For a relatively young institution, the Apostolic Episcopal Church has a complex history. This page gives a short historical summary aimed at the general reader below. Material in the historical summary draws particularly upon that provided in The Old Catholic Sourcebook by Bishop Karl Pruter and J. Gordon Melton (Garland Publishing, New York and London, 1983, p. 81) which in turn was prepared with the assistance of the Apostolic Episcopal Church.
The persecution of the Chaldean Catholic Church led to a number of its members becoming dispersed to countries other than their native Iraq and Syria, and a proportion settled in the United States of America. Here they founded a few churches. Following the First World War, a delegation was sent from Chaldea, headed by a bishop, in order to enquire into the affairs of these churches, which at that time numbered around 20,000 adherents. The delegation was received by the Protestant Episcopal Church in America, and one of their priests, the Revd. Arthur Wolfort Brooks (1888-1948), was authorized to act as its Secretary. Brooks had experience of the Eastern churches, having previously been Professor at the Greek Orthodox Church Theological Seminary in New York. Having proved himself useful to the Chaldeans, Brooks was consecrated bishop on 4 May 1925 by the Chaldean special commissary in the USA, Mar Antoine Lefberne (who had been consecrated and appointed by the Chaldean Patriarch). He continued to minister to the various Chaldean communities for several years after this.
In 1927, by which time he had resigned from the Episcopal Church, Archbishop Brooks became pastor of Christ’s Church-by-the-Sea in Broad Channel, Queens, New York. Archbishop Brooks re-organized and re-incorporated the parish. Then in 1930 he joined with a second parish, the Lord’s Evangelical Church of Ridgewood Plateau, New York, and in a Synod meeting completed the organization of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, which was shortly afterwards officially recognized by the law of the State of New York. In 1934 Archbishop Brooks consecrated his first two chorepiscopi (suffragan bishops), Charles W. Keller and Harold F.A. Jarvis. Significant contacts and co-operation were established with major Orthodox jurisdictions, notably the Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which authorized Archbishop Brooks to ordain several priests for its American mission, as well as with Episcopalians and Protestant leaders who became part of a mission increasingly dedicated to ecumenical unity.
In 1941, Archbishop Brooks opened correspondence with an independent Old Catholic priest in England, Hugh George de Willmott Newman. Fr. Newman was looking for a bishop whose jurisdiction he could join and a jurisdiction within which he could become a bishop as well. Archbishop Brooks accepted Fr. Newman and became the Presiding Bishop of the Old Catholic Orthodox Church in England. He appointed Fr. Newman his Vicar General for Europe. During World War II, Fr. Newman became acquainted with Archbishop William Bernard Crow, known in religion as Mar Basilius Abdullah III, who was head of a union of the smaller jurisdictions in England called the Catholicate of the West. In 1943, Archbishop Brooks authorized Mar Basilius Abdullah to consecrate Fr. Newman under the name Mar Georgius. Meanwhile, Mar Georgius had become convinced that the Ancient British Church headed by Mar Basilius Abdullah’s consecrator Archbishop Herbert James Monzani Heard was the true indigenous Church for England, and that this should be merged with the Catholicate of the West. He accomplished this merger in January 1945 at which point he became known as the Patriarch of Glastonbury.
Once freed with an Episcopal position, Mar Georgius proceeded quickly to build an organization which was ambitious in its scope and ideals, and with which Archbishop Brooks had no difficulty co-operating. The Catholicate of the West grew by affiliating the ministries of other independent bishops, who merged their Apostolic lineages through repeated conditional consecrations in the process of creating an Ecumenical Apostolic Succession that would, in theory, be acceptable to all Christians. The Catholicate also attempted to continue the ministry of the Catholic Apostolic Church (“Irvingites”), the church of Mar Georgius’s birth, in response to past prophesy from within that church that had talked of a successor body that was to follow it.
