Anglican Mission in the Middle East up to 1910

by Duane Miller

Date added: 02/06/2016

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Anglican Mission in the Middle East up to 1910 

Duane Alexander Miller        

This chapter will explore the issue of Anglican identity in the Middle East up until the Edinburgh Conference of 1910. From Henry Maundrell’s eighteenth-century journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem to Henry Martyn’s well-known efforts at translation and evangelism in Persia from 1811, some Anglicans had been to the Middle East, and many more read about their journeys. But the nineteenth century was a period of intentional missionary work by the Church of England and its allies in mission. Because of this, the topic of Anglican identity is best investigated by studying the wide variety of missions that were active. Missions in Egypt and Iran will be briefly noted, but the main focus is on the American Episcopal mission to Constantinople and the Protestant-Anglican mission centered in Palestine. The chapter argues that that there were a wide variety of different conceptualizations of what it meant to be Anglican, that sometimes these conflicted, and that the Middle East provided a testing ground for different and contesting visions of what it means to be an Anglican.


1. Asia Minor and Persia

Horatio Southgate: Missionary Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA) in Istanbul

The Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA was late to enter into the worldwide Protestant missionary movement. The Church of England already had the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, founded in 1701, and the Church Mission Society, founded in 1799, and the London Jews Society, formed in 1809; and the most influential of all missionary boards in the USA, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, was chartered in 1812 as a mostly Presbyterian and Congregationalist body. Not until 1821 was the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) organized. After 1835, technically speaking, every Episcopalian was a member of said society, and in 1846 was legally incorporated under New York law. It was the DFMS that would supervise the missionary work of Horatio Southgate.

Horatio Southgate was born in Portland, Maine, 5 July 1812 to a Congregationalist family. While studying at Andover Theological Seminary he changed his affiliation from Congregationalism to the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA. On conclusion of his seminary studies he was ordained as a deacon in 1835 and went on his first mission.

The first period of Southgate’s missionary career, like many other contemporary missionary endeavors, was one devoted to exploration. It lasted from 1836 through 1839, and resulted in the publication of his Narrative of a Tour through Armenia, Kurdistan, Persia, and Mesopotamia (1844). Prior to this, communication with the geographically isolated ancient Churches of Asia was often difficult. ‘When travel became more possible in the nineteenth century, with the peace following the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, and the building of railways, coupled with Britain’s economic and imperial expansion, Anglican contact with the Orthodox world inevitably increased.’[1] At the time large swathes of Asia, and the Ottoman Empire in particular, were largely a mystery to Europeans and Americans. So before establishing permanent missions it was necessary to send teams to explore.

Before departing for his first, exploratory, mission in 1836, Southgate gave a homily at the Church of the Ascension in New York on 3 April, the evening of Easter Sunday that year. The title of the sermon was ‘Encouragement to Missionary Efforts among Mohammedans.’[2] This homily presented Southgate’s early concepts of mission and the role of an Episcopalian in the mission field. In it he openly called for evangelism directed at Muslims, and in doing so rejected the common approach to mission in the Muslim world, including that of the American Board. That strategy, prevalent in the nineteenth century, has been given the title of the Great Experiment by Robert Blincoe, which is analogous to the missionary strategy that Vander Werff calls the ‘via the Eastern Churches strategy’ for evangelizing Muslims. The Great Experiment aimed at the eventual evangelization of the large Muslim population of the Ottoman Empire and Persia, but in an indirect manner. Evangelizing Muslims was, in the Ottoman Empire, illegal. Converting from Islam to Christianity (or any other religion) was generally considered a capital crime. As Bernard Lewis explains, ‘The excommunicated unbeliever is not only damned in the world beyond; he is outlawed in this world. He is deprived of all legal rights and barred from all religious offices; his very life and property are forfeit. If he is born a Muslim, his position is that of an apostate, a dead limb that must be ruthlessly excised.’[3] Furthermore, all the schools of Shari’a agree that the male apostate must be slain, and the basis of this law comes directly from a verified saying of the Prophet himself: ‘Whosoever changes his religion, slay him’.[4] Given these dangers and difficulties, the Western missionaries soon became convinced that engaging in direct evangelism of Muslims was not viable. But they often found pockets of Christians—Church of the East, Orthodox, Armenians, Copts—throughout the lands they were exploring. These ancient churches, often described as ‘decayed’ and ‘superstitious’, must be reformed, and then, it was believed, these indigenous Christians, with their knowledge of the local languages and customs, would evangelize their Muslim neighbors and masters. There was a general consensus that the Great Experiment was the best missionary strategy for the Ottoman Empire and Persia. Scores of schools, hospitals and dispensaries were founded throughout the East with the vision of accomplishing this goal.

Southgate, in his sermon, took issue with the Great Experiment strategy. He outlined his reasons for advocating direct evangelism of Muslims, arguing that Persians, rather than Arabs or Turks, should be targeted. Some of his key points were as follows: that if the Muslims convert then it would be a small thing to complete the evangelization of the rest of the world.[5] Persian Muslims had a long tradition of inquiry and religious curiosity.[6] Persians did not have the same bloodlust of the Arab founder of the religion, and thus Christianity suited them better.[7] Islam was in a state of superstitious decline (‘not unlike that of the Romish Church’), and should be replaced by Christianity;[8] and the Ottomans were willing to interact with Europeans and Americans more than was the case in the past.[9] His final reason was that ‘they have always been, and still are, almost entirely neglected by the Christian Church’.[10]

But this vision of direct Episcopal mission to Muslims was abandoned by Southgate after his first exploratory mission, which ended in 1839. As he wrote in his Narrative: ‘While the author was pursuing his inquiries among the Mohammedans, he soon found his mind drawn, almost unconsciously, to the state of the Eastern Churches, and his interest became, at length, so deeply excited in their behalf, that he devoted to them all the attention which the more immediate duties of his work permitted’.[11]

And after the conclusion of his first exploratory mission (1836-1839) the topic of evangelizing Muslims appears to have been forgotten. Rather, upon his return to the USA he proposed that the mission should be centered in Constantinople, not Persia, and that the focus of his ministry should be on the existing Eastern Christians there rather than on Muslim evangelism. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1839 and returned to Constantinople—this was the commencement of his second and longer mission (1840-1849).

