At the end of a newspaper conference last month in Washington, D.C., my wife and I took an afternoon to explore Alexandria, Va. The city is on the Potomac River and only a short ride via the train. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority is a convenient way to navigate in the capital city area. The Metro stop was a short walk from the hotel where we were staying. After two concentrated days of newspaper and political business and talk Carol was ready for a shopping trip.
The streets in old Alexandria were lined with shops, restaurants and galleries and bustling with people, bicycles, and dogs. The brick sidewalks add a lot to the culture of the area but made it a little difficult to walk. From where we exited the Metro it was about 13 long blocks until we reached the plaza area on the river. There appeared to be about as many locals enjoying a sunny afternoon in the area as there were tourists, indicating to me it is a popular destination on weekends.
I was reminded again of the rich history of the Revolutionary era that is present in Virginia. Several years ago my daughter and I visited western Virginia for the funeral of a family member. While there we included a sight-seeing excursion and as I was showing her around, she was tying the names of counties and battlefields to the history classes she had in school.
One of the “must see” stops on our walking tour, we were told, was Historic Christ Church that was completed in 1773. The church’s history as a house of worship has been continuous. The parish of 2,000 communicants has four Sunday services each week and is open to the public for guided tours during the week. The building appears today as it has essentially, since it was restored in the 1890s.
Reading the history of the church building I was struck by the fact that I was also reading the history the American Episcopal Church. The Church of England was the established church of Virginia, part of, and protected by the government. According to literature in the church, the Virginia Colony was divided into geographical areas of church administration called parishes. All residents were members of the parish and were required to pay taxes for its support. In return the parish provided religious services and the colonial equivalent of modern social and welfare services.
The end of the American War of Independence required the organization of the American Episcopal Church, an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. In Virginia the change meant the end of government support and protection for parishes, like Christ Church.
Thanks in large part to George Washington, and other local supporters the parish was able to survive which was not the case for many other parishes in Virginia. Church historians credit Washington’s reputation for also preserving Christ Church during the Civil War – when the U.S. Army occupied Alexandria in 1861. Many churches were seized for use as hospitals and stables but U.S. Army chaplains conducted services in Christ Church and the interior of the church remained unscathed. One can see the confluence of history of both domestic wars inside Christ Church. George Washington’s pew is still preserved in its original configuration. General Robert E. Lee who joined the Confederacy was confirmed in Christ Church and attended services throughout his life there when he was in the area.
Standing inside Christ Church over 200 years later and reading the early history of the Episcopal Church, I could not help but put it into a modern context. Whereas it was a war with England that necessitated the creation of a separate province of the Anglican Communion, today it is the differences in church beliefs and practices of The Episcopal Church which are moving some parishes to separate from it. According to the Rt. Rev. Jack L. Iker, Bishop of Fort Worth, a leader of the separate movement, revisionists are in control. Iker says they favor updating the Episcopal Church to make it more acceptable to popular norms and contemporary times, rather than having it remain faithful to the historic faith and practice of the ancient church. Iker said we must separate – we must realign – in order to remain orthodox.
The early Episcopal Church in America survived the separation of church and state. It will be interesting to see if at a time when many churches of other denominations are modernizing their services in an effort to attract more young people, if the orthodox approach will be as successful.
It was correctly pointed out to me this week that in my column on April 4 I made an error with vocabularly. I referenced a Bulletin report where allegations had been made against Commissioner Steve Adams, I wrote there were charges made. There have not been any charges brought against Adams.
Robert Brincefield is vice president and publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday. He may be reached by e-mail at bob.brincefield@