Welcome to the American Christian Heritage Group blog where we give you glimpses of our country's early Christian foundations. We hope you enjoy these, learn more about our Christian heritage and undertake reading of the many cited sources and end notes. Please feel free to register and leave comments.

FIRST CONTINENTAL CONGRESS OPENING PRAYER

March 2nd, 2010

The Reverend Jacob Duché opened the September 7th, 1774 first Continental Congress in Philadelphia with prayer. Here is the story about a prayer that stirred the Founding Fathers.

The first American Congress (Continental Congress) was a convention of delegates from twelve of the thirteen North American colonies that met on September 5, 1774, at Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early in the American Revolution. Called in response to the passage of the Coercive Acts (also known as Intolerable Acts by the Colonial Americans) by the British Parliament, the Congress was attended by 56 members appointed by the legislatures of twelve of the Thirteen Colonies, the exception being the Province of Georgia, which did not send delegates. At the time, Georgia was the newest and smallest province and declined to send a delegation because it was seeking help from London in pacifying its smoldering Indian frontier. [1]

Delegates met in secret. Benjamin Franklin had proposed such a meeting a year earlier, but after the Port of Boston was closed the momentum for such a meeting grew rapidly. The goal of the Congress was to resolve the differences between England and the colonies.

The Congress opened in prayer led by the Reverend Jacob Duché, a local minister from nearby Christ Church. Many of the Founding Fathers worshipped there and seven signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried in Christ’s Church cemetery. Reverend Jacob Duché (1737-98) was born in Pennsylvania, a descendant of Huguenots who immigrated to America with William Penn.

"The First Prayer in Congress" by T.H. Matteson 1848

Reverend Duché opened the second session on September 7th, 1774 with prayer. It was not a perfunctory prayer, but one that was a time of profound prayer. Opening the session he read the 35th Psalm, and then broke into extemporaneous prayer.

First Prayer of the Continental Congress, 1774

O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!

Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.

Amen.

Reverend Jacob Duché
Rector of Christ Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
September 7, 1774, 9 o’clock a.m. [2]

The prayer had a profound effect on the delegates, as recounted by John Adams to his wife. Dr. Duché followed the psalm with ten minutes of spontaneous prayer asking God to support the American cause. Adams stated, “[Rev] Duche, unexpectedly to everybody, struck out into extemporaneous prayer filled which filled     the bosom of every man present. I must confess I never heard a better prayer. . . .with such fervor, such ardor, earnestness and pathos, and in a language so elegant and sublime for America [and] for the Congress. . . .It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here.” He went on to say, “I never saw a greater effect upon an audience. It seemed as if Heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on the morning. . . .I must beg you to read that Psalm. . . [Read] the 35th Psalm to [your friends]. Read it to your father.” One other delegate said he was “worth riding 100 miles to hear.”

On July 4, 1776, Jacob Duché met with his Vestry to make a momentous decision. Just two days after the Continental Congress voted to “dissolve the connection” with Great Britain in what became known as the Declaration of Independence, the decision at hand was whether or not to pray for the royal family in the upcoming Sunday service. In the politically charged world of Philadelphia, the act of excluding prayers for King George was fraught with partisan labeling: are you a loyalist Tory or a rebel? The vestry decided “for the peace and well-being of the churches, to omit the said petitions.” To this day, you can visit Christ Church and see the 1776 Prayer Book where the prayer has an ink line literally crossing out those prayers for the King. [4]

[1] Ferling, John. (2003). A Leap in the Dark. Oxford University Press. p. 112

[2] http://chaplain.house.gov/archive/continental.html

[3] John Adams, Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife, letter of September 16, 1774; Charles Francis Adams, Editor, Charles C. Little & James Brown 1841

[4] Why Remembering Matters sermon, The Rev. Walter Smedley, IV, The Church of the Holy Cross, Dunn Loring, Virginia, Sunday, July 2, 2006

End Note: The painting is “The First Prayer in Congress” by T.H. Matteson and was completed 74 years after the Congress was held, in the year 1848. It does not picture all of the 56 delegates (36 are in the painting) and the backdrop of the room was as it was in Carpenter Hall (next to Independence Hall) in the year 1848, not in 1774.

GEORGE FOX, FOUNDER OF QUAKERS

February 9th, 2010

George Fox

The Christian religion played a dominant role in the formation of our country. Starting with the Puritans and followed by the Quakers, Presbyterians, Baptists and other church bodies, these groups literally gave birth to America. The leaders of these churches were very influential in the formation of our government. Christian men of God established the first communities and colonies of America.

It is important for us to visit these major leaders and to know them and the work they accomplished. George Fox (1624-1691) was an English Dissenter and a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers or Friends. The son of a weaver from rural England, Fox was apprenticed to a cobbler. Living in a time of great social upheaval and war, he rebelled against the religious and political consensus by proposing an unusual and uncompromising approach to the Christian faith. Abandoning his trade, he toured Britain as a dissenting preacher, for which he was often persecuted by the authorities who disapproved of his beliefs. His ministry expanded and he undertook tours of North America and the Low Countries, between which he was imprisoned for over a year. He spent the final decade of his life working in London to organize the expanding Quaker movement.

