Our history marks our rural and humble beginnings
The Church of Our Saviour Oatlands began during the Civil War when local residents, unable to travel far because their horses had been requisitioned by one army or the other, gathered for worship in the Oatlands Plantation blacksmith shop. After the Civil War, thanks to the generosity of the historic Carter family, a church building was constructed and then consecrated on August 21, 1878. We built our first parish hall in 1910, gained independence from larger parishes in 1973, and had running water by 1978 and a full-time priest by 1980.
…the story of a parish with an indomitable soul and an enduring commitment to traditional Anglican worship…
Our history is still evolving
In 2016, the Church of Our Saviour moved to a new building and 26-acre former farm on the north side of the Oatlands Plantation, where we now have room to grow. Our new building reflects the same desire for permanence as the old, being a solid masonry structure designed to last hundreds of years. The style is simple but beautiful, just like the Gospel taught within it. And while enduring it is also humble, like the Saviour we worship. This move also marked our affiliation with the Reformed Episcopal Church, founded in 1873 and now part of the Anglican Church in North America. Our home is new but we continue to remain steadfastly committed to Scriptural worship in the authentic Anglican tradition.
A Short History of Church of Our Saviour at Oatlands
By Laurie S. Kelly
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I volunteered to write this short narrative of our Church history because it is a compelling story. Our church’s history is replete with names, events, and dates, the most important of which I have attempted to include here. But embedded in that factual narrative is what I believe is the more important story: the story of a parish with an indomitable soul and an enduring commitment to traditional Anglican worship. This short narrative is a derivative work. I have relied overwhelmingly on the documentation of events in Augusta Adams’ 2001 book and I used interviews with members, newspaper articles and other sources to reconstruct the events that took place in more recent years.
Part One – The Earliest Years
The parish’s beginnings are not well documented. We know it began humbly, probably in a log cabin on the Oatlands Plantation. That log cabin seems to have had various functions — a church on Sundays and a schoolhouse, a general store, and smithy on other days. It was the only place of worship in a radius of about five miles; it served Episcopalians and anyone else who wished to worship there. The earliest church records date from January 1871 when the Reverend Sewall S. Hepburn 1 received a call to assist the Reverend Richard Terrell Davis, Rector of St. James Church, Leesburg. Rev. Hepburn was assigned a ministry that encompassed an area of about 15 x 24 miles and his congregations included Christ Church Goresville (now Lucketts), Catoctin Union Church near Hamilton, and Oatlands. Records indicate that Rev. Hepburn preached twice monthly at each of the small churches and at St. James. He noted in an 1875 report to the Diocese that the Oatlands congregation had increased to the point that they were planning to build a brick church and he feared that twice-monthly services were insufficient to sustain the congregation. Mr. George Carter, then-owner of Oatlands Plantation, funded the building of a church on the property with about $700 in cash and materials (about $17,300 in today’s dollars). The congregation raised additional funds through “fairs and strawberry festivals” and acquired more donated materials. Rev. Davis oversaw the building of the new church that began in 1876.
The original shape of the building was a simple rectangle with a pitched roof. Notably, there was no cross over the bell tower – such adornments were allegedly considered “pope-ish” – and it was feared that the bishop might refuse to consecrate the church if there were a cross inside or atop the building. However, the builders had placed a cross in brick relief over the front door 2.
The Most Reverend Francis M. Whittle, Bishop of Virginia, consecrated the Church of Our Saviour at Oatlands on August 21, 1878. By this time, Rev. Hepburn retired and Rev. Davis again took on the duty at Oatlands in addition to his duty at St. James. By providence, an English clergyman named Reverend Mr. Donaldson settled in the Oatlands community. He began presiding at services when Rev. Davis was preaching elsewhere. For the first time, with the services of the two ministers, the Oatlands church held weekly worship services. Mr. Donaldson eventually presided full time. He established a fund out of collection-plate donations that acquired the church’s first organ.
Hard times followed. Rev. Davis died in 1893 and the church lost its longtime advocate. In 1897, the George Carter family who had supported the parish from its beginning, sold the Plantation House for financial reasons and moved to Little Oatlands.
