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Episcopal Churches (USA)

Last modified: 2017-10-04 by rob raeside
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[Episcopal Church Flag - Variant] image by John Tate

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Origin of the flag

In the undercroft of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City in the Diocese of Long Island in a show case is what is claimed to be the original Episcopal Flag, It was designed by a member of the Cathedral William M. Baldwin who was a diocesan delegate to General Convention.

To my recollection the story is that Mr. Baldwin on the night before a General Convention thought that the Episcopal Church should have a flag - so he designed and made one. I was on the staff of the Cathedral from 1984 through 1999 - first as Chaplain at St. Paul's School, then as Canon Pastor, and finally as Provost. William Baldwin's flag is framed and was in the Cathedral House until I moved it to the undercroft. It might be as legendary as Betsy Ross but it would be nice to check the historicity.
Rev. Canon F. Anthony Cayless, 4 July 2004

Following this lead, the following article from The Diocesan Archives was located on a Diocese of Long Island webpage:

The History of the Episcopal Church Flag

by Louise M. Baietto, Deputy for Finance & Administration

Many in our church today - both clergy and laity - are unaware of the circumstances that preceded the design and adoption of our church flag and its roots in the Diocese of Long Island. The following has been compiled from various documents in the diocesan archives and, I hope, will be of some interest.

It was not until 1940 that the General Convention, meeting in Kansas City, adopted unanimously (first in the House of Bishops and then also unanimously in the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies), an official flag for the Episcopal Church.

The history of the church flag, however, goes back to 1918 when the Diocese of Long Island celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Bishop Frederick Burgess, second bishop of Long Island, appointed a committee to make plans for observing the anniversary and selected William M. Baldwin, a member of the Cathedral Chapter to head the committee. Among Mr. Baldwin's plans was a great procession through the grounds of the cathedral to precede the anniversary service. To heighten its color, he arranged with heraldic experts to design banners to be carried in the procession. There was a diocesan banner, three for the archdeaconries (then Brooklyn, Queens and Suffolk), 20 for the diocesan societies, and one for each parish and mission, a total of some 170 banners in all. The flags made the procession a "fine and picturesque sight," but the absence of a flag representing the Episcopal Church saddened Mr. Baldwin. Others agreed and the next Long Island diocesan convention petitioned General Convention which responded by establishing a Commission and appointing Mr. Baldwin as its secretary.

Story has it that when Mr. Baldwin presented his model of the flag to the General Convention, to his great disappointment, it proved to be too small and he was asked to present a full size replica. So he went shopping in Kansas City and purchased some Turkey red cotton, some pale blue material, a child's crib sheet; scissors and thimble, needles and thread, and in his hotel room that night, he and the Rev. Hubert S. Wood, later Dean of the Cathedral, worked diligently. The following day Mr. Baldwin triumphantly displayed the full size facsimile of the flag to the General Convention.

Mr. Baldwin was asked to give the original crib-sheet model to the archives of the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. but he said he would make them a duplicate, which he did, presenting the original, however, to the Cathedral of the Incarnation, his own church. When he died it covered his coffin during the burial service held in the cathedral, a fitting tribute to one who served on the Cathedral Chapter for 26 years and as a delegate to General Convention for five terms. Mr. Baldwin described the flag's design and symbolism in his own words: "The red cross is the oldest Christian symbol dating back to the third century. The white represents purity and the red the blood of the martyrs. The blue is ecclesiastical blue, light in color, and used in the clothing of the Blessed Virgin Mary and on this flag represents the human nature of our Lord which He got from His virgin mother. The nine cross-crosslets or Jerusalem crosses represent the nine dioceses that convened in Philadelphia in 1789 when the Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church was adopted with its House of Bishops and House of Clerical and Lay Deputies and the Book of Common Prayer. The nine cross-crosslets are set in the form of a St. Andrew's cross in memory of the fact that, to avoid swearing allegiance to the British Crown, Bishop-elect Samuel Seabury of Connecticut had to go to Scotland to be consecrated by Scottish bishops."

