Colonial Churches in Virginia

Colonial Churches in Virginia

Colonial Churches in Virginia

Colonial Churches in Virginia

Excerpt

Virginia parsons in the Colonial days had a rather bad name which was by no means altogether deserved. One suspects that much of the discredit thrown on the cloth came from Patrick Henry's speech in the famous Parsons' Cause, 1763, when he attempted to make out the ministers to be grasping and selfish because they sought what was legally theirs. Parsons were paid sixteen thousand pounds of tobacco a year when tobacco was cheap and were paid in money when tobacco was high, a system that insured their poverty under any circumstances. They revolted, and Henry denounced them for presuming to demand a living wage.

If an institution is to be judged by its fruits--a test seldom applied--the Colonial church in Virginia had a distinctly noble side. For we should not forget that that glorious Revolutionary generation, including George Wythe, Richard Bland, George Mason, Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and many others, was raised in the Colonial church and largely obtained its ethical ideas there. These men applied the principles of Christianity to public life in a remarkable degree. They built the republic on the basis of honesty, justice, tolerance, kindness. The American republic was, above all other things, an essay in practical Christianity.

The Colonial church was easy-going as regards doctrines and life, and yet it left its impress on the generations it served. There were churches built in good taste and served by parons who were scholars if they were not religious enthusiasts. That they were over-fond of fox-hunting and sometimes took a bit too much wine is true, but as they were also the schoolmasters they were perhaps entitled to a little relaxation. A man who preached on Sunday and buried and married, as well as taught six days in the week, was pretty busy. The parsons were farmers besides.

The people who attended church in Colonial days were possibly not very religious, but they were religious enough to attend church in unheated buildings and ride to church horseback through roads feet deep in mud. That they needed the Dissenters is true and that the Dissenters raised the moral tone of Virginia is also true, but the people of the Colonial church had many virtues and their system had its virtues. A law that required everybody to attend church once in a while may offend our ideas of religious freedom, yet it is a good thing to go to church once in a while, even if one goes only in order to avoid a fine.

The Colonial churches are among the important historical relics of Virginia. The most impressive spot in the whole State is the church tower at Jamestown, sole remains of the first settlement. St. Luke's Church, Isle of Wight County, is a beautiful monument of the past, and Bruton Church, Williamsburg, is a center that made possible the restoration of the ancient capital. Christ Church, Lancaster County, carries one back bodily into the eighteenth century . . .

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