A Flag and a Seal: Two Histories

Original, hand-sewn Episcopal Church flag design | Merrick Williams | Diocese of Long Island

The design of the presiding bishop’s seal was derived from the church flag by Major George M. Chandler, formerly a member of the Joint Commission of Flag and Seal.

By Charles Lee Egleston and Terry Sherman

The creation of the flag of the Episcopal Church is most closely associated with the efforts of William M. Baldwin, a layman in the Diocese of Long Island. Around the year 1918, Bishop Frederick Burgess of Long Island appointed Baldwin to plan a procession through the grounds of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City.

The procession would precede a Eucharist in the cathedral to mark the golden anniversary of the diocese’s founding, a celebration delayed for six months by World War I. During the procession, each church, mission, and organization in the diocese would be led by a person holding a flag or banner, 170 in all. While planning the procession, Baldwin noticed “that there was no flag or banner of the General Church,” as he wrote in the December 1941 issue of the Historical Magazine of the Episcopal Church.

During General Convention at Portland, Oregon, in 1922, Bishop James DeWolf Perry of Rhode Island proposed a resolution for “a plain Cross (red) on a banner (white).” The House of Deputies did not concur. Nevertheless, the Flag of England, also known as the Flag of St. George, survived in all of the subsequent designs. Baldwin attended that convention as a deputy. What role he had in Bishop Perry’s resolution is not known.

Charles Lee Egleston

Baldwin moved a resolution at the Diocese of Long Island’s convention in May 1925 that it urge General Convention “to adopt a coat of arms and flag for the General Church.” At the 1925 General Convention in New Orleans, which Baldwin attended as a delegate, the House of Bishops received this resolution and formed a committee, and later a Joint Commission of Flag and Seal.

No flag design was submitted to the General Convention of 1928 in Washington, D.C.

The flag design submitted to the General Convention of 1931 in Denver showed an open book and an eagle over the Flag of England. The House of Deputies accepted this design, but the bishops did not.

No flag design was submitted to the General Convention of 1934 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which Baldwin did not attend.

The design submitted to the General Convention of 1937 in Cincinnati, featured the Flag of England and a Book of Common Prayer “superimposed on a blue field typifying the United States, on which are nine white stars with the points upward, representing the nine dioceses that met in the first General Convention in 1789.” This design and an amended design from the floor that removed the prayer book were both rejected. Bishop Ashton Oldham of Albany proposed a resolution “that the design submitted be approved after it has been approved or modified by such experts in heraldry as your Committee may be able to consult.” The House of Deputies concurred.

Between the 1937 General Convention and the General Convention of 1940 in Kansas City, Missouri, the commission consulted Pierre de Chaignon la Rose, the leading designer of ecclesiastical heraldry. Baldwin said La Rose’s design was accepted with only a few minor changes.

The journal of the 1940 General Convention includes the Rev. Arthur Barksdale Kinsolving’s report of the Joint Commission of Church Flag and Seal, which included a prototype of the Church flag based on La Rose’s design.

Kinsolving concluded his remarks with a resolution to authorize the flag, and General Convention adopted it on October 16, 1940.

Charles Lee Egleston

Although Kinsolving’s 1940 resolution called for the flag design to be used to create a Church seal, the adoption of a seal for the presiding bishop waited until one was required. It had been standard practice for presiding bishops to retain jurisdiction over their dioceses when they became presiding bishop, as well as to use the diocesan seal for both diocesan business and national business.

The General Convention of 1943 in Cleveland decided that “upon the expiration of the term of the Presiding Bishop, the Bishop who is elected to succeed him shall tender to the House of Bishops his resignation of his previous jurisdiction.”

On October 8, at the same 1943 general convention, Henry St. George Tucker tendered his resignation as Bishop of Virginia effective in June 1944.

Tucker knew that, once his resignation from Virginia took effect, he could no longer use the seal of the Diocese of Virginia for national documents. He wrote to Bishop Oldham, a member of the Commission on Church Architecture and the Allied Arts, to request a seal: “nothing official could be adopted, I suppose, except by action of General Convention; but if in the meanwhile some one who is expert in these matters could give me the design, for a suggested seal, I could use it temporarily, instead of signing official documents with a ten cent piece, as I have sometimes to do.”

To the General Convention of 1946 in Philadelphia, Bishop Oldham presented the seal that already had been created for Tucker, saying that its creation was made necessary by Tucker’s request, and that Tucker had approved.

The design of the presiding bishop’s seal was derived from the church flag by Major George M. Chandler, formerly a member of the Joint Commission of Flag and Seal.

The 1946 journal of General Convention described the seal:

Within a pointed oval the shield, the white of the shield and of the cross crosslets plain, the red of the cross indicated by vertical lines, the blue of the canton by horizontal line, above the shield a mitre with ribbons and behind the shield a key and crozier crossed, the key to dexter ward up and out, the crozier to sinister crook up and out. On the border the legend “Seal of the Presiding Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church USA” reading clockwise beginning at base; in the base a small cross patee (a maltese cross with all lines straight and end of the arms not swallowtailed).

The House of Deputies concurred on September 17, 1946.

Canon Charles Lee Egleston is librarian, archivist, and registrar of the Mercer School of Theology, and historiographer of the Diocese of Long Island. Terry Sherman is a retired physical therapist who volunteers at the Mercer School Library.


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