Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Rest of the Story

"From its beginnings, the Episcopal Church has relied on its geographic administrative units (dioceses) to preserve those claims," Joan Gunderson says. "The Convention of the Diocese of Virginia, for example, asserted as early as 1790 that it was the "sole owner" of church property. "

Really. And the Baptists and Presbyterians in Virginia told the Episcopal Church what they could do with those assertions, having full possession of what were former "Established-Church" properties after the American Revolution. The Commonwealth took the glebe lands as well.

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson did not think so highly of the former established church's assertions either. And so we have the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom (and what religious corporate entity's past proclamations and actions do we suppose was the object of grave concern in that statute?) opening the door wide to the First Amendment's protection of individual - not corporate - rights in the United States Constitution. The statute recognized the freedom to dissent.

The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom was passed by the Virginia legislature in 1786 and it's no wonder that the shrinking remnant of the established church were not pleased. Though they had sent a clergyman over to England to be consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, things did not go well back home. The Episcopal Church in Virginia fell into deep decline, not even bothering to show up for the 1811 General Convention where, it was reported, “the Church in Virginia is from various causes so depressed, that there is danger of her total ruin, unless great exertions, favoured by the blessing of Providence, are employed to raise her.”

It is no wonder, then, that antipathy rose between the Episcopalians and the Baptists in Virginia - and even continues to this day.

Then, thanks be to God, came two servant bishops, Bishop Moore and Bishop Meade, who held deep and abiding evangelical faith and they invested their time and energy in the preaching and teaching of a biblically-founded faith in Christ and dedicated their lives to evangelistic mission, establishing the Virginia Theological Seminary and encouraging revival of the Christian faith in Virginia. Their legacy is truly an amazing story - their trust was not in the properties (much of which had been lost or ruined in two wars) but in the people in their local communities. It was the local church that revived the Diocese, not the other way around.


Anonymous said...

That's quite interesting, and may explain why one pair of my colonial forebears, who were married in 1788 in Virginia by Episcopal Rev. Alex Balmain did not seem to impart successfully to any of their 10 offspring an Anglican heritage. Of the two children known to have had their own families, one became a rock-solid Presbyterian and gave rise to 4 more generations of Presbys. The other, Elizabeth Bogan Shuck, was the mother of a locally well known Baptist missionary, Jehu Lewis Shuck, who with Adoniram Judson made missionary trips to Shanghai and Hong Kong in the 1830-40s, and who started the First Baptist Church in Sacramento CA in the 1850s.
To God be the glory - but not apparently to those Virginia Episcopalians....

Rick said...

Joan Gunderson is a church historian yes? One wonders then how she thinks she can get away with such an unsustainable claim.