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There has been an Anglican presence in the area that now comprises the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia since 1738, when Anthony Gavin, rector of Goochland Parish, travelled to new settlers in more than a dozen preaching places in the Blue Ridge foothills and Shenandoah Valley, where members of the established church from eastern Virginia had settled among the Scotch-Irish and Germans who flooded into the area. In spite of negative stereotypes of the colonial Virginia clergy, all fifteen who served in this area conducted themselves honorably and most supported the patriots in the Revolution. Nonetheless, the established church lost its privileged position in the Revolutionary settlement, particularly with Thomas Jefferson's landmark religious freedom statute. The Church lost its glebe farms, and often even its church buildings.

In the postwar anti-British mood, and with the rapid growth of Methodists and Baptists, the Episcopal Church in its new independent status nearly died out in Virginia. The rebirth of the church in Virginia began about 1820 in the work of a handful of evangelical clergy, with a faithful remnant of old Virginia families devoted to the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, and two evangelical bishops, Richard Channing Moore and William Meade. Bishop Meade, a Shenandoah Valley native, worked indefatigably to establish new congregations in western Virginia.

Nicholas Hamner Cobbs of Bedford County (later first Bishop of Alabama) was an important figure in Church revival in the present Diocese. In the 1820s, Cobbs started congregations of St. Stephen's, Forest; Trinity, Lynchburg; St. Thomas, Sedalia; and St. John's, Bedford. He preached in Botetourt, and helped form congregations that became St. Mark's, Fincastle and St. John's, Roanoke.

The two decades prior to the Civil War saw rapid growth of the Episcopal Church in the present Diocese of Southwestern Virginia. Thriving parishes were founded in nearly every county seat, with neat little Greek Revival church buildings, many of which are still in use.

Under diocesan sponsorship, a girls seminary was founded at Staunton in 1846, the Virginia Female Institute (now Stuart Hall School), and the new Virginia Military Institute in Lexington had strong Episcopal leanings and leadership.

Although the Civil War disrupted lives, families, schools, and parishes, the Episcopal Church entered a period of growth in the late nineteenth century with many new parishes throughout the geographical area which is now the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia. The character of the Episcopal Church throughout Virginia in the nineteenth century was that of the evangelical, low church, much like the Presbyterian church in architecture and in centrality of the preached Word. This stance was in accordance with Bishops Moore, Meade, Johns and Whittle. This was the churchmanship taught at Virginia Theological Seminary, which trained most of the clergy in the state. The Virginia church was unsympathetic to the high church influence of the Tractarians and the Oxford Movement, which had gained strongholds in some northern dioceses and at General Theological Seminary in New York.

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