Part Two – A New Era under the Corcoran Eustis Family
The distinguished lawyer and diplomat William Corcoran Eustis 3 bought Oatlands Plantation in 1903 and the family became major benefactors of Our Saviour. In addition to investing in much-needed restorations to the house and gardens, the family funded repairs to the church and added the chancel with the stained glass window, the balcony and a “vestry room” (probably the present-day sacristy). In addition, Mrs. Eustis envisioned adding a separate “community hall” or parish hall because at that time, Oatlands was recognizable as a village with a blacksmith, post office, general store and the Mountain School nearby. To raise money for the new construction, Mrs. Eustis and her children began hosting “benefit socials”. The hall opened in 1915. Records indicate that community events such as minstrel shows, dances and cakewalks took place there. The parish hall stands today essentially as when it was built with some improvements over time. As the parish hall served the community, so did the church. Outside a sign apparently welcomed “all denominations” and passersby on Route 15. Shortages of gas during both World Wars made Oatlands an important center for community worship.
Throughout its history the Church of Our Saviour has survived not only owing to the generosity of a few but importantly because of the labors of many. For example, in these early days, youngsters chopped wood and laid fires in two iron stoves that were the only source of heat in the church building. Others cleaned the church and chopped wood for the stoves. Two young men per service hand pumped
the organ for the organist, Lillian Conner Russell 4.
The church grew and prospered in the first half of the 20th Century. In 1907, the Church of Our Saviour transferred along with Aldie Parish from oversight by St. James, Leesburg, to Emmanuel Church, Middleburg. Records indicate that Oatlands had too many attendees to fit in the small church to the extent that worshipers would stand outside and look in the windows. Oatlands and Aldie churches were both prosperous and they joined together to purchase a rectory at Aldie (still standing today on Route 50) from whence the minister served Aldie, Oatlands and Middleburg churches. At some point in time, the minister switched living quarters to the Middleburg rectory and the jointly owned Aldie-and-Oatlands rectory was sold. This was a strategic decision because our church apparently received some dividends from that sale for as many as 80 years afterward.
Demographic, social and economic shifts brought about a decrease in the Oatlands community population that depleted the Oatlands congregation. It’s interesting to note that a 1953 parochial report counted 41 baptized members, 9 families, 26 communicants in good standing and 29 Sunday school members. The annual budget in the mid-1950s was $1,257.00 (about $12,700 in today’s dollars) and within this tight budget the parish still managed to contribute to diocesan charities and make repairs to the parish hall with meager contributions and much donated labor. At the same time, the small congregation remained committed to its worship. The then-supervising clergy, Reverend Spence Dunbar of Emmanuel Church, was a theological liberal who apparently was more interested in Freud’s teaching than that of the Bible. Records indicate that he alienated the Our Saviour congregration so badly that the assembled flock on one Sunday locked him out of the church and continued the worship as they pleased. Rev. Dunbar was forced to resign. In 1948, Our Saviour once more transferred to the jurisdiction of St. James, Leesburg, whereupon St. James called Reverend Frank Hunter Moss to Our Saviour. Records suggest that Rev. Moss must have loved Our Saviour. He is once quoted as having said: “St. James is a fine church to preach in but I go to Our Saviour to worship.”
Part Three – The 1960s through the 1970s
Frank Moss died suddenly on Christmas Day in 1963. The congregation reeled from the shock but soon rallied. One member, a lay reader, led the service of Morning Prayer and followed with adiscussion of the Bible lesson of the day. Two musicians shared the organ-playing duty and another minded the finances. But by 1968, the number of regular communicants had decreased to 8. The church survived in large measure through the generosity of David and Margaret Eustis Finley (then-owners of Oatlands Plantation). The Finleys donated funds to install a new roof on church and they
renovated the parish hall. They donated a new organ and then another one after the first was lost in a flood 5.
The then-rector of St James, Reverend Mr. Doyle, called his clerical duties at Our Saviour “a waste of time” and recommended that the Church be closed. The tiny congregation rejected Doyle’s recommendation and rejected a second one to hold services only on alternate Sundays at 3pm. Mr. Finley, then-Senior Warden, asked the Dean of the Virginia Theological Seminary to choose a seminarian to assist at Holy Communion on one Sunday each month and lead Morning Prayer on the other three.
The Dean selected a second-year seminarian named Elijah B. White, whose association with Our Saviour beginning in 1966 was auspicious from the very beginning 6.
Rev. Doyle and Elijah White served the Church jointly for a while. Apparently, the Holy Communion Sunday by Mr. Doyle was the scantest rite—no hymns, no sermon, no announcements nor offertory. When Mr. Doyle concluded the brief service, Elijah White would see the rector to the door and then finish the service with hymns, sermons, and prayers. No wonder that at White’s final service as seminarian in 1968 there were reportedly about 80 in attendance. The 1970s were pivotal. After Elijah White left, membership decreased sharply and the church again faced potential closure. But then again, Providence intervened once more.
