Friday, January 05, 2007

Truro and Falls Church are church plants of the Diocese of Virginia

Joan R. Gunderson:
There is a lot of confusion and misinformation being distributed concerning the actual history of these parishes, however. Neither is the direct descendant of a colonial parish. Neither can claim George Washington as a past member of its vestry or its congregation. Both are “new” church plants from the 1830s and 1840s. In most places in the United States, founding dates in the antebellum period would be quite old enough to justify a claim of being “historic,” but these two parishes have sought the additional aura associated with George Washington and our colonial past. How “historic” are they?

When I was growing up, my family lived first in a two-story house on the north side of town, and then in a 1960s ranch on the south side. We moved from the second home in 1965. Were I to become famous, the families now living in either of these two homes might decide to call their house the “Rezner Homestead” or something similar. This would not, however, turn their family into my family. The “colonial” ties of The Falls Church and Truro Church are much like the “Rezner” ties in my story. The two parishes are in the position of families who later occupied one of our houses or moved into my hometown.
. . .
When the colonial Fairfax Parish was created, its new vestry built two churches, one at Falls Church, and one in Alexandria. Truro Parish did the same, building Pohick Church and Payne’s Chapel. [5] When the War for Independence and the disestablishment of the church in the 1780s occurred, the Fairfax Parish vestry abandoned Falls Church and operated as the vestry of Christ Church, Alexandria. In fact, over the next 30 years, the Diocese of Virginia almost faded away. Finally, under the leadership of Bishop Richard Moore, the diocese began growing again in 1814 and started to reclaim old church sites. [6]

There is no record of any visit by a bishop, or any other activity of Episcopalians, at Falls Church at any time from 1784 to 1836. In 1836, a small group of Episcopalians decided to form a new congregation at Falls Church. [7] The group petitioned for admission to the diocese, was accepted, and began raising money to fix up the derelict church building in their community. The present Falls Church congregation, therefore, dates from no earlier than 1836, though a hiatus in its operation occurred during the Civil War. The congregation has been continuous since about 1875. [8] The building of The Falls Church is thus older than the congregation. Like the second or third owners of one of my family’s houses, members of The Falls Church congregation have a building with history, but their history in that place begins when they moved in.

The Truro situation is more like a new family that has moved into town and is so proud of the town’s history that it names its house for the town’s most famous former resident. ...

Joan R. Gundersen has a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Notre Dame. She has published extensively on the history of the church in Virginia, and is currently collaborating with Edward Bond on a new history of the Diocese of Virginia to be published by the Diocese of Virginia and the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.
I guess the Washington Post got some of these facts wrong as well. George Washington didn't even sleep in the pews at either place. More likely it was Pohick.

UPDATE: Fr. Tony Clavier takes on Gunderson.

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