Thursday, December 28, 2006

Reflecting on the History of Truro Parish in Virginia

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?


Anonymous said...

Sources and citations, please?

BabyBlue said...

Goodness, I'll do a brain dump and see what I can remember, going by what books I've read from Amazon to start with. This is just from the surface. I've been learning this stuff for over twenty years.

• A brief history of the Anglican Church in Virginia by William Garnett Chisholm
• Holy Things and Profane: Anglican Parish Churches in Colonial Virginia (Architectural History Foundation Book) by Dell Upton
• A Blessed Company: Parishes, Parsons, and Parishioners in Anglican Virginia, 1690-1776. by Robert Bruce Mullin
• The Anglican church in Virginia from 1607 to 1814 by Everett Grant Smith
• Anglican Virginia: The established church of the Old Dominion, 1607-1789 (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library research report series) by Arthur Pierce Middleton
• The Virginia Landmarks Register by Virginia Dept. of Historic Resources and Calder Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 by Neil Howe and William Strauss (Paperback - Sep 30, 1992)
• History of Truro Parish in Virginia: Edited With Notes and Addenda by Edward L. Goodwin by Philip Slaughter
• Families of Pohick Church, Truro Parish, Fairfax County, Virginia by Chester A
• Notes on the history and architecture of Pohick Church, Truro Parish, Fairfax County, Virginia by Nan
• Minutes of the Vestry, Truro Parish Virginia, 1732-1785 by Anne P Flory
• Conversations with Ed Prichard, Esquire, former Mayor of Fairfax and Vestrymen at Truro.
• Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality by Richard H. Schmidt
• Brief History of the Episcopal Church by David Lynn Holmes
• A History of the Episcopal Church by Robert W. Prichard
• History of Truro Church (website)
• History of Pohick Church (website)
• Articles on Col. Mosby, family genealogy, conversations with elder members of Truro, course work on Virginia history and American studies, etc.
• Memoirs of Ed Prichard (multi-volumes) by Ed Prichard (I can't remember the exact title since they are in the Truro Library).

There's also a book on Episcopal/Anglican Church architecture that has a lot of Virginia church history in it, but I can't remember the name without going home and digging it up - I received it as a gift. The photos are excellent!

I've just ordered "Colonial Churches in the Original Colony of Virginia" and look forward to reading that one as well. Stay tuned.

I'm also planning on taking at weekend trip down to Buckingham County and visit the original Tillotson Parish where my ancestors worshipped. Captain John Flood is allegedly buried underneath the original church building with at least one of his wives. I am descended from his second "wife" who was his housekeeper. You figure it out.

There's more - this is twenty-five years of learning! I have more books at home (it' been a bit of a hobby, since it's also my own family's history in Virginia), as well as articles and magazines. I also typed the Truro historians notes in the early days and Ed Prichard was enormously helpful in answering questions in years past.

Let me know if there is a particular item that you would like to know more about and I can look it up for you or at least find a place to learn more about it.

Hope this is helpful!


Anonymous said...

It's very helpful, thank you!

Bill said...

bb, I've noticed that Louisiana seems to be organized by named parishes. Does the logic behind their naming regions of the state by parishes bear any resemblance to that of Virginia?


JRG said...

This is such a garbled history of Virginia Churches that it is hard to know where to start.
1. Baptist congregations were never a part of the colonial church and needed no disestablishment to become independent. They were not worried about being uder a bishop. They did push for disestablishment to end the ties of the Church of England/Episcopal Church with the government. The goal was not only to end taxation in support of religion, but to force the sale of the colonial church property. Jefferson wrote more than a letter, he helped draft that statute of Religious Freedom in Virginia.
2. The name of the current congregation is Truro Church. It was until 1935 Zion Church.
3. You have the wrong author for Blessed Company. That book was written by John Nelson.
4. The Diocese of London had no connection to the Virginia Church. Some BISHOPS of London received charters from the king to provide oversight of the colonial clergy. In Virginia, the legislature had many of the duties that would otherwise have belonged to an English diocese.
5. The Virginia Anglicans were not mostly loyalists. Most supported the American Revolution. The church was not scattered by the revolution, it was shaken by the loss of its financing and the inability to replace clergy who died or left.
6. Fairfax Parish was never Truro Parish. Truro Parish was a separate governmental body from the county. The county government (in the hands of justices of the peace of the county courts and a sheriff). The Parish and the County had similar boundaries, but they were two separate governmental branches (much as a school district and a city can have the same boundaries but be separate bodies today).
7. There's more, but I would suggest you actually read the Gundersen piece and look at its records.

BabyBlue said...

