Tappahannock Presbyterian Church

Tappahannock, Virginia

     
     
 

Early Presbyterian Presence in Essex County

Presbyterians had a difficult time establishing their church in the early days of Colonial Virginia, as did the Methodists, Baptists, and any denominations other than Anglican, the Church of England which was the official church.

An interesting journey led one Rev. Samuel Davies down from Delaware, across the Northern Neck, and through the Middle Peninsula before he settled in Hanover County around 1748. As noted in James B. Slaughter’s Settlers, Southerners, Americans: A History of Essex County, from the Davies Presbyterian movement sprang the first known group of religious dissenters in Essex history. Presbyterians who refused to join the Anglican church but instead wished to pursue the religion they had practiced in Scotland were known as Dissenters.

In 1758 a group of 41 men petitioned the Essex Court to announce their determination to practice their own brand of protestantism. Many of the names are familiar in Essex County today: Tate, Turner, Clarke, Ramsey, Davis, and Dunn, among others. These Presbyterians sought to live peacefully with the Essex Anglican establishment. By registering with the Court as required by the Act of Tolerance the Presbyterians were allowed to not pay their tithes to the state church.

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Reverend Samuel Davies   Reverend Samuel Davies - A History of Essex County, from the Davies Presbyterian movement sprang the first known group of religious dissenters in Essex history. Presbyterians who refused to join the Anglican church but instead wished to pursue the religion they had practiced in Scotland were known as Dissenters. A present member of Tappahannock Presbyterian Church, Susan Davies Spage, is a direct descendant of Samuel Davis. A former member of the church, Anne Davies Tribble, was also a direct descendent of Rev. Davies.

England maintains control through the Anglican Church

Anglicans controlled not only the churches but the government and they became concerned about the popularity of traveling Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian preachers. Despite warnings issued from the Colonial government that itinerant preachers were not to be allowed to roam through the countryside, evangelical Presbyterian preachers continued to bring their powerful “message of salvation to the common folk.” Many Essex families undoubtedly attended Rev. Davies’ famous revivals in Hanover County. The distance was too far, though, for regular attendance. When he preached through the Northern Neck in the 1750’s he probably rekindled the enthusiasm of Essex families as he came back across the Rappahannock. It is recorded that there was Presbyterian worship, but the Essex Presbyterian church remains a mystery. When the Baptists swept Essex in the 1770’s this even more evangelic faith probably absorbed the Presbyterians. Much of the history of Presbyterians in both the Northern Neck and Essex was lost to fire and looters prior to the uprising for independence in 1776. Unlike the Anglicans, Presbyterians were fully behind this independence from England.

No recorded activity for 100 years

With the exception of missionary preachers moving through Richmond, Lancaster and Northumberland Counties in 1792 there is no record of further Presbyterian activity in the Northern Neck until the 1880’s.

In 1883 the Reverend William Addison Campbell became the Evangelist for East Hanover Presbytery. On April 11, 1886 Mr. Campbell preached in a blacksmith’s shop at Sharp’s Wharf in Richmond County. At Mr. Campbell’s request the Reverend L. H. Baldwin of Norfolk spent about 10 days in Richmond County during that summer. He held some services in Warsaw but held most of his services at Sharp’s Wharf.

Throughout the next few years he organized a congregation and prepared to build a church. On October 24, 1887 Mr. and Mrs. D. W. Sharp deeded land for the construction of a church. On April 1, 1888 the church, named Milden Presbyterian, was organized. It was named for the village of Milden. This community has later become known as Sharps.

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Milden Presbyterian Church, built in 1840   Milden Presbyterian Church, built in 1840 - Throughout the next few years he organized a congregation and prepared to build a church. On October 24, 1887 Mr. and Mrs. D. W. Sharp deeded land for the construction of a church. On April 1, 1888 the church, named Milden Presbyterian, was organized. It was named for the village of Milden. This community has later become known as Sharps.

History of Tappahannock Presbyterian Chapel

The Tappahannock Presbyterian Chapel NCD (New Church Development) began life as a Chapel of Milden Presbyterian Church in Sharps, Virginia, across the Rappahannock River from Tappahannock. It was conceived in June, 1994 by the Rev. Dr. Merle Bland Dudley, Rev. Carson Rhyne, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the James, and Rev. Bill Nichols, member of the New Church Development Committee of the Presbytery.

The history of Tappahannock Presbyterian is a story of starting over-and over. It is a story of strong resolve and a close church family. It is a story of God’s love and faithfulness.

