L’Eglise Orthodoxe Apostolique Haitienne: The Anglican Communion is more complex than supposed.

In 1874 L’Eglise Orthodoxe Apostolique Haitienne was established, its bishop, James T. Holly, having been ordained on November 8, 1874 in Grace Church, New York.

I was doing a bit of research this week on bishops ordained for dioceses outside the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church and took up reading a short volume titled, “Petite Histoire de l’Eglise Episcopale en Haiti, 1861-1996.”

It seemed appropriate to be doing this: the date of the founding of this diocese and the consecration of its bishop are coming up and we have many things on our mind concerning the nature of the Anglican Communion and just how it came to be. And, since we are anticipating the investiture of a new Presiding Bishop who breaks one sort of limitation on service it seems appropriate to remember another bishop who did a similar thing.

Bishop Holly was black. More he was a missionary. More yet, he was the first bishop ordained from this church to serve outside the bounds of this church. He was set free in a profoundly important way, even as that autonomy and independence was a cross to bear.

The Episcopal Church ordained a bishop for a new church, not a diocese part of the Episcopal Church, but an independent one. On the third of November 1874 an accord was signed between the Episcopal Church and the Orthodox Apostolic Church of Haiti in which there was an agreement that ordination of bishops for the church in Haiti would rest with four Episcopal Church bishops, but that otherwise the church in Haiti was its own entity.

Bishop Holly was present at the Lambeth Conference in 1878, his way paid in part by the government of Haiti. That Conference recognized the Orthodox Apostolic Church of Haiti as a part of the Anglican Communion.

This was before the days of muttering about “constituent members.” I suppose now that Church would have been considered “extra provincial” in that its relation to the Episcopal Church was only by securing bishops in succession. But at the time the Church in Haiti was just what it was, an independent church with a bishop in Anglican succession.

Bishop Samuel Crowther, consecrated for Niger in 1864 was the first black bishop in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Holly was the first black bishop in the Episcopal Church’s succession. But the Orthodox Anglican Church of Haiti was not part of any other jurisdiction and I believe was the first black Anglican jurisdiction outside already existing Provinces, and certainly was the first autonomous church of the Anglican Communion that was not Anglophone.

All of this is of interest in these days, for the naïve view is that somehow the Anglican Communion consists of Provinces recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury. But early on, at the second Lambeth Conference, it was the Conference that recognized Haiti as part of the Anglican Communion, even if, as assuredly must have happened directly or indirectly, Bishop Holly was invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I have no idea when the Church of England recognized the Orthodox Anglican Church of Haiti as a church with which it was in communion. But the Lambeth Conference did recognize its presence, and the Archbishop did, it appears, invite the bishop of Haiti to attend.

All of which is to suggest that even at its beginnings the Anglican Communion included more than simply the churches spawned by its own mission efforts. The matrix of connections in the communion was greater, even at the outset, than the Compass Rose idea might suggest.

One other note the device, or shield, of the Orthodox Apostolic Church of Haiti had these words:

La Verite Evangelique,
L’Ordre Apostlolique,
La charite Catholique.

Roughly translated:

Evangelical Certainty
Apostolic Order
Care for the whole world.

(maybe the third is more narrow, but I don’t think so.)

But however translated, a worthy device for a church part of the Anglican Communion.

Bishop Holly is being considered for Lesser Feasts and Fasts. Remembering him is remembering a time when this Church saw itself as the source of new and quite different expressions of the faith of Anglicans in the world. Haiti was not alone: we did similar things in Mexico and the Philippines.

We were willing to reach out then. Perhaps we will need to stretch now.

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