First, Our Saviour gained its independence from St. James in 1972 as a result of a change in Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA) Canon Law that allowed churches to attain “independent status” if the congregation could afford to pay a clergyman who would provide “recognizable Episcopal services” on a regular basis. The Reverend Thomas Gailor Garner, Rector of St. James, advocated for Our Saviour’s independence on this basis and he engineered the call to a newly ordained Reverend Frederick Hughes Evans as Priest in Charge. From this point on, Our Saviour held services every Sunday and they were free by virtue of their independence to use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (BCP). Finances were tight with the small congregation but through the generosity of many, almost all of the cost of a new roof was donated at a cost of $2,400.00; (more than $13,000.00 in today’s dollars). To put the generosity in perspective, in 1967, the average collection per Sunday was $14.15 (now about $115.00) but by 1972 the average was $31.23 (about $204.00 today). Rev. Evans accepted a salary of $1,000.00 per year as of 1974 (about $5,500.00 today). He was a widower who lived on military and teacher pensions and could afford to forego a living wage. Evans retired from the Episcopal Church in 1976 over the decision by the ECUSA to ordain women but he returned to Our Saviour in the 1980s as a faithful communicant until his death.
Part Four – The Energetic Leadership of Elijah B. White
With the retirement of Rev. Evans, Mr. Finley urged the vestry to call (now) Reverend Elijah White as Rector. Rev. White began his long tenure on Easter Day 1977. Once more, the congregation grew and launched a sustained period of restoration, beautification and facilities improvement in both buildings. Much of the labor came from members themselves. At the same time, the church distinguished itself for stewardship and commitment to mission outreach. In the 1990s the Rev. White
added Sunday school and confirmation classes, organized a junior choir, introduced the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, led upgrades to the parish hall, and created the parking lot. The Oatlands congregation, with its commitment to traditional liturgy, grew steadily during the 1980s.
As Rev. Mr. Doyle struggled for the right to use the 1928 BCP, so did Rev. White. Throughout the 1970s the ECUSA favored the Proposed Book of Common Prayer over the 1928 version 7. Rev. White knew his congregation wanted to conform to the traditional rites of the 1928 BCP. He negotiated with the Virginia Diocesan Bishop to use the 1928 BCP at Our Saviour in addition to the 1979 Book8. Then he went further. Rev. White submitted a resolution at the January 1979 Virginia Diocesan Council that urged the General Convention to authorize both prayer books for worship as individual congregations and clergy desired. The resolution passed. But the ECUSA General Council refused the Virginia resolution. With that, the Oatlands members voted overwhelmingly to leave the Episcopal Church in 2007. The Episcopal Church filed lawsuits against the Church of Our Saviour and some like-minded parishes in Northern Virginia that were similarly committed to traditional Anglican worship 9. Years of litigation resulted in a settlement in 2011 that required most notably that the Church of Our Saviour transfer ownership to the Virginia Episcopal Diocese the historic church building that had been built, financed and maintained for about 140 years entirely by its members and without assistance from the Virginia Diocese or other ECUSA bodies.
Once more, the Church of Our Saviour overcame adversity. Bequests from Virginia L. Bowie and Anton E. B. Shefer, along with a trust funded by Rev. White and his wife, Anita Graf White, allowed the congregation to purchase a 26-acre tract of land about two miles to the North of the historic church. Rev. White retired 2012 having served the congregation of Our Saviour for thirty-five years as rector. He stands out as a remarkable spiritual leader and he ranks among the great benefactors who sustained the church through challenging times.
Part Five – The End of an Era and Another New Beginning
The Reverend Will Wilson succeeded Elijah B. White as rector. His tenure was about one-yearlong and ended with his resignation in 2013. Unwilling to allow the congregation to founder without clerical leadership, Rev. White returned briefly as Priest in Charge. The Vestry then called the Reverend James D. Basinger and it was during Rev. Basinger’s tenure that the new church was built and occupied.
