“First Presbyter of the Church” was the well-deserved, if unofficial, title of the sixth rector of Grace Church, New York City. Huntington provided a leadership characterized by breadth, generosity, scholarship, and boldness. He was the acknowledged leader in the House of Deputies of the Protestant Episcopal Church’s General Convention during a period of intense conflict within the Church, and his reconciling spirit helped preserve the unity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the early days after the departure of George David Cummins, the assistant bishop of Kentucky, and the formation of the Reformed Episcopal Church.
In the House of Deputies, of which he was a member from 1871 until 1907, Huntington showed active and pioneering vision in making daring proposals. As early as 1871, his motion to revive the primitive order of deaconesses began a long struggle which culminated in 1889 in canonical authorization for that order. Huntington’s parish immediately provided facilities for the new ministry, and Huntington House became a training center for deaconesses and other women workers in the Church.
Christian unity was Huntington’s great passion throughout his ministry. In his book, The Church Idea (1870), he attempted to articulate the essentials of Christian unity. The grounds he proposed as a basis for unity were presented to, and accepted by, the House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Chicago in 1886, and with some modification, were adopted by the Lambeth Conference of 1888. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1) the Holy Scriptures, 2) the historic Creeds, 3) the Sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, and 4) the historic episcopate, has become an historic landmark for the Anglican Communion.
In addition to his roles as ecumenist and churchman, Huntington is significant as a liturgical scholar. It was his proposal to revise the American Prayer Book that led to the revision of 1892, providing a hitherto unknown flexibility and significant enrichment. His Collect for Monday in Holy Week, now used also for Fridays at Morning Prayer, is itself an example of skillful revision. In it he took two striking clauses from the exhortation to the sick in the 1662 Prayer Book, and joined them as part of a prayer for grace to follow the Lord in his sufferings.
adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)
O Lord our God, we thank you for instilling in the heart of your servant William Reed Huntington a fervent love for your Church and its mission in the world; and we pray that, with unflagging faith in your promises, we may make known to all people your blessed gift of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The icon of William Reed Huntington was written by Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG, and is reproduced here with his generous permission.