Exactly, Baptist congregations came into existance following the disestablishment of the Anglican Church. Congregations that chose not to have a bishop were able to separate from the parishes and - as in Buckingham County - many became Baptists (which may give us an idea why Episcopalians in Virginia still make fun of Baptists to this day). Anglican clergy were made up of Protestant minister-immigrants (such as one of my French Huguenot ancestors) - I think I said that?

Exactly, Jefferson wanted to allow freedom to not have to be Anglican in Virginia (of course, he had his own biases about Anglicans anyway) - this permitted local congregations to retain their church property (or it fell into disrepair if congregation had abandoned in it). I think I said that?

Not true, the Bishop London was the bishop designated for the Church in Virginia. But of course, as we all know, he never showed up. And he didn't send any other bishop either - odd isn't it? But it certainly left its mark on the church in Virginia, even to this day.

Truro Church and Zion Church are the SAME congregation. The Zion congregation built what is now our chapel (then the new church in 1933 - not 1935 - and changed the name back to Truro to reflect the roots of Fairfax County as Truro Parish. They turned the Zion Church building into the parish hall (some parts of it still exists in what is now the parish offices). To strengthen that bond, the builders built a replica of Payne's Church, the original church building in Fairfax. I think I said that?

The Falls Church was originally in Truro Parish. It was later in a different parish (Fairfax, as I've read - but that was later). Truro Parish later changed its name to Fairfax County. Fairfax City though was originally Fairfax Court House and is separate from Fairfax County.

No, many of the Anglicans were loyalists and if they were not, they were very wary of reinstalling bishops back into the church life, for many reasons - some theological (this was a very low church diocese, perhaps one of the lowest in the US) . The first bishop consecrated was actually a senior rector of a congregation, but it didn't turn out very well. The Protestants (which until the disestablishment were all technically Anglican) were no longer required to be Anglican, which allowed Virginia to be free to practice their form of Christianity . The rebuilding of the Anglican presence in Virginia (which became the Diocese of Virginia) took years, decades really = until Bishop Moore and even more so Bishop Meade brought their evangelical fire back into the church (much of it was lost when the early congregations departed or were assimilated into other Protestant congregations), establishing missions, the seminary, and energizing the clergy to be not just caretakers of old property and old families, but on fire for Jesus - they were evangelicals. Their hold on the diocese continued to be very strong, even through the Oxford Movement and it was very difficult to be an Anglo Catholic in Virginia. To really practice that form of worship, you had to cross the Potomac.

Blessed Company is a very interesting book - and very helpful. I was just looking at it again tonight. I do recommend it highly, though I don't think Baptists fare very well in it. The author is biased toward the Episcopal Church over the other Christian congregations that formed after the Revolution (hense the title). I am sure that if I read a history of the Church in Virginia by a Baptist it would read different. But the book is quite good.

I'm sorry that my writing was not all that you wished. I love Virginia, it's been my home for a long time now and the more I study it, the more I realize that we have a lot to learn from the past. I hope to keep learning and discovering new things. But I do believe that those who have gone before us tried hard to do what was right in the sight of God, took risks, and did their best to serve the Lord and one another to the glory of God. That is my prayer for us - at Truro, at The Falls Church, and with the thousands of others who are walking this walk with us to return to the vision that Bishop Meade and Bishop Moore had for the church - to share the Good News of Jesus Christ not only in Virginia, but throughout the world. God bless them.


Jim Pierobon said...

Readers of this blog deserve to know who "jrg" is. Might this person be Joan R. Gundersen, Ph.D, the author of the article in question? -- Jim Pierobon, on behalf of Truro Church and The Falls Church

Sarah said...

RE: "Readers of this blog deserve to know who "jrg" is. Might this person be Joan R. Gundersen, Ph.D, the author of the article in question?"

LOL! Thanks, Jim -- nice catch.

And Baby Blue -- good job. Looks as if your article, er . . . hit home . . .

; > )

Inked said...

As a 11.5 year resident of Virginia, I can attest that the memories go very far back indeed. Your summation is clear and distinct and spot on regarding parishes/congregations/bishops and the effects of the Wars. As one told by my NT Professor at Clemson University, "You are going to Virginia where they will remind you, a South Carolinian, that they had to finish what you folks began - and they are not talking history; it's more like anamnesis!"

I think your should get a medal for distinguished services to the school, I do!

Inked (aka dwstroudmd)

clancy said...

Baby Blue, I looked for you at Truro last Sunday, the day before Christmas Day. Guess I missed you or you were someplace else.
Clancy, the circuit rider from Florida

BabyBlue said...

Hi Clancy,

I was at the "midnight" service (starting around 11:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve) as a Lay Eucharistic Minister - alas, I wish I could have seen you! Many blessings on your circuit ride! See you on your next round, my friend!