The Ongoing Journey of Leeds Episcopal Church and Mt. Morris Primitive Baptist Church
It all began with the simple act of making an unscheduled stop while driving down the road. The Rev. Justin McIntosh, rector of Leeds Church, Markham, had long felt called by God to forge new bonds of Christian friendship between his church and the nearby Fauquier County African American congregation, Mt. Morris Primitive Baptist Church, Hume. The literal first step came one day last summer when McIntosh, driving back from Warrenton, noticed the Rev. Lindsay Green, pastor of Mt. Morris, outside that church, pulled over, walked up to Green, and invited the other clergyman to join him for lunch and conversation. Green, who had experienced a similar call and saw McIntosh’s invitation as God’s answer to prayer, readily agreed, and a new community journey commenced.
While the current sanctuary of Leeds Church was constructed in 1842, the congregation traces its roots to the colonial establishment of the geographic parish in 1769. Although parish records prior to the Civil War do not survive, Leeds tradition and limited Virginia diocesan Journal evidence suggest the congregation included at least some of the slaves owned by white members. The post-Civil War congregational records, however, contain little evidence of non-whites in the Leeds congregation. By comparison, Mt. Morris Church is a relative new church in the community, established in 1867 by freed slaves, some of whom might have attended Leeds Church with their owners prior to emancipation. Since that time, these two churches mirrored the social and religious reality of much of the Virginia Christian community of distant, separate lives, ministries, and worship.
Becoming acquainted over lunch led to further conversation between these two clergymen, who determined to commence bridging the racial and cultural differences between their respective people in the most natural place for Christian people to meet: God’s House, participating in the most natural circumstances there: worship. One late summer Sunday, the Rev. Justin McIntosh, surprised his people by in his sermon my telling of the meeting and his desire to end this distance between God’s people. He stated that on Sunday, 27 September, the principal Sunday morning service at Leeds Church was cancelled to enable the congregation to worship at Mt. Morris at the latter congregation’s annual homecoming, and preached about the body of Christ needing to be together. A significant number of Leeds parishioners followed their rector on this new venture, where they say their clergyman seated among by the host among the African American pastors, heard him repent for not having made this step sooner, and heard him address all on Galatians 3:28 and St. Paul’s imagery of the body of Christ.
The people of Mt. Morris Church made their visit to Leeds Church on Thanksgiving Day at the community Thanksgiving Service which has crossed color and denominational lines for years. As the Rev. Mr. Green had preached at that Leeds’ service the year before, he was not the appointed preacher for this year, but his congregation was the especially invited guests. From Green’s perspective, it had been particularly important that the initial planned joint worship of the two congregations had been at his church, to permit his people the ease worshipping with the distantly near congregation in their own house and begin to get to know them better in that place of familiarity and ease.
Both the Justin (Intosh) and Lindsay (Green), as they affectionately refer to each other, are searching for the next steps forward in this evolving relationship between their two congregations. Two worship services is a start, but only the start of healing separated parts of the body of Christ. Both clergymen understand that their people need time to move beyond acquaintance into friendship, and that the best place right now is to live into their kinship in the body of Christ through worshipping Him together on some kind of natural basis. More shared fellowship will be following in 2016 and it will be interesting and revealing where the Holy Spirit will lead and what other simple instruments will be used in addition to stopping the car and saying, “Hello, let’s do lunch.”
By: Julia Randle
Photos: Kendall Martin