It has long been recognized that there is a link between missionary work and the rise of colonialism. The presence of Catholic missions in Latin America, for example, was directly linked to Spanish and Portuguese commercial, military, and political interests in this area. To explore the link between colonialism and mission, we shall consider one specific example, which illustrates the issues particularly well: the colonial policies of Great Britain, and the development of colonial churches.
The rise of Great Britain as a naval and colonial power in the eighteenth century created a link between the expansion of British national interests and the establishment of colonial outposts of the national English established church, the Church of England. It is impossible to tell the story of Anglicanism without reference to the rise of the British Empire.
The process of colonization, especially in the eighteenth century, was often proceeded by the establishment of Anglican chaplaincies in new colonial outposts, whose primary function was the pastoral care of the British community of expatriates. Institutional approaches to mission often took the form of an intentional chaplaincy role for expatriates, leading to an accidental missionary role to native populations.
The way in which British colonies developed their own distinct implementations of an “Anglican” vision has been the subject of increased scholarly attention in recent years. There are no persuasive grounds for suggesting that successive British governments saw any par- ticular reason to promote or encourage the emergence of Anglicanism in its colonies up to about 1780. Indeed, the entire colonial enterprise seems to have been secondary to entrepreneurial concerns. Colonial expansion was primarily conceived in commercial terms, as enhancing Britain’s position as a trading nation. Wary of creating religious strife, the colonial authorities tended to avoid imposing English religious ideas and practices on indigenous populations. With some local exceptions, the colonial authorities tended to regard Anglicanism primarily as offering a chaplaincy to the resident British population, rather than as the preferred religious option to be imposed upon the local population.