In 1945 Chorepiscopus Charles Keller travelled to England and conditionally consecrated Mar Georgius, and in 1946 Mar Georgius consecrated Wallace David de Ortega Maxey as Mar David I and designated him Supreme Hierarch of the Catholicate of the Americas. He had already designated Archbishop Brooks Hierarch of the Catholicate of the United States. Archbishop Maxey travelled to New York, where on July 13 1946 Archbishop Brooks conditionally consecrated him and set him in charge of the Apostolic Episcopal Church Province of the West, USA. Under a registered Concordat of 1947, Archbishops Brooks and Maxey agreed that whichever of them should survive the other would succeed to the Primacy of the Apostolic Episcopal Church.
The two jurisdictions remained intertwined for several years, and the branch of the Catholicate of the West in the United States under Archbishop Maxey survived Mar Georgius’s attempt to dissolve the organization, which had been weakened by internal disputes, in 1953. After Archbishop Brooks’s death in 1948, at which point Archbishop Maxey succeeded him as Primate and Ecclesiastical Administrator of Metropolitan Synod, there was also division among the clergy of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, some of whom were opposed to Archbishop Maxey. The two US Provinces of East and West separated, as did the European bishops, and each acted autonomously in making competing claims to the Primacy, none of which, however, carried the warrant of Metropolitan Synod. Archbishop Maxey himself spent much of the 1950s and 1960s engaged in Universalist ministry and secular work for social justice and it was not until 1976 that he came out of retirement and resumed ministry in his former offices. During these decades the energetic parish ministry of Archbishop Harold Jarvis in the Province of the East had maintained an active United States presence for the Apostolic Episcopal Church.
By 1986, the various strands of the Apostolic Episcopal Church had become united due to the death of various clergy. In this way, the divisions that had existed since 1948 were healed and the canonical representation of the Apostolic Episcopal Church was once more united, although there still remained a minority of bishops of the church who did not accept the union. By this time, also, the AEC was coming into renewed contact with the major Orthodox churches, including the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, the Ancient Church of the East, the Coptic Orthodox Church (Eparchy of France), and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. The work formerly undertaken by the Catholicate of the West continued also, with further effort leading to the completion of the Ecumenical Apostolic Succession.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the Apostolic Episcopal Church reasserted its roots in Anglicanism, through a close involvement with the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, a member church of the Anglican Communion, at a time when that church was seeking to establish missions in the United States and Europe. In 1993, the Apostolic Episcopal Church became a member of a Continuing Anglican federation, the International Confederation of Traditionalist Anglican/Episcopalian Churches of Atlanta, Georgia. In 1998, Archbishop Francis Cajetan Spataro became Primate. Archbishop Spataro was responsible for reasserting the Orthodox and Anglican roots of the Apostolic Episcopal Church and thus reaffirming its core identity.
Archbishop Spataro’s ministry for many years centred upon Camp St Cassian at Potter Hollow in the Catskill Mountains, established in 1990 with an attendant Society of St John Cassian using buildings and a chapel owned by the former Holy Orthodox Church in America, with which the AEC was in intercommunion. The Camp was a retreat centre with a mission to rehabilitate clergy of all denominations suffering from burnout and other problems affecting their ministry. The AEC’s ministry in New York centred upon St John’s Episcopal American Catholic Church in Harlem, which was under Fr. Cyril Kent as Rector. This church had been founded in 1928 by Bishop Joseph Byron of the Vilatte succession. In addition, the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ss. Peter and Paul under pastor Bishop Pedro Bravo-Guzman elected Archbishop Spataro as their Bishop Visitor in 2000. Ministry was principally directed to the Afro-American community in New York, as well as to immigrant Ecuadorians.
The present-day ministry of the Apostolic Episcopal Church includes all of the elements that have historically been a part of its mission; ecumenical outreach and fellowship, inter-church collaboration, and practical ministry both through mission parishes and through the work of individual clergy. In February 2015, Archbishop John Kersey succeeded Archbishop Spataro as the fifth Primate of the Apostolic Episcopal Church.