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Why does the Diocese of Virginia have an annual Council and not an annual Convention? It’s not always been so. Just since 1861:

Meeting in 1861 the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Confederate states adopted a constitution: There appeared to be no eager desire for change or for emphasizing the fact of separation. Nothing was attempted in the way of legislation at this time. It was felt that, until the Constitution had been ratified and adopted by the Dioceses, there could be no proper basis for canonical action; and so the whole body of Canons, prepared and reported along with the Constitution to the Convention of October, 1861, was ordered to be printed, and was referred to the first General Council to be held under the Constitution when adopted. One of the changes of the new Constitution was to substitute “Council” for “Convention” in the name of the legislative assemblies, both of the Dioceses and of the national triennial meetings…. The name Council is still retained in some of the Southern Dioceses as the designation of the annual Convention.  (Source. The Church in the Confederate States: A History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States, Chapter II, by  Joseph Blount Cheshire, D.D., Bishop of North Carolina, New York, London, Bombay and Calcutta: Longmans, Green and Co., 1912.)

Today two of those Southern Dioceses retain the name Council as the designation for their annual Convention, Virginia and Mississippi. In addition, the dioceses Southern Virginia and Southwestern Virginia use the name Council rather than Convention. Southern Virginia was created out of the Diocese of Virginia in 1892, and Southwestern Virginia out of Southern Virginia in 1919.

Please let us know if there are other dioceses with annual councils.

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The Episcopal Church of Virginia on the Civil War Home Front
(Source: http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Religion_During_the_Civil_War)

Judith McGuire, a refugee from occupied Alexandria, attended St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond on the March 27, 1863, fast day. “The churches were all crowded with worshippers,” she reported, “who, I trust, felt their dependence on God in this great struggle.”

McGuire’s comments begin to show the extent to which Virginia’s and the Confederacy’s leaders succeeded in framing the Civil War as a religious struggle. …

White churchmen who believed that they were engaged in a holy war sometimes feared that Virginians might not be righteous enough to succeed. … Clerics tried to address this fatalistic turn of white Southern religiosity by arguing that God chastened his chosen people—and that suffering was thereby a sign of white Southerners’ special relationship with God, not of their pending defeat. In a widely published sermon in January 1865, Episcopalian Charles Minnigerode preached that “[t]he might and power which our enemies bring against us, are not the might and power of God’s spirit, we may be sure—except so far as they are permitted to chasten us for our sins and train us for the hardships of a godly warfare.”

The Rev. Charles Minnigerode DD preached that sermon at St. Paul’s Episcopal, Richmond on January 1, 1865. Richmond falls in April of 1865.

More from the sermon:

 Is it not want of faith, which is the root of all that murmuring against God’s providence, that impatience at delay and the frustration of our plans, that repining under the pressure of misfortunes and losses and reverses? of that hasty spirit which charges our losses upon others, and finds relief in censure and distrust? which acts upon the impulse of the moment and forms its conclusions from the passing events of the day, judges of the favour of God by a success and of his displeasure by a reverse? which allows itself to be tossed about by changes which meet us in our earthly life, and rushes with equal thoughtlessness or recklessness–now into presumption on the crest of a prosperous wave–again into utter despondency, aye sinks down in despair, when the billows rise above us and seem ready to swallow us up.

And instead of falling into despair, and giving up and sacrificing all in pusillanimity or personal spite, manly action, which meets the stern reality with courage and, in reliance on God’s help, and trusting to his mercy, begirts itself to the work before him, and redeems the time by using every lawful means and making every reasonable exertion to do his duty and accomplish his purpose. Such, I say, are the marks of the true man, of the Christian, of the believer; who shall not make haste, but persevere under trials and against difficulties till his work is done; and who can never fail–even though here on earth he should find no other triumph but the martyr’s crown.

This is the true lesson of life, the secret of our failure or success, our victory or defeat in the problem of our existence.  …

What is it that makes the present crisis so painful?

Our reverses? NO, BRETHREN. For great as they have been, (and no honest man would hide their extent,) we have had reverses before, and God always has blessed them to us, made them the source of greater harmony among ourselves, roused us to new and greater exertions, and taught us to bear them and repair them as men. What makes the present crisis so painful and so perilous lies not in what the enemy has done to us with his armies, but in what our own coward, faithless, selfish hearts may do. The all but general despondency, the lack of faith in ourselves and in God’s assistance, the haste with which, from want of faith, many would rush to this or that wild expedient, though at the sacrifice of all that first armed us to the battle, some perhaps at the sacrifice of honour and truth…

… Let us do our duty, be faithful in our work, and we can safely leave results with God! The might and power which our enemies bring against us, are not the might and power of God’s Spirit, we may be sure–except so far as they are permitted to chasten us for our sins and train us for the hardships of a godly warfare. Trust in his Spirit and in his might and gracious promises; and that trust shall buoy us up to do our part in the work of our deliverance and independence. Oh! when I recollect what others have done in the struggle for their liberty and existence, the sacrifices they have brought….