Though his movement attracted disdain from some, others such as William Penn and Oliver Cromwell viewed Fox with respect. His journal, first published after his death, is known even among non-Quakers for its vivid account of his personal journey. [1]

The great secret of Fox’s power was his faith in God. He started with scarcely any advantages, but soon he influenced the whole world for God. His one desire was the extension of Christ’s kingdom on earth. Through his influence England, Ireland, and Scotland were soon ablaze. In 1661 several of his followers were moved to go beyond the seas to publish truth in foreign countries. In 1664 he married Margaret Fell. In 1670-73 he sailed for the West Indies and North America. Though he was persecuted even there, the work spread. [2]

“Above all, George Fox excelled in prayer. The inwardness and weight of his spirit, the reverence and solemnity of his address and behaviour, and the fewness and fulness of his words have often struck even strangers with admiration as they used to reach others with consolation. The most awful, living, reverend frame I ever felt or beheld, I must say, was the prayer of George Fox. And truly it was a testimony. He knew and lived nearer to the Lord than other men, for they that know Him most will see most reason to approach Him with reverence and fear.”
By William Penn

Regarding the Quakers’ care for Friends within the Society: widows, orphans,

Colonial Quaker Meeting With a Woman Preaching

sick, poor, imprisoned, old, young; they were all cared for by the Quakers. If one assembly was overburdened with expense of care, other assemblies would contribute to their assistance, worldwide. Their care for their own was so thorough that “there was not a beggar among them,” and when a local government would discover that they were providing assistance, which the government was obligated to fund, the government would suddenly drop their opposition to their meetings and assemblies.

Regarding their care for all men: from the Journal, “Sometimes there would be two hundred of the poor of other people (non-Quakers) to come and wait until the meeting was done, (for all the country knew we met about the poor); and after the meeting, Friends would send to the bakers for bread, and give everyone of those poor people a loaf, however many there were of them; for we were taught ‘to do good all, though especially to the household of faith.'”

Thus the early Quakers evidenced three characteristics of true disciples: love among them through possession of the fruit of the Spirit, 2) being massively persecuted by those born of the flesh, and 3) the power of miracles and signs accompanying their ministries.

Under Fox’s leadership, the early Quakers initiated social reforms that are still beneficial to us today. They forced prices to be marked in stores, rather than all pricing being negotiable, even for food and clothing. They reformed the treatment of the mentally insane from being chained in dungeons. They initiated education for women in the trades. They provided rest homes for the aged, unable to work. In 1688, Pennsylvania Quakers passed an anti-slavery resolution in their colonial governing body, initiating slavery’s long demise in America. Their suffering and patient appeals to the governments resulted in religious toleration and freedom throughout Europe. Their ideals even influenced the United States Constitution in its separation of powers, the separation of Church and State, and the United States Bill of Rights, (William Penn’s Frame of Government for Pennsylvania implemented a democratic system with full freedom of religion, freedom from unjust imprisonment, fair trials, elected representatives of the people in power, and a separation of powers. Ahead of his time, Penn also submitted a written plan for a United States of Europe.)

The Quakers became a sedate, sober, thrifty people, of most exemplary lives, and most earnest in all good works. They were leaders in the most advanced philanthropic movements of the age. Besides their persistent and sincere advocacy of religious liberty, they were the first advocates of the abolition of slavery, and they never faltered in their purpose until slavery had ceased to exist in the British possessions and in the United States. “They weakly err,” observes William Penn, “who think there is no other use of government than correction, which is the coarsest part of it.” To provide the means of a good education for every child, and to see that all are taught some good trade or profession, would do more for the promotion of peace and happiness than all the machinery of courts and prisons. The principles that actuated the Friends who emigrated to the Holy Experiment of Pennsylvania, are set forth in a contemporary publication, called the Planter’s Speech made by Penn, as follows:

“The motives of our retreating to these new habitations I apprehend to have been, the desire of a peaceable life, where we might worship God and obey his law with freedom, according to the dictates of the divine principle. … Our business, therefore, in this new land, is, not so much to build houses and establish factories, and promote trade and manufactures, that may enrich themselves, (though all these things, in their due place, are not to be neglected), as to erect temples of holiness and righteousness, which God may delight in; to lay such lasting frames and foundations of temperance and virtue as may support the superstructure of our future happiness, both in this and the other world.”

The interior of the Plymouth Quaker Meeting House in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, built in 1708

The Quaker colony of Pennsylvania was first sought by George Fox, twenty years before William Penn made it a reality. In France and on the continent of Europe the great men and writers seized upon The Holy Experiment of Pennsylvania as the most remarkable occurrence of the age. Voltaire was delighted, and from that time he loved the Quakers; and even thought of going to Pennsylvania to live among them. To these men . . .the thought of Christians keeping their promises inviolate for forty years with heathen Indians was idealism realized. It was like refreshment in a great weary desert of previous Christian failures. [3]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Fox
[2] George Fox, The Unshakeable Shaker, Leonard Ravenhill, DAYSPRING 1963, Bethany House Publishers
[3] http://www.hallvworthington.com/wikipediasummary.html