Southgate’s correspondence indicates that he was preoccupied with the protection, improvement, and revivification of the ancient Churches for their own sake, and not with the view that they would then evangelize Muslims. ‘The Romanist has no scruple in invading the Eastern Churches, drawing off their members, preaching schism, inculcating error. The Latitudinarian[s are…] breaking up the foundations of these ancient communions, violating their integrity, preaching schism also in another direction, and teaching a neglect of everything that we hold most sacred in the Church's institutions.’[12] He appears to have been using the term ‘Latitudinarian’ to refer to Evangelical missionaries in general. Moreover, ‘The position which we [the Episcopal mission], as a Church, have assumed here, is the only one which can save the Eastern Churches from rationalism and infidelity on the one hand, or a degrading superstition on the other’.[13]

Southgate believed that the ancient Churches—Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox—were threatened by enemies on all sides: the Roman Church; a non-episcopal, non-sacramental Evangelicalism; and finally the irreligious rationalism of modernity. His strategy revolved around the education of clergy and that staple of missionary work, translation. He opened a small seminary and his goal, never completely brought to fruition for various reasons, was to train clergy for the ancient Churches. He was adamant that he did not want to establish a separate Protestant millet, nor had those been his instructions from the DFMS. When he did accept converts, they were only from the Uniate churches, like Peter Hazzar, formerly a Chaldean Catholic. In 1844, during a visit back to the USA, he was consecrated to the missionary episcopate—a newly created office—of the Dependencies and Dominions of the Sultan of Turkey. Southgate was the first person to hold the office and would be the last.

It was during this second mission that he ran into trouble with some missionaries from the American Board. The immediate occasion was Southgate’s translating for an Armenian a passage from the Missionary Herald. It was part of a communication from one of the missionaries in which were ‘some free remarks as to whether a division in the Armenian church were or were not practical and desirable’.[14] Those American missionaries wrote to the American Board complaining about what they considered to be Southgate’s change of behavior after his first mission—for instance during his first mission as a deacon he had taken communion from one of their non-Episcopal ministers, but upon his return he would no longer do so. They also complained about his ‘personal unfriendliness, and . . . his interference with their work’.[15] At a time of particular tension among the Armenians he sided with the Armenian Apostolic Church over the Armenians who had left or were thinking of leaving to form a new Congregationalist-style community.

Taking upon himself the role of defender of the Armenian church, he seized every opportunity to warn Armenians against Western Evangelical influences, and to make them realize that the Evangelicals were without the traditional fasts and historic Christian observances, and that they lacked what he felt the Eastern churches considered essentials of a church, namely, episcopacy, confirmation, and liturgies; all of which were both held and valued by the Episcopal church.[16]

Southgate attempted to justify himself in two short publications, The Vindication of the Rev H. Southgate (1844), and A Letter to a Friend (1845). While Southgate’s mission was supervised by the DFMS, he was responsible for raising most of his income, and these controversies led to a decline in the funds available for his ministry.

Perhaps this sort of tension was inevitable—it was a fundamental question of identity. Southgate had been given directions by his board and by the presiding bishop not to proselytize and to ‘keep steadily in view the unity of the Church’.[17] But he was faced with a conundrum: as an Episcopalian, with whom did he belong? On the one hand the Americans were, like the Anglicans, born of the Protestant Reformation and inherently suspicious of all things ‘Romish’. Moreover, they upheld the Christological doctrines promulgated at Ephesus and Chalcedon. On the other hand, Southgate had the ancient non-Chalcedonian Churches which were sacramental, episcopal, held tradition in high regard, and very importantly, they were not Papists. Southgate was, as a Christian who had repudiated a congregational ecclesiology, perhaps more sensitive to some of these issues than other Protestants, and he had clear instructions to liaise with and edify the ancient Churches.  In the end he aligned himself with the Eastern Churches, only accepting converts from the Papists, and, in the case of Michael Jamala, using that priest as a missionary to Mosul to strengthen the non-Uniate Eastern Christians. Both Southgate’s ecclesiology and his mandate from the board in the USA precluded making Anglicans of these indigenous Christians.

During his episcopate Southgate engaged in several activities to strengthen the indigenous Churches: in addition to his embryonic seminary, he had multiple works translated into local languages[18], especially Armenian, and supported the distribution of missionary literature and the Book of Common Prayer in various local languages. While other missions finally decided that the culture and hierarchical nature of the indigenous Churches could not be reformed (according to their model of reformation), Southgate never gave up. He had left one unconventional theory of mission behind—direct evangelism of Muslims—for another wherein he understood himself to be the defender of the ancient Churches against the onslaught of Rome, congregationalism, and secularism. The ancient Churches were, in his view, more authentic expressions of catholic Christianity than the sectarianism espoused by the ABCFM missionaries.

After the tension in the US occasioned by the complaints of the ABCFM missionaries and the dysfunctional and impractical funding system of the foreign missions board of the DFMS, Southgate decided to discontinue his work there. He resigned from his position as missionary bishop on October 12, 1850.[19] That same year the DFMS officially closed Constantinople as a mission field. Southgate went on to be elected as bishop of California and bishop of Haiti, but he turned down the positions, and died in 1894.

It is difficult to see how Southgate’s missionary episcopate can be construed as a success. Neither his seminary nor his episcopal see continued after his departure. He left a body of translated works, a record of his travels, and a good deal of animosity between missionaries and even among his fellow Episcopalians.

Missions in Persia

Anglicans were also active in Persia. Fourteen years after the publication of William Carey’s Inquiry, Henry Martyn arrived in India, but his journeys would eventually take him to Persia where he would translate the Bible into Persian. Other explorations took place, like that of George Percy Badger in 1842, sponsored by the SPG and SPCK, but did not result in a permanent mission.[20] Badger’s recollections were published as The Nestorians and their Rituals with the Narrative of a Mission to Mesopotamia and Coordistan in 1842-1844 (London, 1852).