… How true are the words of the present Governor of South Carolina, when in his Inaugural he said: “Other nations, for lesser purposes, have striven longer, endured more than we have, and won for themselves imperishable honour. Let us not hesitate in our purpose, or falter in its execution.” Aye, Brethren, no nation ever gained its freedom without suffering; and had we time to refer to the facts of history, we could easily show how true it is that others have suffered more and struggled longer….

 There have been many whose great stimulant was not the principle of national freedom and the sacred cause of constitutional and inalienable rights, but the aspiration for wealth and power and a great new empire. But “pride goeth before a fall”–can we wonder that such a fall should overtake us? But shall we be cast down and not rather take it as a solemn, painful lesson to profit by, and be led to the true and only foundation of all right and hope and prosperity? Shall it be said of us, that “we begun to build and were not able to finish?’

The question resolves itself into this: Shall we be of the number of those who, in the crucible of affliction, were found wanting, and proved themselves unworthy of the prize they fought for? or, shall we be of those who, through trials and fiery persecution, endured and glorified God, and honoured themselves and blessed their country by remaining faithful, and in every danger proved themselves true men, brave men, Christian heroes?

Errors, grave errors have been committed, no doubt. Only let us acknowledge the hand of God even there, even in our failures; and let us remember that the great error, the great difficulty is in us, in ourselves, in our own faithless hearts, and sinful lives, and selfish fears, and hasty judgments; and oh! I do pray and hope that God will have mercy upon us, and give us better minds and stout hearts and unfailing faith, that shall not make haste, that shall win the prize. But if we fall, let us fall with our faces upward, our hearts turned to God, our hands in the work, our wounds in the breast, with blessings–not curses–upon our lips; and all is not lost! We have retained our honor, we have done our duty to the last, and lived and died as the servants of God, lived in faith and died in the hope of glory.

Emphasis added.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) c. 1853)

Harriet Beecher Stowe, born this in date in 1811, followed her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), with her nonfiction book A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853). She explains the reason for writing A Key:

At different times, doubt has been expressed -whether the representations of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” are a fair representation of slavery as it at present exists…. The writer acknowledges that the book is a very inadequate representation of slavery; and it is so, necessarily, for this reason,— that slavery, in some of its workings, is too dreadful for the purposes of art. A work which should represent it strictly as it is would be a work which could not be read. And all works which ever mean to give pleasure must draw a veil somewhere, or they cannot succeed.

William Meade (1789-1862) was elected Assistant bishop of Virginia in 1829. He became the third bishop of Virginia at the death of Bishop Moore in 1841 and served as diocesan until own death in 1862.

Stowe and Meade intersect in A Key. In A Key we do not see the Meade who was troubled by slavery, who implored his recalcitrant clergy to evangelize the enslaved and who was a leading member of the American Colonization Society.  Meade’s portrait is not as simple as that. Meade was a prolific writer and this is the Meade that Stowe knows. She writes,

Concerning the absolute authority of the master, take the following extract from Bishop Mead’s sermon. (Brooke’s Slavery, pp. 30. 31, 32.)

Having thus shown you the chief duties you owe to your great Master in heaven, I now come to lay before you the duties you owe to your masters and mistresses here upon earth; and for this you have one general rule that you ought always to carry in your minds, and that is, to do all service for them as if you did it for God himself. Poor creatures! you little consider, when you are idle and neglectful of your masters’ business, when you steal and waste and hurt any of their substance, when you are saucy and impudent, when you are telling them lies and deceiving them; or when you prove stubborn and sullen, and will not do the work you are set about without stripes and vexation; you do not consider, I say, that what faults you are guilty of towards your masters and mistresses are faults done against God himself, who hath set your masters and mistresses over you in his own stead, and expects that you will do for them just as you would do for Him. And, pray, do not think that I want to deceive you when I tell you that your masters and mistresses are God’s overseers; and that, if you are faulty towards them, God himself will punish you severely for it in the next world, unless you repent of it, and strive to make amends by your faithfulness and diligence for the time to come; for God himself hath declared the same.

Now, from this general rule, — namely, that you are to do all service for your masters and mistresses as if you did it for God himself, — there arise several other rules of duty towards your masters and mistresses, which I shall endeavor to lay out in order before you.

And, in the first place, you are to be obedient and subject to your masters in all things.

