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Church History

Church History

Little White Church

Dedicated To St. Paul's Church, Woodbury

In a little white church, in a little old town
    I pray each Sunday morn;
Just a very old church, in a very old town
   Where many hopes were born.

Here in old New England, folks are happy
   When they go to church to pray.
God in heaven give us strength and wisdom,
   Help us keep our freedom this way.

In a little white church, in a little old town
   I hear God's ringing call.
May the bell of our church ring beyond our old town
   Bringing hope and joy for all.

Words & music by Ben Machan

(Copyrighted 1950)

 

The history of St. Paul’s Church is unique to any other Episcopal church in all of America, for it is known as “The Birthplace of the Episcopacy in America.”  It was here in Woodbury, at Glebe House in 1783, that Samuel Seabury was elected the first Bishop of Connecticut and of the American Protestant Episcopal Church.  This fascinating story has ever since given Woodbury a singular place in Episcopal Church history.

 

The Episcopal Church arrived in Woodbury in 1740, but its significance was truly established in 1771, upon the arrival of the church’s first resident rector, John Rutgers Marshall, a most propitious choice considering the extreme difficulties of those troubled pre-American Revolution times.  All of the Episcopal Church’s New England clergy were considered Tories and treated as such, with John Marshall even suffering physical abuse and house arrest.  Despite all this, Marshall trod a truly patriotic path.

 

With the conclusion of the War for Independence, Marshall turned his enormous spiritual and intellectual energies to the growth of St. Paul’s Church and especially the American Episcopacy.  Most notably, he addressed the need for an American Bishop, without whom neither confirmation nor ordination could be had in this land.  John Marshall’s natural gift of leadership became a force in this matter.

 

At Marshall’s invitation, ten Episcopal clergymen convened in secret on March 25, 1783, at Glebe House in Woodbury (Marshall’s home).  There they elected the Rev. Samuel Seabury as the first Bishop of Connecticut and of the American Episcopal Church.  It is this “Convention of the Immortal Ten” which established the basic organization of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America, the certainty of Apostolic Succession and, thanks to Bishop Seabury’s influence, the organization of the House of Bishops.

 

Two months later, Seabury sailed for England to be consecrated.  However, as a now-loyal American, he could not take the prerequisite oath of allegiance to King George, making consecration by the Archbishop of Canterbury impossible.  Since the Scottish bishops carried on independently of Canterbury, Seabury accepted their invitation for consecration at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Aberdeen, seat of the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney.  Over a year later, on November 14, 1784, Samuel Seabury was at last consecrated as Bishop of Connecticut and the American Episcopal Church.  Thus are Woodbury, St. Paul’s and Glebe House to the National Episcopal Church what Philadelphia and Independence Hall are to the Nation.

 

By the early 1780’s, secular and religious peace had come to America, and John Marshall’s little Episcopal congregation felt ready to construct its own church building, having always held its services in other church’s meeting houses. Begun April 1, 1785, the building was fully constructed and enclosed by June 1, 1786, but funds were exhausted. Therefore, in August, 1786, Glebe House was sold, and the proceeds of that sale were used to finish the interior of the church.  In November, 1787, the first service was held in St. Paul’s Church.

 

In 1784 the Woodbury Town Authority gave permission to the “Episcopal Society of Woodbury” to build a church aside the “Burying Ground.” The main portion of the church as it is today held its first service in November, 1787. But it was 1822 before the building was fully complete and consecrated. 

 

In 1961, a new parish house was attached to the church. The land under the parish house had belonged to the Town of Woodbury, which sold the property to the church in 1959 for $1.00.