Social climbing: why did Presbyterians wanna be Episcopalians?

My paternal great-grandfather and, from what I’ve read, quite a few other prosperous Americans in the late 1800s and early 1900s abandoned their Presbyterian faith to become Episcopalians. Was that regarded, at least by some, as a step up on the social ladder? Why?

Old American joke:

An Episcopalian is a Presbyterian with a trust fund.

A Presbyterian is a Methodist with a college education.

And a Methodist is a Baptist with shoes.


Hey! I’m a Baptist and I… looks at feet Well I’m getting a college education!

Self-perpetuating tradition: As an upward social climber wanting to connect with the politicial and financial power elite, you joined the church to which they went. Owing to a wide assortment of circumstances, this tended in the early days to be the Episcopal Church, and that became a self-perpetuating attractant, in much the same way as one of the reasons people move to the big city is because it is the big city, which is an ongoing way to perpetuate its size.

Besides, present company excepted, Bishops are way cooler than Moderators. :stuck_out_tongue:

It’s telling to note that, when speaking of the snob appeal of the Episcopal Church, everyone uses past tense. Nowadays, not so much. I think the ultrahuge non-aligned congregations are the new Episcopalians, for the same reasons Polycarp cited. I think bigger equals better in America, and everybody wants to go to the biggest church because, well, if it’s the biggest one, they must be right.

I’d be interested to know if fellow current and ex-Episcopalians have seen their churches devolve into a rather motley assortment of characters as rectors and vicars struggle to keep the numbers high enough to support their modest salaries; or whether that’s pretty much a local phenomenon.

Well, yes and no. E.g., the National Cathedral in Washington is still an Episcopalian cathedral, and it would seem somehow unfitting for it to be anything else. The best and most prestigious private schools are Episcopalian schools, not Catholic or Baptist. Etc.

I thought it was a Baptist who could read.

“Back East,” as we westerners say, that’s probably the case. (Minor hijack: My wife, son, daughter-in-law and I have attended Sunday morning Eucharist at the National Cathedral – an unforgetable experience!) Here in the loops of the Bible Belt, the Baptists seem to be the ones with the biggest private schools, the Catholics have the oldest ones. I haven’t heard of the Mormons starting any private schools, but they have one of the biggest church memberships here in the West, for an obvious reason. When I was posting previously, I completely forgot about the Mormons :smack: .

Not really. The Episcopalian church was the church of old money, back when it was a genuine ruling class. There’s nothing analogous nowadays.

Hereabouts there’s still old money, and it’s still definately Episcopalian. Here in town you ain’t nobody unless you go to Trinity Cathedral. (By “ain’t nobody” I mean you’d not in any of the three social clubs and probably don’t go to the Carolina Cup. You can live all your life here and not even know that Old Columbia exists, but they’re definately still here and there are some things they absolutely still run.)

Another version:
A Methodist is a Baptist who can read.

A Baptist is a Methodist who can sing.

That same ruling class still exists, ultrafilter. It’s just somewhat broader now, and includes a lot of Jews. From [url=]*The Next American Nation, * by Michael Lind:

Corrected link:

There’s still an overclass, but the culture of it is too different to view it as a mere extension of the old Protestant establishment. I have more to say on the subject, but I’m on vacation and typing on a laptop right now, so long posts are right out.

Apropos of nothing, I recall an old National Lampoon cartoon: A respectable-looking middle-class gentleman is sitting at a bar, and there’s a bunch of grinning, smirking, filthy, wifebeater-wearing, redneck-looking scumbags clustered a few stools away:

“Hey, isn’t that one of them Presbyterians?!”

“You may be right!”

“One o’ them Presbyterians, all right! I can smell 'im from here!”

Subcaption: “Religious prejudice hits a new low.”