The indigenous and ancient Church present in Persia at the time was known in the nineteenth century as the Assyrian Church of the East. In the literature of the day these Christians were often called Nestorians, because they supposedly followed the lead of Nestorius (d. 431), the Patriarch of Constantinople who argued against the title theotokos or ‘God bearer’ for Mary, preferring to call her ‘Christ bearer’. The ecumenical council of Ephesus in 431 found that Nestorius was in error, and the Church of East did not accept the ruling of Ephesus. 

The major sustained Anglican initiative in this region was the Anglo-Catholic Archbishop’s Mission to the Assyrians which lasted from 1884 through 1915. The mission consisted mainly of education, translation, and supporting the Church of the East, which had been losing membership to the American Presbyterian missionaries in the region. The presence of the Anglo-Catholics who had arrived to ‘defend the Nestorians against the Americans’ became a source of tension. Scholarship and translation were what the Anglicans had to offer, but what the Church of the East wanted was a powerful political sponsor to provide schools, a printing press, funding, and security from Muslim Kurdish raids.[21]  The Anglican missionaries were concerned with demonstrating the Christological orthodoxy of the Church of the East, and in so doing provide ‘an early example of the now commonly accepted ecumenical principle of endeavoring to reach behind the rigidities of opposed doctrinal formulae to a common understanding of faith’.[22] Athelstan Riley (1858-1945), native of London and member of Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church, was one of the backers of the mission. He was clear that ‘The mission has no intention of making Anglicans of the Assyrians, of forcing upon them our Prayer-book, or of teaching purely Anglican theology. It takes its stand upon the teaching of the universal and undivided Church of Christ, and with this limitation desires to interfere with nothing in this ancient national Church.’[23]

In 1897 about 20,000 of the 25,000 members of the Church of the East confessed the doctrine of Ephesus and Chalcedon and received the political-religious sponsor they had desired from Orthodox Russia. The Patriarch requested that the Anglicans depart, which they did, leaving some 50 schools to the Church of the East and Russians.[24] The Church of East supposed they had found a foreign patron and protector in the Russians, leaving no room for their competitors, the English. The chief lasting product of the Assyrian Mission was competent scholarship on the language and liturgy of the Church of the East.

The CMS was also active in Persia, recognizing it as a mission field around 1876. The CMS mission would eventually unfold into one of the most interesting and diverse Anglican dioceses in the region, including numerous converts from Islam, Judaism, Baha’ism, as well as Armenian converts to Protestantism. Robert Bruce of Dublin had proposed a work in Persia in 1869, and by the time that missionaries had arrived the vision of mission as ‘reviving’ the ancient, indigenous Church had faded, and they were more willing to simply found their own Church. In 1883 the celebrated Bishop French of Lahore, passing through Persia, confirmed some 67 people and ordained the Armenian Minas George to the diaconate. By 1900 the CMS had missionaries in Shiraz, Yazd, and Kerman and hospitals and schools were built.[25]

As with other places the CMS focused on educational and medical missions. It was here in Persia that Southgate’s bolder initial strategy actually proved somewhat feasible. ‘Between 1900 and 1907, over 100 adult Muslims had the courage to face opposition and receive baptism . . . The number of inquirers increased and in 1911 alone, CMS baptized over 100 converts from Islam.’[26]

While much of the growth took place after 1910, the foundation was in place for an Evangelical Anglican presence that would eventually become the Diocese of Iran. The conjunction of converts from Islam and the production of a lasting (if persecuted) Anglican diocese point to one of the more successful missions in the Muslim world—one that drew on education, medicine, translation, and evangelism across religious borders. 

2. Palestine and the Trans-Jordan

The Protestant Diocese of Jerusalem had three bishops before it became the exclusively Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem. After a hiatus a fourth bishop, this one Anglican alone, was consecrated. Of these four bishops, three had a lasting effect on the diocese. They were Michael Solomon Alexander, Samuel Gobat, and George Francis Popham Blythe. The third bishop did not live long enough to make a lasting impact. The other three bishops represented the ethos of their respective missionary societies, with sometimes conflicting goals. In seeking to better understand Anglican identity in the formative days of missionary work in the Trans-Jordan, it is possible to see in these three bishops archetypes or representatives of three different visions for what it meant to be Anglican.

Michael Solomon Alexander (1841-1845)

Alexander had been a rabbi before his conversion to Christianity. He was only bishop for four years (1841-1845) but nonetheless his mission, the London Jews Society, was instrumental in making Jerusalem into a modern city and building the first Protestant church building in Palestine[27]. His goal was to create and shepherd a Hebrew congregation on Mount Zion, and he was well-qualified for this work, speaking Hebrew, English, and German. This congregation was to embody ‘pure, Christian worship in the Holy City. Heretofore, the only Christian forms of worship regularly supported in Jerusalem have been the corrupt Latin, Greek, and Armenian services’.[28] This vocation to make Rabbinic Jews into Christian ones in Jerusalem was millenarian in character; ‘converted Jews, collected in the Holy Land, would pave the way for the second coming of the Messiah’.[29] Alexander was an Evangelical churchman, and his great vision was for the evangelism of Jews. This sets him and his companions apart from later Anglicans, and results in an understanding of the role of the bishop as a missionary and evangelist. While he seems to have taken little or no interest in preaching to Muslims (a dangerous activity under Ottoman rule), he was zealous to make Rabbinic Jews into Christian Jews. During his four-year episcopate he was able to operate fully on a sacramental level, including ordaining Hebrew Christians to the diaconate and presbyterate, confirming, burying, and marrying.[30] The LJS opened a press, a school, and a hospital.[31] They commenced the construction of Christ Church in the Jaffa Gate, the first Anglican building in Jerusalem.

Alexander and his episcopal successors were active in welcoming foreign dignitaries and important visitors. This was expected by a person who represented the Church of England and hence the British Crown, as well as the Lutheran Church of Prussia, and hence the Prussian Crown as well. Through his work and that of his fellow LJS missionaries resident in or around Jerusalem, like the industrious Dane Hans Nicolayson and Dr. Edward MacGowan (1795-1860), a small Jewish convert congregation was established on Mt Zion. In Alexander’s thought the bishop was, like the apostles themselves, charged with preaching the Christian message to those who had never heard it.

