Thursday, December 28, 2006

Of Parishes, Churches, and Congregations: Tony Clavier Comments on the Histories of Truro and The Falls Church

BB NOTE: Fr. Tony Clavier offers his opinions on the Gunderson assertions about the histories of Truro and The Falls Church.

I am grateful to Dr. Joan Gunderson for her essay on the histories of Truro and Falls Church parishes. I hesitate to take her on in an area in which she shows great learning. However there's something dangerous about her conclusions.

Dr. Gunderson begins on firm ground. The Colonial legislature divided Virginia into geographical parishes. Anglicanism was not only the Established Church but a territorial church. Thus it claimed to have a mission in place. It did not regard itself as an ecclesial organization which drew to itself those who thought of themselves as Anglicans, but rather as the Church locally placed with a mission to all who lived in the geographical parish. At this point it is easy to assume that such a territorial mission had something to do with Establishment. This is not so. It had everything to do with the notion that the Anglican Church was the old church reformed and not some new model, created at the Reformation with the power to draw to itself adherents who liked the liturgy or the metrical psalms.

After the Revolution the Episcopal Church enshrined in its Constitution and Canons the continued notion that at diocesan and parochial levels it inherited and continued its self-perception as a territorial church. The Canons then and now describe the parish in terms of territory and also describe how that territory may be sub-divided to form new parishes and missions. Indeed I shall go on to argue later that if such a self-perception is abandoned, the Episcopal Church has no right to grumble when other overseas bodies plant themselves near an existing Episcopal parish or indeed take over at least the property dedicated to the territorial parish.

The newly formed Diocese of Virginia was in bad shape. Many buildings had been destroyed or badly damaged during the Revolution. Many clergy and laity fled abroad. The first two bishops did little - Madison was busy enough as rector of Bruton Parish Church and President of the College of William and Mary. (Clowes Chorley's, "Men and Movements in the American Episcopal Church" although dated as the title suggests, offers fascinating insights into this period.) Many parishes were totally neglected. There were not enough clergy to go round and many lay people preferred to keep their Anglican convictions quiet.

It was not until the advent of the Evangelical Revival and the establishment of the Virginia Theological Seminary that revival and restoration began. But note the ancient parishes had not been abolished and the conventicle model introduced. It may have taken forty years from the Revolution to revival but in the end it was to the old parishes that the new breed of Evangelical parson went. On the whole, the old parishes were divided and sub-divided. Ruined parish churches were restored, new buildings erected. But all this was done in accordance with the Canons.

Were the newly formed parishes and missions, created in the former territory of the colonial parishes something new with no links to the original territory ascribed to the original parish? Surely not. In a sub-divided parish, each parish might claim to be the heir to the original parish. As the very large original parishes often had two or three church buildings, where one survived or was restored in a "new parish", there might well be a compelling incarnational link to the original parish. So in this sense I think it unfortunate to quarrel with the claims of the Falls Church and Truro Parish for claiming Colonial roots. When restored and established these two parishes certainly occupied some of the same territory originally part of a larger unit. If they had restored Colonial parish churches in which worthies once worshipped, the link is the more compelling.

Read the rest here.


Kevin said...

In all fairness Dr. Gundersen's article is found here.


I mean that with all do respect to Ken, he's a great guy, Fr. Clavier also seems to be pleasent chap. I'm glad they felt like answering the claims, but Hagerty's and Gundersen's pieces are very much academic exrcises, meaning both present a set of facts which the other side is not necessarily disputing (ie. not the otherside is so poor research they don't have their facts straigt), rather giving a set of facts then giving an opinion on the facts presented.

TFC & Truro website agree with what Dr. Gunderson has presented. TFC's site leaves out the gaps nor does she include the gaps felt parishes during the War of Northern Agression.

I think both authors have done a fine job of refuting her conclusion which pops out of nowhere. She ignors Scripture (cannons are the end all be all, just like Rome, wait w/o Sola Scriptora what right do we have not to submit to Rome? Oh a little flaw in their logic). Also she includes nothing about the Diocese of VA being under the civil code, which makes her point moot or if the Denis Canon is enforcable in Virgina.

Basically an erudite academic exercise, which attepmts (poorly I might add) do make a sudden legal arguement at the very end. Thus proving she makes a better history professor than a jurist. If we take her arguement as she first presents it, sure TFC & Truro are not that important (thus why waste any resources fighting a legal battle), you should let us go, for you just spent 3/4 of your essay proving that we're nothing the get all up tight about. So thank you.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect Kevin, I do believe you meant due.

Kevin said...


Thank you, I don't know why they let me near a keyboard (I was born w/ dyslexia, which means I unable to see/edit gammer or homonym error). I thought about raising some funds so BB can hire some elves to edit my posts, but that may be a bit much.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a lot of hairsplitting going on. Technically the Wren Building at William and Mary (which was founded as an Anglican school but was nice enough to award this Jewish girl her JD!) is not "the" Wren building because it burned down numerous times. But it is still considered the oldest college building still in continous use. Also, William & Mary is the oldest Law School in the country. However, between the Civil War and WWI the law school was not in existence. Should that take away the distinction? Of course not! I am just perplexed that historians would think that any conclusion they have would be meaningful here. This is not an issue for historians, in the future I'm sure it will be, but not now. It comes down to religious and legal issues. And heaven help us there are enough of those around to keep us busy for quite some time.

And please excuse any spelling or grammatical erros, like Kevin I am dyslexic.

Also, not to make things worse by addressing politics, but the death of President Ford had me thinking a lot about sacrificing self interest for the common good. President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon knowing full well what it would probably do to him politically. But he understood that the Country needed to heal and that wasn't going to happen if we keep picking at the wounds. My favorite columnist was always Mary McGrory (I know the rest of the people on this blog probably disagreed with her most of the time, but if you ever read her columns about her garden or her trips they were really wonderful)and she would later write that she was wrong to have condemned President Ford for pardoning Nixon. President Ford was a real profile in courage. I guess the question I have is why Gene Robinson didn't say you know what, I want to be Bishop of New Hampshire, the people of New Hampshire want me to be Bishop of New Hampshire, but there is a larger issue at stake and maybe the Church should address it. I sympathize with Gene Robinson and probably share the politics of most of his supporters. But, what never occurred to me was that the bigger act of courage would have been to not become the Bishop. Maybe nothing would have changed, but we'll never know because he put his self interest first.

Unknown said...

Great posting, Mel - you present to us a real challenge. Bringing up what President Ford did (and how Mary McGrory rethought his sacrifice - imagine, sacrificing one's career to do the right thing). It is worth pausing and reflecting over as we say good by to Jerry Ford.

You all bring up very good points - very much worth pondering.


Anonymous said...

Clavier has published further comments, which suggest you have misunderstood his point: