BB NOTE: An activist from Progressive Episcopalians (which announced it was taking Bishop Bob Duncan, the bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, to court, yet again), Joan Gundersen has put out a piece to the progressive blogs regarding the historical founding of Truro Parish, which includes Truro and The Falls Church. She is incorrect that parishes were considered churches, the church was the Church of England - a parish was made up of congregations. This was the way Virginia was organized, following the English model.
So I thought it might be good to reflect on what I know about Truro Parish. We do need to remember that Truro Parish has been subject to a couple of catastrophic wars, including the American Revolution and the Civil War (both nearly destroyed the congregations in Falls Church and what was then Fairfax Court House). But the congregations survived - and how and why they survived are truly fascinating stories - wars could not destroy those congregations, even when their buildings were occupied or destroyed.
Why did they survive? I would make the case that lay leadership has everything to do with it, from the very beginning.
Truro is a congregation in an historic "Parish" - this is where we have to understand Episcopal/Anglican terms. A "parish" is NOT a church or a congregation. A "Church" is the Diocese. The Anglican Communion is made up of Churches all over the world. In Europe there are two Churches on the same property - the Church of Spain and the American Church in Europe. The Episcopal term for Church is Diocese. Unlike the Roman Catholics Church - which is one centralized Church, the Anglican Communion is a network of Anglican Churches. Virginia was once a mission church of an overseas Diocese (and one of the founding missions of what would later become the Anglican Communion) - the Diocese of London. All who immigrated to Virginia who were Protestants became members of the Virginia (Anglican) Church, be they actually from the Church of Scotland or French Huguenots or English indentured servants or African slaves. All who were baptized Protestants were automatically in the Church in Virginia. But Virginia had no bishop of its own - technically Virginia was under the Bishop of London, but no bishop ever came to visit Virginia and so the Church was eestablished in a fierce Protestant tradition without the presence of a bishop. Baptism was the entry into membership (not confirmation) - which continues to this day. Truro Church is actually a good example in that the church is filled with baptized members who are Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, and many other denominations. It is a microcosm of what the church was like in the early days - it is also filled with immigrants from Africa, the Middle East, South America, and Asia - as well as Europe (including our new bishop, who is himself an immigrant).
The Diocese is made up of Parishes (in some ways the "region" system could be said to have replaced the parish over the years, though it does not have as much governing authority as the old parish system which had only one vestry). The parish is made up of congregations. Since the Commonwealth of Virginia was based on the English/Anglican system, it established "parishes" (instead of counties). For the first two hundred years there was no separation of church/state and so the Anglican/Commonwealth government were the same. The parish was run by the Vestry which looked after the affairs of the entire parish, both spiritual as well as civil. When the Anglican Church was disestablished following the Revolution, the parish system was replaced with a secular government. The Vestry moved into the congregations and no longer conducted civil affairs (though many, like Truro, are a stonesthrow from the Court House) - hinting at the earlier bond between the two. In fact, when Fairfax Court House congregation (which is now called Truro) was reformed after scattering when the revolution came to end (remember, many Virginia Anglicans were British Loyalists - the entire Virginia Church was scattered) they met at the Fairfax Court House until a more permanent building could be found (which is on the property next to the Moore House.
The original name for Fairfax County was "Truro Parish." The Vestry of Truro Parish oversaw all the affairs in the parish - both spiritual and civil. George Washington and George Mason cut their teeth on politics by being elected members of the Vestry of Truro Parish. Truro parish had many congregations, including Paynes (which is Truro/Zion's predecessor and the Truro Chapel is a replica of our original building), Falls Church, Christ Church Alexandria, and Pohick. Falls Church later split off from Truro Parish as I recall, though I am not sure the date. But this is why the Fairfax Court House church Truro (then called Paynes), Falls Church, Pohick, Christ Church, and Pohick can all claim Washington (BabyBlue's second cousin, sev. gens removed for what it's worth) for a Vestryman. He oversaw the affairs of all those congregations. This system ended after the Revolution.
Now the prospect of introducing bishops back into the everyday life of the church devastated the early days of the Diocese of Virginia and the vast majority of the Anglican Christians in Virginia rejected having a bishop at all (again, remember that many Virginia Anglicans were British Loyalists!). "Give me liberty!" remember Patrick Henry (a layman) shouted from inside an Richmond (Anglican of course) church.
The Diocese of Virginia struggled for decades on getting organized because the parish system (led by the laity) was so strong in Virginia (and those remnants are still felt today). The conflict went all the way to the legislature where a deal was made to allow congregations in parishes to be independent of the Episcopal Church in Virginia (an thus, no longer taxed or counted as member of the parish). This is one of the major reasons Jefferson (BabyBlue's third cousin, several gens removed, like half of Virginia) wrote his letter about the separation of church and state - to allow the congregations that wished (i.e., Baptists and other Protestant congregations) to be able to function in Virginia without having to be under a bishop. It's hard for us to think of this now because having a multitude of Christian churches is commonplace in Virginia - but in the early days there was only "The Church" and any Protestant minister who immigrated (which is really where most of the early ministers came from) was assimilated into the church. In my own family, my parish was Tillotson Parish in what is now Buckingham County. It was Anglican until the disestablishment (and the original building still stands with my ancestors buried under it!) and the early ministers (as well as the congregation) were French Protestants - so they were the ministers though the "Church" was English.
The majority of the Protestant Christians did not want a bishop and so there was a massive exodus - there were still hard feelings with England and the English Church anyway. Virginia did not recover really until Meade in the 1840s when he established Missions in the mountains and preached an evangelical Christian message. The Virginia countryside is still littered with the remnants of those early colonial structures - either abandoned entirely (often by the British Loyalists) or taken over by Protestant Congregations (as happened in Buckingham Court House).
The oldest church building in the old Truro Parish now is Pohick (in fact, the graveyard is called Truro Parish). The foundations for Paynes Church still exist and guess what church sits on top of those foundations - a Baptist Church on Ox Road. Zion was established to replace Paynes (now in disrepair) in Fairfax City on the spot where Truro is now. Following the Revolution a delegation was sent from The Falls Church to reestablish the Episcopal Church in the City when the loyalists fled. The original Zion Church was lost during the Civil War (a wooden structure, it was used by the occupying Union troops as firewood) and rebuilt after the war and remained standing until it burned down in the 1940s (it was turned into a parish hall after the "new" church was built and the original name restored to Truro in 1933. It was built at as replica to the original church, Paynes Church. It remained the church until the "new" church was built in the 1950s which is the Truro Church today.
But the "parish" never went out of existence and while Virginia has suffered through many wars - the congregations managed to survive and I believe they did remained alive because the congregations were still bound together in the old parish system and those relationships (even when we can't remember anymore why that is so) - which included marriages, cousins, and such - kept the congregations from falling away. It was family.
I know that at some point - it may have been after the Civil War - that one clergyman looked after both Truro and The Falls Church for a season, so it's important to understand that our congregations have continued to be bound together over the years (though our vestries were separate since the disestablishment). That system was far more vibrant and strong (even today) then the idea that the Church was centered on the diocese or the bishop. Virginia has always been wary of a strong bishop (memories are long) and that made for a strong and robust laity - which goes all the way back to George Washington and George Mason, both leading Vestrymen of Truro Parish, and defenders of American liberty.
FYI NOTE: Okay, BabyBlue is a direct descendant of John Washington and Christopher Branch, as well as Jean Pierre Bondurant, all early immigrants to Virginia. But then so are a lot of Virginians - isn't that right, cousin?