Mr. Baldwin's original "crib-sheet" model of the flag is in the archives of the Diocese of Long Island. It is our hope that it can be displayed at a future diocesan convention.

Episcopal Life/TheDOMINION May 2003

located by Ned Smith, 5 July 2004

See also:
Heraldry in Episcopal Church in USA

The St. George's cross definition is true. The Episcopal Flag was voted on and adopted in 1940 by the national church. The original design comes from Long Island. The Red St. George's Cross is a symmetrical design and is to denote that we were originally descended from Church of England. I have included two links which specify what is in the General Convention Register for this year:

On Oct. 16, 1940, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies adopted an official flag for the Episcopal Church. This was the 251st anniversary of the day the General Convention ratified the Constitution and Canons and adopted the BCP. It was designed by William M. Baldwin (d. 1942), a member of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Long Island, New York. The symbolism of the flag has been explained as follows:

The white field represents the purity of the Christian religion. The red cross represents the sacrifice of Jesus and the blood of the martyrs. The red cross on a white field is the cross of Saint George, the patron saint of England, indicating our descent from the Church of England. The blue in the upper left-hand corner is the light blue of the sky, often used by artists for the clothing of the Blessed Virgin. It is called Madonna blue and represents the human nature of our Lord, which he received from his mother. The nine white crosslets on the blue field represent the nine original dioceses of the Episcopal Church in America in 1789: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and South Carolina. They are arranged in the form of a St. Andrew's Cross to commemorate the fact that Samuel Seabury, the first American bishop, was consecrated in Aberdeen, Scotland, on Nov. 14, 1784. The colors red, white, and blue represent the United States and stand for the American branch of the Anglican Communion. The same design is incorporated in the Episcopal Church seal, which was also adopted by the 1940 General Convention. The seal and flag serve as emblems of the Episcopal Church. The design is seen on signs, publications, decals, letterheads, pins, and many other places. Some congregations display the Episcopal Church flag and the American flag in the church or parish hall.
Peter Moak, 3 September 2017

A St. George's Cross in a Scandinavian format?

[Episcopal shield] by Chris Pinette      [Episcopal shield] by Eugene Ipavec

[Episcopal Church Flag] by Eugene Ipavec, 5 September 2007

Part of the problem about determining the correctness of a flag's design is due to the fact that the precision that we seek so fervently may not only be lacking elsewhere, but be lacking for good reasons. Among the features of an "official" flag not to often replicated precisely are the exact shades of color and the exact proportions of the flag itself. The former may be lacking because of the difficulties of specifying and copying the color shades; the latter, for a number of good reasons. One such is the desire to display a number of flags together with matching proportions for aesthetic reasons. We've all seen even the Swiss flag as a non-square rectangle in such circumstances.

As far as the flag of the Episcopal Church of US is concerned, discussion originates from the existence of a number of flags with a Scandinavian-style St. George cross on the flag instead of a symmetrical one. The (perhaps) hidden problem there, is the fact that most of us perceive the crosses in two ways, symmetrical and non-symmetrical (short arm noticeably nearer the hoist). There is essentially only one symmetrical presentation but an infinite number of possibilities for the non-symmetrical ones. Examining the proportions of the existing Scandinavian-cross flags, one can find a myriad of possibilities.

The shield shown above, like several Scandinavian-cross flags, shows a square canton defined by the cross. The mathematics of the design would force the St. George cross to be asymmetrical in a non-square flag in order to create a square canton. The point may be that, although one can find online specifications for the Episcopal Church flag, in practice the people who design the flag are not so concerned about it as we, and are content to create an display a flag that's recognizable for what it's supposed to be...
Lewis A. Nowitz, 16 November 2000

This letter is part of the discussion about why the "St. George's Cross" on the flag is frequently shown as a Scandinavian cross. After checking flags and coats of arms of local churches, the website, and recently contributed images on the mailing list, here are my conclusions.

