Saturday, October 18, 2008
THE FALLS, CHRIST CHURCH, and "OLD VIRGINNY"
I know some of you read through the fundamentalist blogs, and have read about the new twist in the Fairfax County court case that involves The Falls Church, Truro Church, and several other CANA churches (mostly plants of the two large churches). Here's a brief backgrounder on how Christ Church fits into the larger picture of the Diocese of Virginia.
Prior to the Revolutionary War, the Church of England was the state-sponsored religion in Virginia, one of the original thirteen colonies. The colony was divided into parishes that included three or four chapels and a church farm, known as a glebe. The residents of the area supported their local parish through taxes; even those who worshiped in other traditions were required to pay the tax, making it rather unpopular. Income from the glebe farms contributed to the living expenses of the parish priest.
Each parish was controlled by a vestry of the local, wealthy landowners. Circa 1760 the geographical are that included our modern-day Christ, The Falls, Truro and Pohick churches was considered Fairfax County and Truro Parish. The vestry included some rather notable citizens: George Washington, George Mason, and George Fairfax.
It is important to stop here and note something important. There was no "Truro Church" in that time period, because a parish wasn't a church, but an administrative area.
Onward. Eventually the Truro vestry financed and commissioned four sturdy brick chapels in the parish, and it was during the time period that Fairfax Parish was carved from Truro Parish. The modern photo of Christ Church at the top of this post will show you their basic construction - just omit the bell tower. Two buildings eventually resided in Fairfax Parish (Alexandria/Christ Church, The Falls) and two in Truro (Pohick, Payne's). Three of these four buildings are still standing, with various additions additions and interior renovations: Pohick, Christ Church, and The Falls. Payne's Church was destroyed during the Civil War, and do note it was not on the property of the current Truro Church.
The story of how the former Church of England unraveled after the Revolutionary War is a sad one. Suffice to say the locals were happy to end taxation in support of the former state church, as many of them were active in other denominations. Chapels were deserted, the glebe farms were largely repossesed by the Commonwealth/state, and eventually in the northern part of the state there was but one active congregation: the chapel at Alexandria, Christ Church. This is where the vestry of Fairfax Parish consolidated and retreated, and helped the Episcopal Church in Virginia regain strength and develop self-supporting churches. On a "wing and a prayer," Virginia and Christ Church held together for the generation of William Meade.
You will read much about the vestry of Christ Church being the legal "descendant" of the Truro Parish vestry and trustees. There are limits to this and it is only acurate for the part of Truro that became Fairfax Parish. The Truro Parish vestry handled the purchase of land for what we know as the historic chapel of The Falls Church. By 1765 The Falls chapel was in Fairfax Parish, and that is the line and link that was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in the 19th century, and the Fairfax courts today.
Please note that this is a history of the legal, trustee (vestry) relationship of what was Fairfax Parish, including The Falls Church and Christ Church. It is not a history of those that worshiped there, because individual chapels did not elect vestries. I have not addressed what happened in the rebuilding of the Church, or what happened to the land deeds for the Fairfax Parish chapels and glebe farms. I have omitted large time periods to pare this down, and it is still rather long.
We all need to absorb this background before making any sense of what is happening the the Virginia courts now. Briefer reviews distort history, and make the idea of Christ Church, Alexandria "owning" part of The Falls property seem rather incredulous. Some people even speculate that the current vestry of Truro Church might have trustee powers over the land that includes the original chapels of Christ Church, The Falls Church, and Pohick Church - just because of the name "Truro."
I certainly invite questions and comments, and promise to pick up the trail. Meanwhile, I want to remind all who maintain their loyalty to the Episcopal Church that Christ Church was never one of the parishes that was considered a likely candidate for separation to CANA. The members of Christ Church had a lengthy period of full, open discussion about the consecration of Bishop Robinson - and indeed all LGBT individuals in leadership positions - including a review of relevant scripture. This is well-documented in parish publications, and the congregation is generally well-heeled, highly educated and opinionated. The idea that we are lackeys of Bishop Peter Lee is rather laughable. Yes, I said "we;" I am a member of Christ Church, Alexandria, and a native of the Washington, DC area - a child of the Diocese of Washington, baptized and confirmed. I have written this from extensive (though amateur) research, and a lifetime of knowledge of our metro area. As they say...beware of impostors!
And please pray for us tomorrow morning at 10:15 a.m. as the congregation discusses and votes on the request of the Diocese to cede a quitclaim to The Falls deed. Our involvement in the lawsuits has been because of a fluke of history, and has brought heavy hearts indeed.
Update 10/19/2008: Sorry, I omitted my reference list for those who want to do some additional reading on this topic.
Slaughter, Philip: The History of Truro Parish in Virginia, (Originally published in 1907, reprinted with notes and introduction by Edward L. Goodwin in 2003 by Clearfield Company in 2003.)
Reports and Cases Adjudged in the Supreme Court of the United States, February Term, 1824. See Mason vs. Muncaster.
Holmes, David L.: A Brief History of the Episcopal Church, Trinity Press International, 1993.