These activities roused other forces. Moses Montefiore funded a Jewish Hospital so the impoverished Jews would not be forced to seek medical care with the missionaries. Catholic France and Orthodox Russia were likewise concerned when they saw that the English had positioned both a bishop and consulate in Jerusalem. The Catholics had maintained the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem as a titular and honorary office since the fall of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, but in 1847, five years after Alexander’s arrival in the city, Pope Pius IX issued the bull Nulla Celbrior and so re-established a residential Patriarch in the person Joseph Valerga (d. 1872).

These Protestant missionaries and the new consulate attracted the attention and jealousy of the other major players in Europe who saw in Jerusalem a ripe field for contest, investment, and development. Consulates were opened in the city: Prussia in 1842, France and Sardinia in 1843, the USA in 1844, and Russia in 1858.[32] The Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem who ‘generally lived in the greater comfort of Constantinople,’ visiting his flock from there, was compelled to take up a more permanent residence in the city.[33]

Samuel Gobat (1846-1879)

Samuel Gobat to this day remains an immensely influential figure in the history of the diocese of Jerusalem. Gobat was a French Swiss CMS missionary who had served in Abyssinia and then Malta, and was an ‘excellent Arabic student . . . and a devout but somewhat narrow evangelical of the Continental type’.[34] He was nominated by the Prussian Crown in accordance with the agreement to established the Jerusalem bishopric between the Prussian Lutherans and the English Church. While he continued to work with the LJS he was sometimes suspicious of Jewish converts.[35] It was Gobat who made the pivotal decision to officially request that the CMS send missionaries to his vast diocese. While Gobat continued the diplomatic role of the Protestant bishop, his invitation to the CMS led to the viable Arabophone churches and schools of his diocese, such as the Bishop’s School in Jerusalem opened in 1847. [36]

The Protestant bishopric had not been established with the intention of proselytizing Christians from the ancient Churches of the area, but Gobat and the CMS missionaries did not appear to find much of value in the ritual and iconophilia of those ancient Churches.

Gobat held himself obliged to set up a church-structure for the Arab folk—almost wholly from the (Greek) Orthodox population—when on his view the situation required it by virtue of their adoption of his form of faith. From the 1860s, beginning in Nazareth, came the creation of Anglican ‘parishes’ and the ordaining of Arab clergy. The Anglicans, one might say, had church congregations in spite of themselves and yet also because of themselves.[37]  

With the arrival of the CMS the prestige of the LJS as the representative of British Christianity was eroded.

The CMS missionaries came armed with the asset of educated missionaries able to meet this need, and would go on to found churches and schools all across the Trans-Jordan region of Greater Syria. That the Protestants could start schools was probably as attractive to the local Christians as their ‘pure’ and ‘reformed’ evangelical faith. In Gobat’s memoirs and collected letters and in the CMS archives we find multiple instances of requests from Arabophone Christians for the Protestants to send a priest and teacher, and to start a school for them. As early as 1848 Gobat was corresponding with Christians in Nablus/Shechem about establishing a school for them there. In 1850 he received letters from Nazareth (then a majority-Christian city) requesting that he found a church and a school. In 1851 the CMS started its missionary work in the diocese according to the request of Gobat, and in that same year he received a request from the Christians in the ancient agricultural and administrative center of Al Salt, located in modern day Jordan, to ‘take them under my care.’[38] By 1860 a new mission station had been founded in Bethlehem. By 1860 Gobat reported in his yearly circular letter that small congregations existed in Ramleh and Nablus, and reported eight Jews being baptized. He also mentioned that he had a missionary in Aintab (present day Gaziantep in modern Turkey), ‘formerly an Archbishop of the Armenian Church’ named Megherditsch, whom he still refers to in the same passage as ‘Archbishop Megherditsh.’[39] Likewise he calls him “Archbishop” with no qualifications. This would appear to mean that Gobat had accepted the validity of his holy orders from the Armenian Apostolic Church.

By 1862 the CMS had abandoned their work in Egypt. In 1871 Christ Church in Nazareth became the first consecrated church building of what is today the diocese of Jerusalem. While the bishops of the diocese often worked from and ministered in the Christ Church Jerusalem compound, that property never did belong to the diocese.[40] At the consecration of the Christ Church in Nazareth Gobat also ordained to the diaconate the first indigenous Arabophone Christians in his diocese: Michael Ka’war and Seraphim Boutaji, both of them converts from the Greek Catholic Church.[41] Three years later St Paul’s in Jerusalem was completed for Arabophone Christians there. In 1879 Samuel Gobat died, and, like Alexander, was buried near Jerusalem. While the LJS remained active during his bishopric their accomplishments among Jews did not have the enduring consequences of Gobat’s entrepreneurial ministry. But Gobat’s willingness to actively proselytize among ancient Christian Churches would not become a lasting facet of the identity of the Anglican and Lutheran Christians in the region.

The third bishop of the diocese was Joseph Barclay. Born in Ireland and of Scottish ancestry, he only served a brief two years as bishop (1879-1881). His tenure was brief, but it was during his episcopate that the English-Prussian agreement was formally dissolved in 1886, and as of that year there were, according to Richter, 217 Protestants in Jerusalem who were born Jews.[42]  

George F. P. Blyth (1887-1914)

In 1887 George Blyth was consecrated as Anglican bishop in Jerusalem, the first Englishman to hold the position. He was also the first person to be only an Anglican bishop, as the Lutherans now desired a bishop of their own. Additional funding from the CMS and LJS would make this possible, as the Prussian funds were no longer available.[43] Blyth was viewed as too High Church and ritualistic by the CMS and LJS missionaries, and he was not zealous to continue the legacy of proselytizing Orthodox converts to Anglicanism. At the time of his consecration there were two churches in Jerusalem—Christ Church owned and operated by the LJS, and St Paul’s, which was under the CMS missionaries. ‘[W]hen Blyth was unsuccessful at controlling them, he attempted to work around them.’[44] And so he established the Jerusalem and the East Mission (JEM), and built his own church.

