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Early History of St. John's Episcopal Church, East Wheeling

-from Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia, by Bishop William Meade. Originally published 1857.


The following account of it has been furnished me by one who is fully acquainted with its history. St. John's parish, Wheeling, was organized in the year of our Lord 1849. Previous to that time St. Matthew's parish embraced the whole of the city of Wheeling, and was the only Episcopal church in Ohio county.

The location of the church-building was at an inconvenient distance from the residences of a portion of the congregation. This, together with the rapid increase of the population and business of the city, demanded the formation of a new parish. Moved by these considerations, and an earnest desire to extend the influence and benefits of the Church, the Rev. William Armstrong, rector of St. Matthew's Church, on the 31st of July, 1849, called a meeting of his vestry for the purpose of considering the propriety and expediency of erecting a church and forming another congregation in the southern part of the city. The vestry, in pursuance of said call, met on the second day of August, 1849. The following are the proceedings of the vestry at said meeting, so far as they relate to a division of the parish:

"The petition of Robert C. Woods and others upon the subject of a new parish being the first business before the meeting, Mr. Brady offered the following paper: — 'A communication from Robert C. Woods, Beverley M. Eoff, and Henry Tallant, — committee, was presented and read, signifying that the necessary means had been raised for the support of a minister of the Protestant Episcopal Church in a new parish which it is proposed to organize within the city, and asking the assent of the rector, wardens, and vestry of this church to such organization.' Whereupon it was unanimously ordered, that the assent desired be and the same is hereby cordially given, and that the new parish embrace within its limits all south of Wheeling Creek.

"Resolved, Moreover, that this vestry would humbly invoke God's blessing upon the organization contemplated in the communication this day submitted."

Having obtained the consent of the vestry of St. Matthew's Church, and being favoured with the hearty support and sympathy of the respected and beloved rector, the committee promptly called a meeting of such of the citizens of South Wheeling as were favourable to the formation of a parish of the Church in that part of the city. At the meeting so called, the rector of St. Matthew's Church was present, and, in remarks appropriate and impressive, explained the object of the meeting. After which, suitable measures were adopted for the complete organization of the new parish, and provision made for the erection of a building for the services of the Church.

On the 6th of August, 1849, the Rev. Jas. D. McCabe was invited to take charge of the parish as rector thereof, which invitation was accepted on the 24th of the following month. The rector-elect did not, however, enter upon the duties of his office until January, 1850.

On the 8th of February, 1850, the building erected by the congregation was sufficiently near completion to be used, and the pulpit was, for the first time, occupied on that day by the Rev. Mr. Armstrong. The services were conducted by the rector, assisted by the Rev. William L. Hyland. The organization of the parish was sanctioned and confirmed by the Convention of the Diocese of Virginia, in May, 1850, as " St. John's Parish, Wheeling." The church edifice -- which had been erected and completed by the congregation was consecrated to the service of Almighty God, by the Rt. Rev. John Johns, Assistant Bishop of Virginia, on the 1st of November, 1850.

The Rev. Dr. McCabe laboured profitably and acceptably to the congregation until the 8th of January, 1856, when be removed to Baltimore, as associate rector of St. Paul's Church, in that city. The following is part of the proceedings of the vestry of St. John's parish at the meeting called to act upon the resignation of the rectorship of the parish by the Rev. Dr. McCabe. This resolution was adopted unanimously, and heartily concurred in by every member of the congregation:--

"Resolved, That the Rev. James D. McCabe, D.D., has by courtesy and kindness, by purity of life and doctrine, and by the faithful discharge of duties pertaining to his holy office, secured the love and confidence of his people."

The Rev. George K. Warner was elected rector of the parish in January, 1856, and took charge of the congregation on the 16th of March following. St. John's parish was established upon the free-seat system, which has been found to work satisfactorily. The rector's salary is provided for by the voluntary subscription of the members. The incidental expenses, &c. are met by weekly collections at the Sunday morning services. The parish has a commodious and convenient dwelling-house, erected in 1855 expressly for the use of the rector.

St. John's parish has at this time (February, 1857) eighty-six communicants. The Sunday-school connected with the parish is in a flourishing condition, and, under the judicious care and management of the rector, proves an important auxiliary to the Church.

I must add to the above, for the encouragement of others to go and do likewise, that the rectory mentioned above, and which cost three or four thousand dollars, was at the sole expense of a very few zealous individuals. May they be rewarded for it by always having a faithful minister of God to occupy it !

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