We are excited to observe Black History Month with a series celebrating the rich history of seven active African-American congregations the Diocese. Our story begins in 1861 with the founding of St. Philip’s, Richmond, the first African American congregation in the Diocese of Virginia.
In May 1861, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church officially opened on Fourth Street, providing a separate worship location for African American Episcopalians in Richmond. The congregation combined the colored Sunday Schools of Monumental and St. James's Churches, and provided a church home for African Americans who had previously been set apart in the balconies of St. James’s and other local Episcopal Churches. St. Philip’s received white clergy funded by the Diocesan Missionary Society as well as local Richmond churches. Unfortunately, St. Philip’s stood in the path of the April 1865 fire that destroyed much of Richmond. Through the assistance of the Diocese of Virginia, St. James’s, St. Paul’s, and Monumental Churches of Richmond, a new St. Philip’s was erected in 1869 on Leigh Street. The 1878 establishment of the Bishop Payne Divinity School in Petersburg for the education of African Americans Episcopal clergy provided St. Philip’s with a steady source of rectors and seminarian assistance. Such leadership enabled the congregation to emerge from mission status in 1920, while ministering to Richmond African Americans during the tumultuous days of Jim Crow segregation and the Civil Rights Movement. Around 1960, changing Richmond residential patterns prompted St. Philip’s to purchase and relocate to the former Church of the Epiphany, on Hanes Street. (Epiphany had relocated to the Lakeside area of the city.) In 1993, St. Philip’s expanded its facility with a new parish hall. On November 17, 2018, their rector, Phoebe A. Roaf, was elected Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee on the first ballot. Today an active St. Philip’s is shepherded by their new rector, the Rev. Marlene E. Forrest, with Sunday worship services in person and online via Facebook and Zoom. To learn more about the life and ministry of St. Philip’s, visit https://stphilipsrva.org/