Blyth took control of the diocese after a period of six years of vacancy which, according to a veteran missionary priest of the diocese, had ‘left every one [CMS and LJS] liberty to do what was right in his own eyes’.[45] Estelle Blyth, his daughter, relates that upon arriving in Jerusalem her father faced two main difficulties: ‘Proselytism and the position of the native clergy.’[46] It was the proselytism of Gobat and his CMS missionaries that had helped to create the indigenous Arab-speaking Church. On at least two occasions Blyth was asked by groups of Arab Christians to be received as Anglicans, both of which requests he turned down. One group was from Bethlehem and another, some 5,000 Christians, from Beirut.[47] In both cases he tried to reconcile the Arab Orthodox Christians to the Orthodox prelates. It is difficult to picture Gobat taking this course of action. Blyth jealously guarded the prerogatives of the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. This goal of mending relations with the Orthodox had been a priority since before he arrived in Jerusalem, and was clearly enunciated in the sermon preached at his consecration to the episcopate.[48]

In 1899 he built and then expanded what is today called the Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr, but he never called it that. Rather, it was called the Collegiate Church of St George the Martyr, as he held the conviction that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was the cathedral church. He also was scrupulous in always referring to himself as the Anglican bishop in Jerusalem. Desiring to respect the Orthodox tradition of baptism by immersion he had a baptismal pool installed in the church. An indication of the warm relations between the Anglican and Orthodox bishops is that when some of the Orthodox girls attending the school near St George’s requested to be able to take communion during chapel, he first required that they get permission from the Patriarch, and permission was granted. A Catholic scholar in 1910 observed that, all in all, ‘Bishop Blyth and his archdeacons are conciliatory to all the Eastern Churches and on excellent terms with the Orthodox patriarch’.[49]

Blyth and the CMS missionaries did not get on very well as the missionaries had become accustomed to the lack of a bishop, and they did not welcome his oversight. Blyth (and others) were scandalized about what they perceived as the poor CMS treatment of the native clergy. Estelle Blyth describes them as being in a state of practical servitude and relates that they were not permitted to interact directly with the CMS office in London, but that all their communications had to go through their local CMS superiors. In one mission, native clergy had to wait for the CMS woman missionary to arrive at church before they could begin the liturgy. The sermons of the native clergy had to be checked by CMS representatives before they could be preached. The churchmanship of the CMS missionaries was lacking, in Blyth’s view, one of their missionaries telling him that saints’ days were obsolete. In their turn, CMS missionaries were offended by the ritualism of the new bishop and his friendliness towards the Orthodox Patriarch. ‘[Blyth] insisted that the priest should turn to the east during the saying of the creed, that lighted candles should be on the altar, that wine should be mixed with water at the eucharist, that the celebration of the eucharist should be only in the morning, and the like.’[50] On his part, Blyth complained that the CMS presented for Confirmation individuals who had received the Orthodox chrism at the time of their baptism. Richter concludes, ‘There was therefore the unedifying spectacle in Jerusalem of two parties in the Anglican Church, working on different principles.’[51]

Blyth was a great builder and fundraiser. Upon noting that the congregation in Haifa was renting he raided funds and bought them land and a church building, a school, and mission house. St Mary’s in Cairo was also built during his episcopate.[52] Estelle Blyth relates that her father would rise early each morning to write letters to Anglican prelates around the world, seeking gifts and contributions for the construction of his diocese. The institution of the Good Friday Offering, which continues to this day in the Episcopal Church of the USA, was part of this effort.[53] Blyth would lay each letter on the church altar before sending it off by post.

In 1901 the CMS opened a new hospital in Nablus.[54] In Nazareth a girls’ school and an orphanage were started, and those eventually came under the CMS as well. In 1905 the Palestine Native Church Council was formed. This represented an important step towards indigenous leadership for the Arabophone Christians, as it was not under the direct authority of the CMS. ‘The foundations were laid in the last years of the Ottoman period for increasing Arab-Anglican control of their own affairs, something that would have important reverberations for the entire twentieth century.’[55] In 1907 Canon Sterling of the CMS in Gaza opened a new hospital there. Medical missionaries of the CMS were also active in Acre, Salt, and Karak. As of 1910 there were in all 54 schools with some 3,000 students. The CMS had 14 (male) missionaries, five of whom are medical missionaries, and 31 missionary women. The CMS church membership was 2,323, which would not have been the entire diocesan membership since the LJS had their own work, and much of the expatriate membership would not be counted, including the congregation worshiping at St George’s in Jerusalem or St Mark’s in Alexandria.[56]

These three bishops, in spite of their very different understandings of their missions and ministries, managed to establish a viable, if fragile, Anglican presence. By 1910 it must have seemed that things were going well in spite of internal controversies—churches had been built, Jews and Arabs had become Anglicans, and relations with the historical Churches had been mended.

3. Mission in Egypt

After an aborted start in Egypt (1818-1862), the CMS re-opened the work, most significantly sending Dr. Frank Harpur who founded a hospital there. St Mark’s in Alexandria had been founded as a congregation in 1830s, and had a building by the 1850s. [57] Major developments in Egypt, however, would have to await the arrival of talented and creative missionaries Douglas Thornton and Temple Gairdner in Cairo, who experimented with evangelizing Muslims. By 1890 all three of these CMS missionaries were in Egypt, though Thornton died prematurely. Also, until 1921 the aim of the CMS mission was to revitalize the Coptic Orthodox Church rather than create an indigenous Anglican community, in contrast to their proselytism in Palestine. Nor does it appear that the bishops from Jerusalem devoted a great deal of time to ministry in Egypt: “There was not much episcopal oversight until 1905, when the Bishop in Jerusalem built St Mary’s Church in Cairo and also schools in the same compound.”[58]

