Participants and observances
in Prayer, providence and empire
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Chapter 3 considers the meanings that church leaders, lower clergy, congregations and private individuals attached to special acts of worship. It first considers how governments and churches overcame the ‘tyranny of distance’ and spread the news of forthcoming occasions. Observances, responses and styles of worship varied between churches, but within denominations too. Worship in the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches was structured and centralised, as archbishops and bishops issued forms of prayer and pastoral letters that guided clergy on the causes of worship and the use of prayer books and liturgies. Cultures of prayer and worship in other Protestant denominations had a freer character. Despite these differences, all churches discovered that colonial conditions required them to give much responsibility for organising special worship to lay communities. In many ways, then, it was the laity that made institutional religion work in the colonial world. The chapter also considers the messages, such as collective sin and divine providence, that clergy communicated to congregations (and to indigenous communities on missions) on fasts and thanksgivings. While ministers and congregations shared common providential beliefs, the chapter recognises that special days of worship could be contested occasions: individuals did not always engage in religious events, people disagreed on the meaning of great calamities, and some occasions, such as Canadian thanksgivings, became more about holidaying and feasting.

Prayer, providence and empire

Special worship in the British world, 1783–1919