Religious freedom in Virginia

1642 – Vestry system adopted by the legislature although opposed by overseeing bishop in London. It gave powers not given in the England including the right to choose ministers, and to terminate them.

1750s – Baptists sometimes imprisoned for being Baptists.

1776 – Episcopal ministers, as members of the government, required to swear oath of loyalty to the state (and, thereby, disavow their previous loyaly oath to the crown).

1780 – Tax support for Episcopal clergy salary ends.

1869 – African American clergy admitted to Council, but their congregations are not.

1886 – Council creates a “Colored-Missionary District” within the diocese. In 1889 the district is allowed representation at council but only on matters pertaining to race. Clergy representation shrinks.

1895 – Mary E. Jones admitted as candidate for the order of deaconess.


“Parochial reports of 1919 listed thirteen women serving as treasurers in congregations and two as vestry clerks or registrars. By 1930 women were quietly serving on the vestry-equivalents at small missions, and one was listed as a warden in 1936. Women also became paid church professionals.”

1927 – Women allowed to serve as trustees of the Church Schools corporation.

1890 – Diocese of Virginia approved creation a diocesan-wide women’s auxiliary.

1930 – Women allowed to vote at parish meetings.

1931 – Constitutional amendment of the diocese restores voice and vote to all resident African-American clergy.

1937 – St. Philips first black congregation admitted to full membership.

1949 – “After consulting with the Colored Convocation and having its unanimous support, the diocese erared all mention of race and the convocation from its constitution and canons.

1951 – Virginia Theological Seminary is integrated.

Late 1950s – Camps and conference centers opened to blacks.

1955 – General Convention changes constitution to allow presidents of diocesan women’s auxiliaries to have have voice and vote at annual conventions.

1961 – First black enters a St. Stephen’s School.

1964 – “Female deacons gained the right to marry.”

1967 – “Diocese of Virginia finds itself in deep financial trouble by 1967 as angry conservatives responded to the Episcopal Church’s support of civil rights and urban renewal by withholding pledges so that the money would be available for [its] national initiatives.

1967 – Council voted to allow women to serve on vestries.

1974 – VTS faculty voted unanimously in favor of women’s ordination.

“Virginia’s diocesan, Bishop Robert Hall, attempted to gain permission to regularize [Alison] Cheek’s ordination, but the House of Bishops refused his request….”

1976 – General Convention changes canons to allow ordination of women starting in 1977. Several are ordained in the diocese after the first of the year.

2003 – Bishop “Lee revealed that his decision to confirm Gene Robinson’s election as bishop of New Hampshire rested not only, or even mostly, on questions of diocesan autonomy but on his understanding of Acts 15, finding in the passage clear support from the early church leader’s decision to adapt ‘the requirements of Jewish law to the realities of the gentile world” for a vision of an inclusive church.”

Source: Edward L. Bond and Joan R. Gunderson, “The Episcopal Church in Virginia, 1607-2007,” Virginia Magazine, Vol 115, No 2.

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