However, the Anglican presence in Egypt was, on the whole, an imperial one, aimed at providing English churches for English expatriates who arrived their particularly following the British occupation of Egypt in 1882. Consequently, with Anglican churches being primarily English-speaking churches, in a mission that did not aim at creating indigenous churches, notwithstanding the CMS missionaries, and a minimum of episcopal oversight—there is little ground for speaking of ‘Egyptian Anglicanism’ until well after 1910. Gairdner, an intriguing and brilliant character who ‘faced intractable things with a joy that was never quenched,’[59] would go on to make a substantial contribution to the theory and practice of Christian witness to Muslims. His multifaceted witness to Muslims extended to writing such plays as ‘Joseph and his Brothers’, and ‘Passover Night.’[60] But his influence would not be felt until after the Edinburgh Conference, which he attended, and based on which he wrote Echoes from Edinburgh 1910: An Account and Interpretation of the World Missionary Conference. Therefore a detailed discussion of his ministry does not belong in this chapter. Suffice to say that his influence on the practice of evangelistic mission to Muslims would be substantial among (mostly non-Anglican) Evangelical missionaries who would witness by the second half of thetwentieth century the largest ever movement from Islam to Christianity.[61]

4. What did it mean to be Anglican in the nineteenth-century Middle East?

From the beginning this issue was confusing and contested. The three bishops in Jerusalem outlined here were types for three larger models of mission, and thus, identity. Alexander and the LJS saw their mission as an eschatological sign that the parousia was near because Jews were being restored to the Holy Land, and because (they hoped) the influx of Jews to the Church would fulfill Paul’s claim in Romans 11.[62] Their greatest accomplishment—that of playing a key role in making Jerusalem into a modern city—was not one they had purposed at all. Their greatest goal—of establishing a Jewish congregation on Zion—was barely accomplished, and at great cost. Other missions (Hebron, Jaffa, Safed) were all unsuccessful in the long term.

Gobat embodied the energetic and unapologetically Evangelical wing of Anglican Christianity. He had few qualms about converting or welcoming indigenous non-Jewish Christians, and by inviting the CMS to be active in Palestine he made one of the most formative decisions for the diocese. The LJS were allowed to continue on with their ministry, even if the cause of evangelizing Jews was not championed by Gobat, who expressed suspicion regarding the motives of Jewish converts and inquirers.

If Gobat was instrumental in opening the doors of an Anglican Protestantism to the indigenous Arabophone Christians, Blyth shut them. He saw his mission as repairing the relations with the other ancient Churches and offering them, in his own words, ‘a clear conception of what Anglican worship and doctrine profess’ according to ‘what is legal and usual in the Church at home’.[63] This sense of mission—bishop as ambassador and statesman, we might call it—did not fit with the mission or identity of the LJS or CMS. So he formed his own mission, built his own church, expanded it, and built his own seminary. He made of Jerusalem an international center for global Anglicanism before the term was in common use, in part by giving bishops from wealthy dioceses in the Anglophone world honorary titles and invited them to various solemnities.

Anglican mission in the Middle East was a laboratory, a place for experimentation. Individuals and agencies in the mission field were not often as closely supervised as English or American clergy at home. So the mission field of the Middle East became an arena wherein the disputations going on in the West among the Churches and within Anglicanism could be written large and tested. The fact that Alexander, Gobat, and Blyth could all have been bishops of the same diocese yet have such very different concepts of what Anglican mission signified is evidence for this. The Archbishops’ mission to the Assyrians and Southgate’s mission in Constantinople both led to the odd scenario wherein Anglican clergy were opposing the missionary work of Protestants and siding with the ancient, indigenous Churches. Southgate’s experiment led to the bizarre scenario of a bishop with no clergy to oversee, and Blyth arrived in Jerusalem only to find that he controlled none of the churches there. Some of the missionary goals were, to put it lightly, unconventional—the LJS mission to evangelize Jews, an ecumenical Protestant diocese, or having an Anglican bishop in Jerusalem, but not of Jerusalem.

And what of the indigenous Christians who decided to become Anglicans? While many of the documents and texts we have are from missionaries (or edited by missionaries), we do know enough to make a few general points that seemed to characterize many of the Arabophone or Jewish converts. The first is that we find in Gobat’s letters and documents that when requests arrived from Arab towns, it was for a cleric and a teacher. Protestants (and then Anglicans) were clearly associated with education, so when Gobat established a school in Nablus it actually attracted Christians from other villages to move to the city in order to ‘send their children to a Christian school.’[64] 

A second point is that it appears there was sometimes confusion about precisely what rights came with being a member of the Church of England. Did it also mean that such a person had special rights as a subject of the British monarch and head of the Church of England? Such issues led to tension in Jerusalem in relation to some Hebrew converts during Alexander’s episcopate.[65] One particularly interesting hint comes from a note from a CMS evangelist (and later priest) who was instrumental in the founding of Anglican congregations on the east bank of the Jordan in places like Fuheis and Salt. In the second half of the nineteenth century the Ottoman government was just beginning to establish real control over what had been a lawless region, and before this political assertion mission work on the east bank was difficult if not impossible.[66] In 1879 Chalil Jamal, reporting on his work in Fuheis, a Christian village, wrote, ‘Some three months ago, I received more than two invitations from the heads of families there, to go and make them Ingleez (English) as they say.’[67] What did this mean? How did these Orthodox Christians, understand what it meant to be Anglican? It is hard to say with certainly, but in common parlance the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem was run mostly by Greek bishops, and thus the Church and its Christians were simply called the Church of the Greeks (kaniisat al rum). Because of this usage it is probable that the Fuheis Christians understood themselves to be moving from a Greek Church to an English Church, and just as the Greek Church had Greek bishops and privileged the Greek language, so the English Church would do something similar. But unlike the Greek Church, the English Church would open a school for them too. Not until later would the concept of having a church led by and for the indigenous Christians become a powerful influence, though an indication of this development is found in the formation of the Palestine Native Church Council in 1905.

If indigenous Anglican converts benefited from the schools and the missionaries who preached ‘the reformed Gospel’, they must have been disappointed by how they were treated by their previous Churches. CMS records contain numerous allegations of corruption and violence on the part of the Orthodox and Latin Churches and charges that Protestants were taxed more heavily than other Christians[DM2] . Moreover they were often deprived of their role in governing their own towns and were not allowed to place representatives in the town councils.[68] CMS missionaries like John Zeller decried that the firmans from the Ottoman authorities in Istanbul “guaranteeing” the rights of Protestants were ignored.

