Founded in 1861, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church is the sixth oldest historically African American congregation in the Episcopal Church, as well as the first to be founded in the American South.
St. Philip’s Episcopal Church
Nestled in historic Northside Richmond, the church has provided more than 150 years of rich Christian history and service to the greater Richmond community. Today, St. Philip’s membership consists of approximately 280 members of predominantly African descent and diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.
The dynamic history of this congregation began in 1861 as a mission of St. James’ Church. The founding members were either freemen and women or indentured servants of Virginia aristocrats and landowners. For four years, the congregation thrived, offering a multitude of services to its members including a school. At the end of the Civil War in 1865, the church structure was destroyed under mysterious circumstances. Despite that devastating loss, the church itself remained intact as the congregation continued to meet in the homes of various members.
Timeline and Quick Facts
If you are interested in learning more about the full history of St. Philip’s, plans are underway to publish a full history of the parish – tentatively to be released surrounding the parish’s 160th anniversary celebration (fall 2021).
Asst. Bishop of Virginia, the Rt. Rev. John Johns, diocesan officials, and liberal members of St. James’s, St. Paul’s, and Monumental Church generate the idea for a “colored congregation in Richmond.” St. James’s Church assisted primarily provided assistant ministers to conduct afternoon Sunday services including the Rev. Dr. Joshua Peterkin, Rev. Pike Powers, Rev. George W. Dame, Rev. J.B. Winchester intermittently between 1861 and 1879.
First service celebrated at St. Philip’s on the first Sunday of November by the Reverend H.S. Kepler at the church’s first location at North Fourth Street between Jackson and Leigh Streets. The Civil War begins and Richmond becomes the capital of the Confederacy. Services would continue throughout the war until about 1864.
Congregation is in state of disarray because of the war. The Sunday school flourishes with over 200 pupils, despite the parish’s low membership. Black people leave the Episcopal Church in droves following Emancipation in 1865 for the Baptist and Methodist Churches.
St. Philip’s and its flourishing Sunday school featured in Harper’s Weekly. The Sunday school, originally staffed by St. James’s members, became a Freedmen’s School in the 1860s and continued as a full school well into the 1890s with Black and white teachers. The Sunday and later parish school taught reading, writing, arithmetic, sewing, woodworking, and music.
First extant vestry minutes recorded – presided over by the Rev. Rev. J.S. Atwell, the first Black ordained minister in the Diocese of Virginia and St. Philip’s first Black priest. St. James’s rector, Dr. Peterkin is present at early vestry meetings. St. Philip’s moves to St. Mark’s Chapel at Foushee (now St. James) and Leigh Streets.
The parish (like the Episcopal Church in other cities) begins to attract many of Richmond’s Black prominent and professional citizens – including Josiah Crump, among first Black men to sit on Richmond’s Common Council, Dr. John C. Ferguson, the surgeon of the Central Lunatic Asylum and builder of the Maggie Walker House, and Addie Johnson, church choir director and member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
The Rev. Thomas White Cain is called as St. Philip’s first permanent Black rector. An 1879 graduate of Bishop Payne Seminary, Cain organizes and grows the congregation, positioning St. Philip’s on the long road to independent control.
St. Philip’s constructs a brick edifice at St. James and Leigh Streets. The congregation continues to grow. Lighting fixtures are donated in part by St. James’s members.
Silas Shackleford, Sr., St. Philip’s senior warden and vestryman who also served as St. James’s sexton for thirty years dies.
St. Philip’s becomes a self-sustaining parish under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Junius L. Taylor and wardens Dr. William H. Hughes and J. Thomas Hewin, Sr. Esq.
St. Philip’s is admitted to Diocesan Council (now Convention) in 1937. St. Philip’s rector, the Rev. Dr. Junius L. Taylor is laid to rest at St. James’s Church in an integrated service.
St. Philip’s moves to 2900 Hanes Avenue in Barton Heights, Northside.