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Aug 24 Start of Non-conformism

On Aug 24th in 1662 the deadline arrived for all Christian Ministers to assent to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. 2000 Puritans abandoned their pulpits and became known for the first time as non-conformists. It was an important moment in the establishment of the Church of England and the 1662 Prayer Book was printed two years after the restoration of the monarchy.


The short-lived Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell had been celebrated as a victory of Puritanism, with the execution of King Charles I shocking much of Europe. England’s experiment with republicanism, with Cromwell assigning himself as Lord Protector until his death in 1658 had quickly unravelled under his son and successor Richard, whose weakness led to a power vacuum causing Parliament to arrange the return to London of Prince Charles as King Charles II (see pod of Jan 30).

This dramatic reversal in political fortunes had led to a crisis for many of the zealous puritans. Their uncompromising views on reform, as they felt that they had a direct covenant with God to enact these reforms. The Church of England, in their view, had retained too much of the liturgy and ritual of Roman Catholicism. and should eliminate ceremonies and practices not rooted in the Bible. After the restoration of the monarchy, they were under siege from Church and crown, and certain groups of Puritans migrated to Northern English colonies in the New World in the 1620s and 1630s, laying the foundation for the religious, intellectual, and social order of New England. Aspects of Puritanism have reverberated throughout American life ever since. Back in England, the lament, Paradise Lost was written to expresses the disillusionment of the Puritan John Milton and has since had a profound impact on British Culture (see pod of Apr 27).

As the Church of England regrouped, the Savoy Conference between representative Presbyterians and twelve bishops which was convened by Royal Warrant to "advise upon and review the Book of Common Prayer". . It would become the liturgical book used by churches of the Anglican Communion. First authorized for use in the Church of England in 1549, it was radically revised in 1552, and today’s version arrived at after various minor revisions, 113 years after it was launched. The prayer book of 1662, with minor changes, has continued as the standard liturgy of most Anglican churches of the British Commonwealth until the 20th Century. At the time it was improper for lay people to take any vocal part in prayer (as in the Litany or Lord's Prayer), other than to say "amen"; The bishops decided that liturgy could not be circumscribed by Scripture, but included those matters which were "generally received in the Catholic church." They rejected extempore prayer as apt to be filled with "idle, impertinent, ridiculous, sometimes seditious, impious and blasphemous expressions."

After the Revolution of 1688, the revision of the prayer book was proposed in an attempt to reunite the Puritans with the established church. That proposal failed. The Puritans were not satisfied, however, and, today many of them resigned their pulpits and henceforth became known as non-conformists. By law and social custom, Nonconformists were restricted from many spheres of public life – not least, from access to public office, civil service careers, or degrees at university – and were referred to as suffering from civil disabilities. In England and Wales in the late 19th century the new terms "free church" and "Free churchman" started to replace "Nonconformist" or "dissenter"

Nonconformists, have played a major role in English politics. In a political context, historians distinguish between them as . "Old Dissenters", dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, including Baptists, Congregationalists, Quakers, Unitarians, and Presbyterians outside Scotland. And "New Dissenters" emerging in the 18th century were mainly Methodists. The "Nonconformist conscience" was their moral sensibility which they tried to implement in British politics. By the late 19th century, the New Dissenters had mostly switched to the Liberal Party. The result was a merging of the two groups, strengthening their great weight as a political pressure group which David Lloyd George was particularly adept at channelling support from these groups in his rise to power. Equally important is the legacy of the non-conformists who settled in the United States – from Williams Penn's Holy Experiment in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania (pod Mar 40) to the founding of universities such as Yale (Mar 12) and Harvard named after the Rev John Harvard (Mar 13)


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