As early as 1762 the whole national church was known as a “province.” As the Episcopal Church grew and developed over the next 60 years there were a number of suggestions to arrange the church by provinces, most suggestions along diocesan geographic configurations. The biggest argument against these division was that a provincial system would “dismember this Church (and) would created five or seven or ten separate Churches.”
In 1850 a resolution came before the General Convention calling for a joint commission to report to the next General Convention on the expediency of arranging dioceses into 4 provinces. The dioceses would be united under General Convention or Council of Provinces which would be held every 20 years. This Council of Provinces would have exclusive control over the Prayer Book, Articles, officers, and Homilies of the Church.
Proposals continued to be introduced at General Convention but each was postponed.
The Civil War intruded on this process and in 1860 the Southern States succeeded from the Union. Dioceses in these commonwealths withdrew from the communion and in 1861 the bishops, clergy and lay delegates from these eight states adopted a constitution and a name: The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. In this constitution was a provision for provinces, and a plan for expansion of dioceses.
After the War, the separated dioceses returned to the communion. Even though the Constitution of the Church in the Confederacy was only in place 4 years, the seeds were planted for the Church to think about a provincial system.
In 1868, the General Convention adopted a resolution that divided the country into six sections. Only dioceses could be included because the three missionary districts were thought to be too vast and thinly settled.
Various proposals concerning a provincial system kept coming before the General Conventions. In 1874 opponents listed several concerns:
Provinces would dismember the Church and would create 5, or 7, or 10 churches out of a united body.
The ties that at first unite would inevitably undermine the permanent authority of General Convention.
By 1894, the church’s national headquarters was established at 281 Fourth Avenue in New York City. The following year the House of Bishops proposed an amendment to the church Constitution providing for the division of the church into provinces, each consisting of at least five contiguous dioceses with an archbishop.
This didn’t pass, but the concept of provinces continued. In fact, every General Convention after 1865 dealt with the issue of forming provinces in one manner or another.
Then in 1901 General Convention adopted the present article of the Constitution, providing for the division of the church into provinces. The article said that dioceses and missionary districts might be united into provinces, and over the next dozen years, various proposals were put forth. What developed was a form of missionary councils, but because these councils did not have the ability to legislate and could only discuss missionary matters, few lay people attended the meetings.
In 1931 a canon on provinces was enacted. It was numbered canon 50 when it was adopted. It became canon 8 in 1943, and Title I, canon 8 in 1970.
The first province formally organized was Province VII. The following dioceses declined to participate in the provincial system: Alabama, Duluth, Easton and West Virginia.
In 1919, three provincial synods asked for an amendment to give them increased authority. These first provincial powers were:
-- the power to form provincial boards of examining chaplains
-- to enact ordinances for their own regulation and government
-- to elect boards auxiliary to the general boards of mission, religious education and social service
-- to elect judges of the court of review
-- to perform duties committed to it (the province) by GC
-- to provide for a survey of needs
-- to deal with all matters within the province
Then in 1922, a section was inserted into the canon on provinces for the election of a president of the synod (an oversight in 1919).
Over the rest of the 20th century, provinces formed and morphed and grew in various configurations, including the creation of n new Ninth Province in 1964 that included Central American, Mexico, Cuba, the Panama Canal Zone, as well as Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
By the 1990s, the Presidents and Vice Presidents of the various provinces began meeting in New York to explore ways the provinces could assist each other and collaborate in areas of mutual interests. There were only a few paid professionals at this time (Provinces I, VI and VII) but these executive secretaries also met with the officers.
At the General Convention of 2000, a proposal to dispense with provinces was introduced, but in committee, the resolution was turned around in such a way that not only was the work of provinces recognized and applauded, but General Convention for the first time provided funds for provincial coordination.