And Christian ministers are commanded to “exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things, not answering them again, or gainsaying.” [Titus 2:9.] You see how strictly God requires this of you, that whatever your masters and mistresses order you to do, you must set about it immediately, and faithfully perform it, without any disputing or grumbling, and take care to please them well in all things. And for your encouragement he tells you that he will reward you for it in heaven; because, while you are honestly and faithfully doing your master’s business here, you are serving your Lord and Master in heaven. You see also that you aro not to take any exceptions to the behavior of your masters and mistresses; and that you are to be subject and obedient, not only to such as are good, and gentle, and mild, towards you, but also to such as may be froward, peevish, and hard. For you are not at liberty to choose your own masters; but into whatever hands God hath been pleased to put you, you must do your duty, and God will reward you for it.
. . . .

You are to be faithful and honest to your masters and mistresses, not purloining or wasting their goods or substance, but showing all good fidelity in all things…. Do not your masters, under God, provide for you? And how shall they be able to do this, to feed and to clothe you, unless you take honest care of everything that belongs to them? Remember that God requires this of you; and, if you are not afraid of suffering for it here, you cannot escape the vengeance of Almighty God, who will judge between you and your masters, and make you pay severely in the next world for all the injustice you do them here. And though you could manage so cunningly as to escape the eyes and hands of man, yet think what a dreadful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God, who is able to cast both soul and body into hell!

You are to serve your masters with cheerfulness, reverence, and humility. You are to do your masters” service with good will, doing it as the will of God from the heart, without any sauciness or answering again. IIow many of you do things quite otherwise, and, instead of going about your work with a good will and a good heart, dispute and grumble, give saucy answers, and behave in a surly manner! There is something so becoming and engaging in a modest, cheerful, good-natured behavior, that a little work done in that manner seems better done, and gives far more satisfaction, than a great deal more, that must be done with fretting, vexation, and the lash always held over you. It also gains the good will and love of those you belong to, and makes your own life pass with more ease and pleasure. Besides, you are to consider that this grumbling and ill-will do not affect your masters and mistresses only. They have ways and means in their hands of forcing you to do your work, whether you are willing or not. But your murmuring and grumbling is against God, who hath placed you in that service, who will punish you severely in the next world for despising his commands.

A very awful query here occurs to the mind. If the poor, ignorant slave, who wastes his master’s temporal goods to answer some of his own present purposes, be exposed to this heavy retribution, what will become of those educated men, who, for their temporal convenience, make and hold in force laws which rob generation after generation of men, not only of their daily earnings, but of all their righte and privileges as immortal beings? Read the rest of this entry »

One of the projects the Committee on Race and Reconciliation has embarked upon is a study of slave ownership by the clergy of the Diocese. The study uses as its starting point the U.S. Census of 1860, and the companion Slave Schedules, matched with the list of clergy of the diocese in 1860. The diocese at the time covered all of present day Virginia and West Virginia.

Census page – click for full size

There were some holes in our study, and today I went back to look for the Rev. Aristides Spyker Smith listed in the clergy directory as the Rev. Aristides Smith, Principal of the Norfolk Female Seminary, a private school not a theological seminary. We’d not previously found him in the 1860 U.S. Census, but today I did. Ancestry.com transcribes his first name as Austides which is perhaps why we’d located him before.

According to the census, the family lived in Norfolk County and Aristides was the head of household. His occupation is given as P.E. Clergyman and school teacher. Three other Smiths, all in their twenties, resided in the house. The two eldest were school teachers, both male. No occupation is given for the youngest, Ellen. The household also employed a white female servant, aged 16.

We’ve found most clergy in the Diocese of Virginia owned or rented at least one slave. These would not be listed by name on the U.S. Census, but rather listed under the owner’s name under the Slave Schedule. I have not found anyone on the Norfolk County Slave Schedule who is a likely or possible match with Aristides.

However, with a name as unusual as Aristides it pays to do surf the internet. It turns out that during his lifetime Aristides did rent and sell slaves:

Harrison and Smith family papers, 1857-2005

The Harrison and Smith family of Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina included Aristides Spyker Smith (1809-1892), an Presbyterian and Episcopal minister and principal of women’s schools in Virginia and Mississippi. Smith’s sons were Jonathan Reynolds (Johnnie) Smith (1836-1862) and Leonidas Wilkinson Smith (1835-1864). Also included was Smith’s daughter Ellen Alice Smith Harrison (b. 1840), her husband George Harrison (fl. 1852-1875), their daughter Sarah Walton Harrison (1868?-1891) and her husband Paul Garrett (1863-1940), and their son Aristides Smith Harrison (b. 1864) and his wife Katie Wilson Curtis, a daughter of George B. Curtis (1834-1920) of Biddeford, Maine, who traveled to Colorado in search of gold and adventure (ca. 1856), returning east and settling in Enfield, N.C. He opened a general store, and later a bank and a cotton business.

… items include a southern business directory used by Aristides Smith as a scrapbook; tax-in-kind receipts from the Confederate government; receipts for the rental and sale of slaves; notebooks of Aristides Smith on mathematics and astronomy… 

More about Aristides Spyker Smith: