By Mary Klein
The seventh General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, held in Baltimore in 1808, was a much smaller affair than today’s gathering of hundreds.
Meeting from May 17-26, 27 clerical and lay deputies, representing seven states, convened at St. Paul’s Church. Only two bishops attended: William White of Pennsylvania, who was the presiding bishop, and Thomas Claggett of Maryland.
Bishops Benjamin Moore of New York, Samuel Jarvis of Connecticut (who had also failed to attend the 1799 Convention) and James Madison of Virginia did not attend. The other dioceses — New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and South Carolina — were without bishops.
Since there were only two bishops comprising the House of Bishops, the Rev. Joseph Bend, rector of St. Paul’s, offered the bishops his rectory as “the place of meeting during the sitting of the Convention.”
Each day, the bishops met at the rectory and worshipped with the clerical and lay deputies at the parish church; evening services were held at St. Peter’s Church since St. Paul’s was “not fitted for service by candle-light.”
Bishop Samuel Parker of Massachusetts had been scheduled to preach at the opening service, but, having died only three months after his consecration in 1804, White agreed to take his place as preacher.
The convention passed legislation adding 30 hymns to the Prayer Book.
It also approved legislation mandating that “Ministers of this Church ought not to perform the funeral service in the case of any person who shall give or accept a challenge to a duel,” which was passed four years after the famous duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.
Hamilton was buried at Trinity Church, Wall Street, and the funeral was conducted by Moore, who served as rector of Trinity and as bishop.
The convention also passed a resolution that clergy could not unite in matrimony any divorced person unless the divorce was on account of adultery.
Finally, the House of Bishops sent a note of thanks to Bend, “for the accommodations which they have received in the use of his parlour, and in other attentions, during the Session of the Convention.”
General Convention met again in Baltimore in 1871, then again in 1892.
Mary Klein is the archivist for the Diocese of Maryland.