Saint Martin’s Episcopal Church celebrated its rich, vibrant past and enthusiastically ushered in its future with celebration events on September 22 and 24.
At an event commemorating the parish’s 60th anniversary on Friday night, Vestry Senior Warden Rob Beall announced that after a unanimous vote by the Vestry – and with the “energetic approval of Bishop Susan Haynes” – Reverend Lisa Green had officially been called to be St. Martin’s new Rector.
Two days later, Rep. Mike Mullin (D-VA) opened the parish’s weekly worship service by presenting the parish with a joint resolution approved by all 140 members of the Virginia General Assembly.
The representatives acknowledged St. Martin’s “incredible contribution to the community these last 60 years,” Mullin said. “We celebrate St. Martin’s vision of inclusivity, embracing people of all backgrounds and races.”
Green came to St. Martin’s from Holy Spirit Episcopal Church in Sutton, Massachusetts, formed by the merger of St. Andrew’s, North Grafton and St. John’s, Sutton, where she had been Rector for six years. Since 2017, she has served as Associate Rector at St. Martin’s and, for the past 11 months, as Priest-in-Charge. Green graduated from Drew Theological School in 2007, and from William and Mary in 1983.
“God has blessed our church in every way imaginable,” Green said, “and I am humbled by this new assignment. I love the spirit of this parish and the people inspired to carry out the original mission of St. Martin’s.”
On September 22, 1963, two Bishops and 110 visionaries gathered at the Old Tower Church on Jamestown Island (VA), for the first worship of a new mission church with no name. It was a revolutionary blend of old and new – Jamestown Island, where the American Episcopal Church began, and a group of faithful people with a new mission.
The new congregation and its vicar, the Reverend W.F. Egelhoff, were inspired by “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ,” the statement of the Toronto Anglican Congress held the previous month, and resolutions of both General Convention and the Diocese of Southern Virginia urging churches to share as much as they spent on themselves. Ultimately, the name St. Martin’s was chosen, after St. Martin of Tours (316-397 AD), who famously shared his cloak with a person in need. Following his example, parishioners vowed to give away half of their offering each week. The collection that first day came to $112.66, half of which was sent to the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief.
Today, St. Martin’s partners with local organizations and congregations to serve those facing social displacement, housing needs, food insecurity, addiction, and more.
Members prepare Summer Meals for Kids, deliver dinners to families in motels, volunteer with Literacy for Life, and, for more than ten years, host an annual week of Winter Shelter for those experiencing homelessness. Monthly Cloak Offerings have raised funds for Afghan refugee resettlement, historically Black colleges and universities, camp scholarships and needs from next door to Ukraine and Haiti.
After a discernment team visited Haiti several years ago, St. Martin’s held a silent auction to support St. Vincent’s Center for Children with Disabilities. The center also operates a medical center and brace-making shop in Port-au-Prince, where some graduates, under guidance from professionals, make prostheses for the country’s poorest. The event raised $24,000, and the parish has recently sent another $20,000 to help St. Vincent’s expand.
Much closer to home, St. Martin’s joined with Bruton Parish and Hickory Neck Episcopal Church for “Sleep in Heavenly Peace,” a program that builds and donates beds to children whose homes have none. Donations totaled $10,000 and parishioners constructed and delivered the finished product to homes in the Newport News area of Virginia.
Recent new partnerships have included the Mattaponi Healing Eagle Clinic, Historic First Baptist Church and their “Let Freedom Ring” Foundation, St. Bede Catholic Church, All Together Williamsburg (a community bridge-building organization), the Virginia Racial Healing Institute, and the Virginia Center for Restorative Justice.
“St. Martin’s offers its members 40 different ways to make an impact on our community,” Mullin said, quoting the resolution. “You provide dedicated programs for justice, love, and kindness and serve the vulnerable without exception.”
The beginning of St. Martin’s is characterized by personal sacrifice and the support of friends. Bruton Parish gifted 4.7 acres of land where the church, memorial garden and children’s playground now sit. Parishioners erected a prefabricated steel blue and white building as the sanctuary and a place for parish meetings. The first service was held on Easter Sunday, 1964, with church members still working until late on Easter Saturday putting on the finishing touches.
The bell tower was constructed in April 1968 after a bell was given to St. Martin’s by Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Norge, Va. The present sanctuary was built in the spring of 1972.
Intending to make the church an extension of their homes, parishioners brought bread they baked from home to use for Communion. Flowers on the altar were brought in from parishioners’ gardens. Last Sunday (September 24), parishioners were asked to bring vegetables from their gardens to share with Grove Christian Outreach Center, a local organization improving the overall health of the Grove community.
From the start, St. Martin’s made it clear that it is open to all people, all denominations. “All are invited to God’s Table,” is a weekly invitation that for 60 years thousands have accepted.
With St. Martin’s first service coming just one week after the bombing at 16th Street Baptist in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four young girls, Green marvels at the courage – but also hope – of its founders.
“Their dream of embracing people of all races and giving sacrificially for the needs of the community embodied that combination of deep humility and impetuous desire that God finds irresistible,” she says.