In sum, the different groups and individuals represented here all had specific ideas of what it meant to be an Anglican Christian, and many of them tested out those theories in the mission field. The mission field of the Middle East allowed them to experiment with concepts related to eschatology, evangelism, ecclesiology and ecumenism (among others) in a scope and manner that would not have likely been permitted or possible back at home.


Select Bibliography

  • William Francis Ainsworth, 1862. Travels and Researches in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Chaldea, and Armenia. London.
  • Robert Blincoe, 1998. Ethnic Realities and the Church: Lessons from Kurdistan, a history of mission work, 1668-1990. Pasadena, California: Presbyterian Center for Mission Studies.
  • Charles Bridgeman, 1962. ‘Mediterranean Missions of the Episcopal Church from 1828-1896’ in Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church Vol 31:2, pp 95-126.
  • _____. 1943. ‘Michael Solomon Alexander: First Bishop of the Church of England in Jerusalem (1841-1845)’ in Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church Vol 12:1, pp 31-43.
  • J F. Coakley, 1992. The Church of the East and the Church of England. Oxford University Press.
  • Kenneth Cragg, 1991. The Arab Christian: A History in the Middle East. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.
  • Kelvin Crombie, 2008. For the Love of Zion: Christian Witness and the Restoration of Israel. Bristol: Terra Nova.
  • W. H. T. Gairdner, 1924. ‘The Christian Church as a Home for Christ’s Converts from Islam’ in Muslim World Vol 14, p 235-246.
  • Samuel Gobat, 1884. Samuel Gobat, Bishop of Jerusalem. His Life and Work. London: James Nisbet & Co.
  • Sybil M. Jack, 1995. ‘No Heavenly Jerusalem: The Anglican Bishopric, 1841-83’ in The Journal of Religious History Vol 19:2, pp 191-203.
  • Duane Alexander Miller, 2012. ‘Christ Church (Anglican) in Nazareth: a brief history with photographs’ in St Francis Magazine Vol 8:5, October, pp 696-703.
  • _____. 2007.  ‘The Installation of a Bishop in Jerusalem: The Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr, 15 April 2007’ in Anglican and Episcopal History Vol 76:4, Dec, pp 549-554.
  • Heleen Murre-van den Burg, 2006. New Faith in Ancient Lands: Western Missions in the Middle East in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries. Leiden, Boston: Brill.
  • Yaron Perry, 2003. British Mission to the Jews in Nineteenth-Century Palestine. London; Portland, Oregon: Frank Cass.
  • Pieter Pikkert, 2008. Protestant Missionaries to the Middle East: ambassadors of Christ or culture? Hamilton, ON: WEC Canada.
  • Julius Richter, 1910 [1970]. A History of Protestant Missions in the Near East. New York: AMS Press.
  • Geoffrey Rowell, 1997. 'Eastern Horizons: Anglicans and the Oriental Orthodox Churches' in Religious Change in Europe, 1650-1914: Essays for John McManners. Nigel Aston ed. Oxford: Clarendon, pp 381-397.
  • Horatio Southgate, 1836. Encouragement to missionary effort among Mohamedans: a sermon by the Rev. Horatio Southgate, Jun., missionary of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, to Persia, etc. ; to which are annexed an account of the meeting held at the Church of the Ascension on the evening of Easter Sunday, April 3, 1836 ; with the address delivered thereat by the Rev. Mr. Southgate, and his letter of instructions. New York: Protestant Episcopal Press.
  • Charlotte van der Leest, 2008. Conversion and Conflict in Palestine: The Missions of the Church Missionary Society and the Protestant Bishop Samuel Gobat. Doctoral Thesis. Netherlands: Leiden University.
  • Lyle L. Vander Werff, 1977. Christian Mission to Muslims: The Record: Anglican and Reformed Approaches in India and the Near East, 1800-1938. Pasadena: William Carey Library.
  • Malcolm. Malcolm White, 2012. ‘Anglican Pioneers of the Ottoman Period: sketches from the CMS archives of some Arab lives connected with the early days of the Diocese of Jerusalem’ in SFM Vol 8:2, April, pp 283-314.

[1] Geoffrey Rowell, ‘Eastern Horizons: Anglicans and the Oriental Orthodox Churches’ in N. Aston, ed., Religious Change in Europe, 1650-1914: Essays for John McManners (Oxford, 1997), p. 382.

[2] Horatio Southgate, Encouragement to missionary effort among Mohamedans: a sermon by the Rev. Horatio Southgate, Jun., missionary of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, to Persia, etc. ; to which are annexed an account of the meeting held at the Church of the Ascension on the evening of Easter Sunday, April 3, 1836 ; with the address delivered thereat by the Rev. Mr. Southgate, and his letter of instructions (New York, 1836).

[3] Bernard Lewis, ‘Some Observations on the Significance of Heresy in the History of Islam’, Studia Islamica, 1 (1953), p. 59.

[4] Sahiih Al Bukhari 4:52:260

[5] Southgate, Encouragement, p 5.

[6] Southgate, Encouragement, p 9.

[7] Southgate, Encouragement, p 15.

[8] Southgate, Encouragement, p 16.

[9] Southgate, Encouragement, p 19.

[10] Southgate, Encouragement, p 24.

[11] Horatio Southgate, Narrative of a Tour through Armenia, Kurdistan, Persia and Mesopotamia (New York, 1840) 1, p. vi.

[12] Horatio Southgate, ‘Letter from Horatio Southgate to the Rev Dr Coxe, dated Aug 1, 1847, from San Stefano’, The Spirit of Missions, 12 (1847), pp. 437.

[13] Horatio Southgate, ‘Bishop Southgate's Report’, The Spirit of Missions, 12 (1847), p 415.

[14] The New Englander Review, 3 (1845), p. 249.

[15] Plato Shaw, American Contacts with the Eastern Churches (Chicago, 1937), p. 54.

[16] Shaw, American Contacts, p. 60.

[17] Charles Bridgeman, ‘Mediterranean Missions of the Episcopal Church from 1828-1896’, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, 31 (1962), p. 107.


[18] For a complete list see Kenneth Cameron, ‘The Oriental Manuscripts of Horatio Southgate’, Anglican and Episcopal History, 10 (1941), pp. 57-61.