As I surmised above, the designer of an individual flag may not consider the inherent asymmetry of a Scandinavian cross to be significant; to such a person, any reasonably unadorned red cross on a white field might be perceived to be a St. George's.

Why create an asymmetrical cross in the first place? The coat of arms shown above, gives a hint. (In fact coats of arms of Episcopal churches in the area do look like the image here.) The canton is square. If the creator of an individual flag considers a square canton important, the only way to produce one is to design a Scandinavian St. George's Cross (or a square flag instead of oblong).

In fact, looking at the coat of arms, one can see that the St. George's vertical arm is longer at the bottom, which most people do not consider significant. However, if the coat of arms were rotated to the position of the flag, the St. George's cross would become Scandinavian. Transforming the coat of arms to the flag can be done, for example, by a mirror reflection, followed by a 90 degree rotation to the left.

In summary, it may well be that the frequent use of "Scandinavian" St. George's Crosses in US Episcopal Church flags originates from a desire to maintain, as closely as possible, a square canton. More specifically, if the coat of arms is rotated to become a flag, the St. George's cross on the shield would become "Scandinavian". Perhaps the Dannebrog itself was created from a vertical flag or a coat of arms in this manner...
Lewis A. Nowitz, 25 November 2000

I reported earlier that the Episcopal flag at Christ Church in Alexandria, VA, had the cross centered rather than set toward the hoist. This observation was based on a flag hanging from the front of the parish hall on a 45-degree wall-mounted pole. On closer examination, judging as best I could given that the fly of the flag is therefore hanging in folds, I must admit that the cross is set slightly toward the hoist--it looks as if the flyward edge of the vertical arm of the cross is at about the midpoint of the flag.

Last night, however, I was walking by the other side of the church and could see a flag hanging vertically inside the parish hall. It shows the cross distinctly set toward the hoist, but not as much as most of the Scandinavian flags.

The notable point, however, is that the light blue canton is not square, or even close to it, on either flag. It (like the white rectangle in lower fly, of course) appears to be about 2:3. I would judge the arms of the cross to measure about 1/6 the hoist. I wonder if the design might specify these proportions but not the ratio of the flag itself? If so, the degree of offset would depend on the ratio of the flag.

For what it's worth, the Episcopal Church resolution defining the seal of the General Convention of the Church recites the official blazon of the arms, which reads (I'm doing this from memory) "argent a cross gules, on a canton azure nine cross crosslets in saltire of the first." The key point is that it is simply a "cross", not a "Latin cross", which would require the horizontal arm to be higher on the shield.

I'm not sure how much further along any of this pushes the discussion, but thought it was worth adding to the mix.
Joe McMillan, 6 December 2000

My best guess is that the Episcopal shield was adopted by General Convention, and then it was up to various flag makers to adapt that shield design to the area of a flag, so some have been symmetrical and others asymmetrical. You are right... I have seen both designs.
Eckford deKay, Episcopal Heraldry Center, July 8, 2004

Relationship with the Anglican Communion

If the Anglican Communion no longer recognizes the Episcopal Church of the United States as the legitimate expression of Anglicanism within that country, their recognition could shift to what is presently known as the Anglican Communion Network. Persons within that group have indicated such a recognition would cause them to undertake to bear the following arms: Argent, a cross Gules; a bordure Azure, thirteen mullets of the first. The crest would be: A mitre, Or.
Dillon E. Barker, 21 June 2006

This is certainly of interest to those following ecclesiastical vexillology, and I would like to see what develops, but it is very premature to add such a graphic yet- there are at least three contingencies to consider:
1- the Anglican Communion has not withdrawn recognition from the ECUSA so far;
2- there is no guarantee that if they do, that they will recognize the Anglican Communion Network instead;
and 3- if 1&2 do occur we would still have to see if the ACN actually does adopt such a flag.
Ned Smith, 21 June 2006