Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Story of One Holy Episcopal and Apostolic Church

Cliopolitan blogs from the road!

This past week I was home for the holidays, coming back to the Motherland, the Cradle of Presidents, Virginia. As it turns out I crossed the path of the most eminent of the 8 Presidents who were born in the Old Dominion--George Washington himself! The Sunday before Christmas I attended the Lessons and Carols service at The Falls Church, a very old, historic parish in my hometown--ol' GW [in between stints of fighting the French and Indian War, establishing a new Republic, posing for statues as he's just getting out of the shower and generally serving as the Father of Our Country] was actually a vestryman there!

The church dates back to the early 1700s, although its current building is not the original structure as you can tell from its coolly elegant Georgian exterior.

Note the door in the middle and the row of windows above--hallmarks of the Georgian/Federalist style.

My OCD-self has a special fondness for Georgian architecture--the buildings are so structured and pared-down and symmetrical! [What can I say--I'm a Virginian!] Early on in The Falls Church's history, George Washington, who lived near [-ish] by in Mount Vernon, was a church warden--and according to the Church's official literature, 

During the Revolutionary War, the building was a recruiting station for the Fairfax militia, and tradition holds that the Declaration of Independence was read to local citizens from the steps of the south doors.

...And now I'm thinking someone needs to write a Young Adult novel with this delicious history, a kind of southern fried-Johnny Tremain. Instead of a silversmith's apprentice who gets injured, the main character could be an acolyte or a parson's daughter who realizes that No Man Is An Island and dedicates her- or himself to the Revolutionary cause. Hijinks would include rafting down the Falls, trolling the dens of iniquity across the river in that Gomorrah across the Potomac [aka Georgetown--this would be before the District of Columbia was even conceived, much less designed and laid out--the only two cities around were Georgetown and Alexandria] and palling around with George Washington and George Fairfax. I smell another Newbery Award winner!

"Mr. Washington and Mr. Mason are SO MUCH COOLER than that crazy Mr. Otis.  I think it's the climate.  And the food."

The Church's history gets even better--I spoke with one of the parishioners that morning who told me that during the War Between the States, the church was actually used as a stable! Look, I'm an equestrian myself [what can I say--I'm a Virginian!], I appreciate that you want to bed your horses down in good quarters but in the sanctuary?! What do you think this is, the Inn at Bethlehem [or the Limelight, God forbid--literally!]?  Understandably, once the Falls Church parishioners Took Back the Night, they reconsecrated the sanctuary.  Although one wonders how long it took to get the smell out...

A few good "bells and smells" Episcopal services, and I bet that l'odeur du cheval was out in no time!

As I said, the building currently standing is not the original 1734 structure--in fact this was built in 1769 and was designed by James Wren, who also designed the Fairfax County Courthouse. [Weirdly, as far as I can find out, James Wren, Architect of English descent is no relation to Sir Christopher Wren, English Architect.

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, 
but in thy manifold and great mercies. 
We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.
But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy...

In the Anglican/Episcopalian mass, there is a palpable sense of historical continuity, as well as an amazing comfort and feeling of community.  It's kind of incredible to know you are one of millions to join in these lyrical prayers, going back for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years--back to the Tudors! [it helps knowing that Thomas Cranmer wrote much of the liturgy] --and even more so when you stand in that 200+ year-old sanctuary, intoning those ancient phrases, and realize that George freakin' WASHINGTON also stood here, saying those same words.  A communion of saints indeed, now and forever...

*As opposed to the town of Falls Church, whose settlement predates the church but which was named after the church. I know--it's confusing. To muddy matters further, both are named after the Falls of the Potomac.

**George was an extremely popular name in the Colonies and after the Revolutionary War. Pre-1776, Georges were usually named after George III [and his Hanoverian predecessors, Georges I and II], the "tyrant" who sparked the Revolution and whose hapless reign eventually devolved into insanity [and the reign of whose son inspired a whole genre of romantic novels!]. Post-1776, Washington himself was the namesake. Other famous contemporary Georges include George Mason [also a Falls Church vestryman!--and the namesake for the high school in Falls Church which I attended GO MUSTANGS], George Calvert and...well...Georgia.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe you could write the book. And call it "Johnny Deformed." Aaaaaand The Simpsons reference is all that I got.