as John Adams (1755). In addition to his role as the Anglican Rector of St Luke's Church, Bailey wrote poetry, journals, drama, and even attempted a novel. Much of Bailey's work is satirical and highly critical of both the New Lights and those who started the Revolution. While Bailey and Bishop Inglis did not always see eye to eye, I will offer the following poem as typical of the sentiment of the Church of England in Nova Scotia in the decades following the American Revolution. This version of Jacob Bailey's Verse Against the New Lights can be found in Canadian Poetry: From the Beginnings through the First World War, published in 1994. Something about this poem seems to confirm my feeling that neither Bailey nor Inglis would be particularly happy to see All Saints Church being taken down and sold.

Verse against the New Lights

Behold the gifted teacher rise
and roll to heaven his half shut eyes
In every feature of his face
see stiffness sanctity and grace
like whipping post erect he stands
and stretches out his waving hands
then with a slow and gentle voice
begins to make an languid noise
strives with a thousand airs to move
to melt and thaw your hearts with love
but when he fails by softening arts
to mollify your frozen hearts
observe him spring with eager jump
and on the table fiercely thump
with double fist he beats the air
pours out his soul in wrathful prayer
then seized with furious agitation
screams forth a frightful exhortation
And with a sharp and hideous yell
sends all your carnal folks to Hell
Now to excite your fear and wonder
tries the big jarring voice of thunder
like wounded serpent in the vale
he writhes, his body and his tail
strives by each motion to express
the Agonies of deep distress
Then Groans, and scolds and roars aloud
till dread and frenzy fire the crowd
The madness spreads with rapid power
confusion reigns and wild uproar
a consort grand of joyful tones
mingl'd with sighs and rueful moans
Some heaven extol with rapturous air
while others rave in black dispair
a blended group of different voices
confound and stund us with their noises
Thus in some far and lonely site
amidst the deepest glooms of night
where roll the slow and sullen floods
ore hung with rocks and dusky woods
I've heard the wolves terrific howl
the doleful music of the owl
with notes more piercing soft and shrill
resounds the sprightly whi'poorwill
these give the ears a wondrous greeting
not much unlike a pious meeting

Here blue-eyed Jenny plays her part
inured to every saint like art
she works and heaves from head to heel
with pangs of puritanic zeal
now in a fit of deep distress
the holy maid turns prophetess
and to our light and knowledge brings
a multitude of secret things
and as Enthusiasm advances
falls into extacies and trances
herself with decency resigns
to these impulses and reclines
on Jemmy Trimm, a favorite youth
a chosen vessel of the truth
who as she sinks into his arms
feels thro' his veins her powerful charms
grown warm with throbs of strong devotion
he finds his blood in high commotion
and fir'd with love of this dear Sister
is now unable to resist her.

Jacob Bailey (178-)

All for now,

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