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Reflecting on the History of Truro Parish in Virginia
BabyBlueOnline ^ | 12/28/2006 | Baby Blue

Posted on 12/30/2006 9:11:23 AM PST by sionnsar

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?

posted by BabyBlue at 11:31 AM  


Anonymous said...

Sources and citations, please?

1:51 PM  

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!


3:03 PM  

Anonymous said...

It's very helpful, thank you!

3:24 PM

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 12/30/2006 9:11:26 AM PST by sionnsar
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2 posted on 12/30/2006 9:12:19 AM PST by sionnsar (††|Iran Azadi| 5yst3m 0wn3d - it's N0t Y0ur5 (SONY) | UN: Useless Na)
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To: sionnsar

Very interesting account by Babyblue. Relation to TJ are not limited to Virginians, I am a first cousin, many times removed via Tennessee and Arkansas.

The Anglican church in Wiesbaden, Germany is under joint dominion of the Bishop of London (as a mission church) and the American Church in Europe. The church was established by the Duke of Hesse in respect of the British expats living in Wiesbaden during the Victorian era. During WWI, the rector locked the church, turned the key over to the local German authorities. They returned the church in perfect condition at war's end. The Nazis were not so kind, they used the church as a garage for Gestapo motorcycles and the 8th Air Force put a bomb through the roof. When the Air Force put their headquarters at Wiesbaden, the church joined the American Church in Europe, but remained with the Bishop of London as well.

The Rev. Martin Neimoller was both a member and Vestryman of this church. Nice man, but might be said to be the founder of this secular humanist downturn through his leadership of the World Council of Churches.

3 posted on 12/30/2006 10:46:35 AM PST by centurion316 (Democrats - Supporting Al Qaida Worldwide)
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To: centurion316

Interesting. Thanks!

4 posted on 12/30/2006 10:52:57 AM PST by sionnsar (††|Iran Azadi| 5yst3m 0wn3d - it's N0t Y0ur5 (SONY) | UN: Useless Na)
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To: sionnsar
How do the Episcipalians think they have title to the Falls Church?

Did the Anglicans sign it over?

This will be a looooong legal battle.

5 posted on 12/30/2006 11:03:10 AM PST by patton (Sanctimony frequently reaps its own reward.)
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To: patton
The Dennis Canon, passed ca. 1980, holds that the property belongs to ("is held in trust for") the diocese.

There is a question of whether or not the Dennis Canon was properly ratified. There are other issues involved, but I think the Dennis Canon is on weak ground in VA.

6 posted on 12/30/2006 11:48:48 AM PST by sionnsar (††|Iran Azadi| 5yst3m 0wn3d - it's N0t Y0ur5 (SONY) | UN: Useless Na)
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To: sionnsar
I know nothing of the cannon - but, title deeds in VA are pretty clear. X owned, sold it to Y, who sold it to Z, etc.

Like I said, it is a darn interesting question. In the case of the Falls Church, the property was donated to the Anglican church prior to the American revolution.

I don't know that another title transfer has been recorded.

7 posted on 12/30/2006 12:04:29 PM PST by patton (Sanctimony frequently reaps its own reward.)
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To: patton

My understanding of Virginia law, which I believe trumps canon law, is that a congregation, on voting to leave a demonination carries its church property with it. I would be interested to know what entity is listed on the title for Falls Church, and the other congregations of the old Truro Parish.

8 posted on 12/30/2006 12:13:12 PM PST by centurion316 (Democrats - Supporting Al Qaida Worldwide)
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To: centurion316

here is the property record:


9 posted on 12/30/2006 1:08:03 PM PST by patton (Sanctimony frequently reaps its own reward.)
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To: patton

I'm no lawyer, but I'd think that they have a pretty strong case. I heard Fred Barnes, a member of Falls Church, say that the congregation was prepared to pay the diocese for the property. Doesn't seem to me that they need to do that.

10 posted on 12/30/2006 1:52:12 PM PST by centurion316 (Democrats - Supporting Al Qaida Worldwide)
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To: centurion316
nor am I a lawyer - but, how does the bishop recon he has a claim to it at all?

Let him produce a deed from the parish, saying he bought it.

11 posted on 12/30/2006 1:55:18 PM PST by patton (Sanctimony frequently reaps its own reward.)
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