In May of 1995, just as the publicity to the community about a new Presbyterian Church was about to begin, Dr. Dudley had a fatal heart attack and all preparations came to a halt. At the end of that summer announcements appeared in the paper inviting people interested in seeing a Presbyterian Church in Tappahannock, and in September the Rev. Robert McBath, age 74, and his wife Dora accepted with much enthusiasm an invitation to come up from Atlanta from their retirement home to pastor the new church.

Sadly, Mr. McBath suffered declining health and, despite his hopes for the new church, his infirmity forced him to resign in 1998 . A Pastor Nominating Committee was formed and the Chapel was served with Sunday pulpit supply for almost 2 years. The Rev. Dr. Thomas Coye, pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian in Kilmarnock, moderated the meetings of the Steering Committee as a representative of the New Church Development Committee. Dr. Coye remained a faithful supporter and valuable advisor through the years until 2005 when the Rev. Dr. Bill Morris accepted the call as Evangelist to the Chapel, a position conferred upon him by the Presbytery.

There was a succession of full-time, supply, and interim pastors between 1999 and 2005. With each change, caused by personal issues of the called pastors, there was an emotional upheaval within the congregation and loss of some membership. During this time, though, the congregation that remained carried on in the “Presbyterian way” with traditional services, special offerings, adult and children’s Christian education, fellowship activities, and community outreach.

In 2003 Tappahannock Presbyterian hosted a seminar of leaders who addressed the congregation about the needs in the community. The amount of need was overwhelming for a little congregation. Two of the TPC members called together leaders from 7 churches of different denominations and races to discuss the possibility of working together in mission. In May 2004 an active enclave of 18 churches gathered together and formed Essex Churches Together, and this organization, still led by those TPC leaders, has been a blessing to the church and to the community. It has brought together over 30 churches who regularly send representatives to monthly meetings, share information, hear about needs in the community and report back to their churches. Essex Churches Together plans and implements a mission day of tremendous proportion called Operation Inasmuch. In 2012 there were over 60 projects performed in Essex County by over 800 people, and major leadership and support came from Tappahannock Presbyterian Chapel.

The Chapel then worshiped in a rented building shared by the Tappahannock Dialysis Center. Bursting at the seams, the seating capacity is about 55 and the usual Sunday attendance is in the 40’s, occasionally reaching 50. The congregation took the summer of 2010 as a time of discernment with prayer and monthly meetings to determine the best course to take- to rent a larger space or step out in faith, once more, to build a church of its own. It was prayerfully and unanimously decided that with Dr. Morris’ leadership and the enthusiasm and leadership of present members of the congregation, now is the time to build our own space in which to worship, and from which to serve our neighbors in the name of Christ.

Once more fate intervened, and Dr. Morris’s shocking diagnoses of advanced pancreatic cancer put momentary skids on the plans. Actions were in place to meet the many requirements before being chartered, including reporting, financial commitment, and strength of membership.

Stability of goals and unity of purpose, factors in the survival of a Chapel, had been documented. With the Steering Committee acting as the Pastor Nominating (Search) committee, the Rev. Dr. John William Turner agreed to pastor TPC on a part-time basis. One year from his date of diagnosis Bill Morris left his earthly home, leaving behind a solid preparation for the church to move ahead.

On October 14, 2012, Tappahannock Presbyterian Chapel became a chartered member of the Presbytery of the James. This was recognition on the part of the denomination that here is a vital witness to our Lord. Ground was broken in the summer of 2013 for a new church building, an architecturally unique structure. The location is at the corner of Kino Road ND U.S. 360, directly across from the Chevrolet Dealership. Work was completed in March 2014; the first worship service in the new building was held on March 30, 2014. Among the features of this new church building is a full pipe organ, highly energy efficient lighting and equipment, a beautiful high-ceilinged narthex with a beautiful cross, visible from 360, and a modern kitchen.

Tappahannock Presbyterian from its onset has seen mission as the key function of the church. TPC maintained this activity through participation and leadership in Essex Churches Together and Operation Inasmuch, involvement with the Christmas Mother Program, support of the Essex High School Pride program, giving to the Summer Literacy Program, contributing to the Essex Social Services Special Fund, and support of food banks in Essex County. The congregation also contributes to the Presbyterian benevolence offerings for world missions.

Says The Rev. Carson Rhyne, Jr., General Presbyter and Stated Clerk of the Presbytery, “The Presbytery of the James is excited about the establishment of a Presbyterian witness in Essex County. The members of the Tappahannock Presbyterian Church have been faithful for many years in seeing this congregation become a reality. The congregation has already made a significant contribution to the life of the community and will be a powerful witness for years to come. God has truly blessed this group of disciples.”
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Research for this article by Alice Roye / Updated November 2012
     
     
 

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204 Kino Road ~ PO Box 983 ~ Tappahannock, VA 22560 ~ 804-443-9977