Though considerably larger than the historic church, the new building resembles the old as a simple rectangle with a pitched roof and large windows. Like the old, the new interior has the quiet beauty of Anglican country churches. The current congregation has paid tribute to previous members by replicating the 15 brass plaques in the historic church that memorialized the generosity, service to God and Country, and sacrifice of our church’s many benefactors and devoted members. The only additions to the replicated memorials in the new church include two tributes to Elijah White, who died in March 2016, along with Anita Graf White, Anton Shefer and Virginia Bowie. In addition, the congregation owes great thanks to member Bill Tyler whose years-long oversight of the building project made it possible for the congregation to begin worship in the new building in 2016.
The physical move to a new church building also marked a spiritual move. Having severed ties with the ECUSA, The Church of Our Saviour congregation voted to affiliate with the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) 10. In so doing, the congregation once more affirmed a commitment to Scriptural worship in the authentic Anglican tradition. The REC Diocese of the Central States Bishop, The Most Reverend Daniel R. Morse, consecrated the new church building on August 21, 2016 – 138 years to the day after the original church’s consecration.
Rev. Basinger retired in 2020 and returned to live in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he had served for many years as an Episcopal minister. The vestry called The Reverend Jonathan Kell, formerly of Flowood, Mississippi, as the next rector. Under Rev. Kell the congregation has entered a period of growth with the blessing of having welcomed many new families with children. Our future is bright.
Today we give thanks to God for sustaining The Church of Our Saviour at Oatlands for 150 years. We are heirs to a precious legacy of faith, commitment and generosity. May this congregation in 2021 make the same bequest to future generations of this congregation.
3 William Corcoran Eustis (1862 – 1921) was a captain in the US Army and the personal assistant to General John J. Pershing during World War I. He was chairman of the inauguration committee for the first inauguration of Woodrow Wilson in 1913 and he founded the Loudoun Hunt in 1894. He laid the cornerstone for the Corcoran Gallery of Art on May 10, 1894, which his grandfather funded.
4 Lillian Connor Russell merits mention among great contributors to Our Saviour, having served as organist for more than 60 years. A plaque on the wall above where the organist sits commemorates her decades of service.
5 David Finley (1890-1977) was the husband of Margaret Morton Eustis and is from a distinguished South Carolina family. He served as an attorney for the US Department of the Treasury, where he worked with Secretary Andrew Mellon. Mr. Finley began assisting Mr. Mellon with his art collection and through this connection Mr. Finley became the first Director of the National Gallery of Art. He is also known for establishing the National Trust for Historic Preservation (to which Oatlands became the first property in the Trust), the US Commission on Fine Arts and the White House Historical Association. Two plaques on the south wall of the church are dedicated to Mr. and Mrs. Finley.
6 White’s parents lived in Leesburg and attended St. James, where his father served for many years as Senior Warden and his mother was chairman of the altar guild. Elijah White was ordained as a deacon in 1968 and served
in the Washington DC area until he was assigned to the Fiji Islands and was ordained a priest while there.
7 The 1970s revision to the Book of Common Prayer was controversial before it was ever adopted. The Proposed BCP, later 1979 BCP, contained substantial revisions. Its most distinctive feature was the presentation of two rites for the Holy Eucharist and for Morning and Evening Prayer. The Rite I services kept most of the language of the
1928 edition and older books, while Rite II used contemporary language and offered a mixture of newly composed texts, some adapted from the older forms, and some borrowed from other sources, notably Byzantine rites. The 1979 Book also offered changed rubrics and the shapes of the services. Many traditionalists felt alienated by the theological and ritual changes made in the 1979 BCP, and resisted or looked elsewhere for models of liturgy. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Common_Prayer_%281979%29.
10 The Reformed Episcopal Church was organized in New York City in 1873 by a group of clergymen and laymenwho concluded that their beloved Episcopal Church had so dramatically changed that they had no alternative butto preserve the old Church through the establishment of a new denomination. According to its website, the REC
holds the Faith as once delivered to the saints, and as transmitted through the Church of England, especially as articulated in her Reformation heritage, the range of her Anglican divines, and as deposited in the foundingprinciples of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. See http://www.recus.org.
Adams, Augusta (2001). The Church of Our Saviour Oatlands, Virginia. Published by The Church of OurSaviour, Hamilton, Virginia.
The Church of Our Saviour at Oatlands, https://oursaviouroatlands.org/. Accessed September 2, 2021.10
Virtue, David (2016). “Church of Our Saviour to Consecrate New Sanctuary”,
http://www.virtueonline.org, August 11, 2016. Accessed September 2, 2021.
Daniel L. Bell, Mary Jo Rigby, August 2021; Stephen Price, Criselda Bell