[19] Donald Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church (New York, 1999), p. 497.

[20] Rowell, ‘Eastern Horizons’, p. 388.

[21] Robert Blincoe, Ethnic Realities and the Church: Lessons from Kurdistan, a history of mission work, 1668-1990 (Pasadena, CA, 1998), p. 95.

[22] Rowell, ‘Eastern Horizons,’ p. 383.

[23] Athelstan Riley, ‘The Assyrian Church, a paper read at the Wolverhampton Church Congress, October 1887.’ (1887), p. 4. [Accessed 25 Dec 2012]

[24] Blincoe, Lessons from Kurdistan, p. 104.

[25] Yahya Aramjani, ‘Christianity: viii: Christian Missions in Persia’ in Encyclopaedia Iranica, (2011), [Accessed 20 Dec 2012]

[26] Lyle Vander Werff, Christian Mission to Muslims: The Record: Anglican and Reformed Approaches in India and the Near East, 1800-1938 (Pasadena CA, 1977), p. 167.

[27] Kelvin Crombie, For the Love of Zion: Christian Witness and the Restoration of Israel (Bristol, 2008).

[28] Foreign Missionary Chronicle, 8 (1840), p. 101.

[29] Heleen Murre-van den Burg ed., New Faith in Ancient Lands: Western Missions in the Middle East in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (Leiden,  2006), p. 154.

[30] Crombie, Love of Zion, pp, 119, 120.

[31] Yaron Perry, British Mission to the Jews in Nineteenth-Century Palestine (London, 2003), p. 142.

[32] Charlotte van der Leest, ‘Conversion and Conflict in Palestine: The Missions of the Church Missionary Society and the Protestant Bishop Samuel Gobat’, unpublished PhD thesis, Netherlands, Leiden University, 2008, p 36.

[33] Charles Bridgeman, ‘Michael Solomon Alexander: First Bishop of the Church of England in Jerusalem (1841-1845)’, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, 12 (1943), pp. 37.

[34] Bridgeman, Alexander, p. 39.

[35] Perry, Mission to the Jews, p. 100.

[36] Perry, Mission to the Jews, p 102.

[37] Kenneth Cragg, The Arab Christian: A History in the Middle East (Louisville KY, 1991), p. 133.

[38] Samuel Gobat, Samuel Gobat, Bishop of Jerusalem. His Life and Work (London, 1884), p. 281.

[39] Gobat, Samuel Gobat, pp. 360, 361, 380.

[40] Duane Alexander Miller, ‘Christ Church (Anglican) in Nazareth: a brief history with photographs’, St Francis Magazine, 8 (2012), pp. 696-703.

[41] Malcolm White, ‘Anglican Pioneers of the Ottoman Period: sketches from the CMS archives of some Arab lives connected with the early days of the Diocese of Jerusalem’, St Francis Magazine, 8 (2012), pp. 295, 296.

[42] Richter, Protestant Missions, p. 255.

[43] Perry, Mission to Jews, pp. 139, 140.

[44] Duane Alexander Miller, ‘The Installation of a Bishop in Jerusalem: The Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr’, Anglican and Episcopal History, 76 (2007), p. 549.

[45] Bridgeman, Alexander, p 41.

[46] Estelle Blyth, When we Lived in Jerusalem (London, 1927), p. 14.

[47] Beresford Potter, ‘In Memoriam—Bishop Blyth’, Bible Lands, 4 (Jan. 1915).

[48] Edward Bickersteth, Thy Kingdom Come: A Sermon Preached in Lambeth Palace Chapel on March 25, 1887 on the Consecration of the Ven. G. F. P. Blyth Archdeacon of Rangoon to the Bishop of the English Church in Jerusalem and the East (London, 1887).

[49] Adrian Fortescue, ‘Jerusalem (After 1291)’ in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, 1910), [accessed 19 May 2012].

[50] Richter, Protestant Missions, p. 246.

[51] Richter, Protestant Missions, p .246.

[52] Potter, ‘Bishop Blythe.’

[53] Bridgeman, ‘Alexander’, p. 42.

[54] Murre-van den Berg, New Faith, pp. 133-150.

[55] Seth J Frantzman, Benjamin Gleuckstadt, and Ruth Kark, ‘The Anglican Church in Palestine and Israel: Colonialism, Arabization and Land Ownership’, Middle Eastern Studies, 47 (2011), pp. 105.

[56] Richter, Protestant Missions, p. 253.

[57] Bridgeman, ‘Alexander’, p. 35.

[58] Gordon Hewitt, The Problems of Success: A History of the Church Missionary Society 1910-1942, Volume One in Tropical Africa, the Middle East, at Home (London, 1971), p. 304.

[59] Kenneth Cragg, ‘Temple Gairdner’s Legacy’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 5 (Oct. 1981), pp. 164-167.

[60] Vivienne Stacey, ‘Anglicans in the Household of Islam’, St Francis Magazine, 3 (2008), p. 1.

[61] Duane Alexander Miller, ‘Living among the Breakage: Contextual Theology-making and ex-Muslim Christians’, unpublished PhD thesis, 2014, pp. 90-93.

[62] Rowell, ‘Eastern Horizons’, p. 382.

[63] ‘Consecration Sermon (1898)’, in Judith Lidberg, One Hundred Years: A Cathedral Presence in Jerusalem(Jerusalem, 1998 [?]), p. 77.

[64] Gobat, Samuel Gobat, p 255.

[65] Sybil Jack, ‘No Heavenly Jerusalem: The Anglican Bishopric, 1841-83’, Journal of Religious History, 19 (1995), pp. 191-203.

[66] White, ‘Anglican Pioneers’, pp. 298 ff.

[67] Quoted in White, ‘Anglican Pioneers’, p. 308.

[68] van der Leest, Conversion and Conflict, pp. 221-224.

This is a draft of a chapter that has been accepted for publication by Oxford University Press in the forthcoming book The Oxford History of Anglicanism, Volume III: Partisan Anglicanism and its Global Expansion 1829-c.1914 edited by Rowan Strong due for publication in 2017.


Duane Miller

Duane Miller


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Anglican Mission in the Middle East up to 1910 (02/06/2016)

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