All Saints', Warrenton: 100 Years of Leadership
By Diocesan Staff
This Saturday, almost 100 years to the day after the church's consecration, the Diocese will honor one of our historically black churches, All Saints', Warrenton, and pray for the future mission of the congregation and property during a closing service. The church has a long history of producing national Episcopal Church leaders and meeting critical needs in the Warren County community.
You can watch All Saints' members Wilhelmina Radcliff and Robin Williams reflect on their church's history and closing during this year's Annual Convention Thursday night program.
The following is adapted from the All Saints' project, written by diocesan historiographer the Rev. Dr. Brooks Graebner.
Warrenton is home to some of the great black leaders of The Episcopal Church.
The first is Caroline Wiley Cain Bragg. As a person who was enslaved by the Thomas White family, she was baptized at Emmanuel, Warrenton. Later in her life, Bragg was instrumental in the founding of St. Stephen’s, Petersburg, the first black Episcopal church and a center for ministry throughout southern Virginia. Her grandson, the Rev. George Freeman Bragg, was also born and baptized in Warrenton. He would become the leading historian of the black Episcopal Church and rector of St. James’, Baltimore, where Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry also served
Another prominent Warren County native, and another grandson of Caroline Bragg, was the Rev. Thomas White Cain, the first black candidate for Holy Orders in Virginia. He served the oldest black church in Texas—St. Augustine of Hippo, Galveston—and represented Texas at General Convention, the only black priest in the Episcopal Church elected to do so. Cain, along with his wife and children, perished in the Galveston flood of 1900, and the current All Saints church building was constructed as a memorial to him.
Warrenton also produced one of the early black bishops of the Episcopal Church. The Rt. Rev. Bravid Washington Harris was born in Warrenton in 1896 and raised at All Saints'. He attended St. Augustine’s College (now University) in Raleigh, was ordained by Bishop Henry B. Delany and was immediately put in charge of his home parish from 1922 to 1924. For 19 years he served as rector of Grace Church, Norfolk, and for the last six of those years he also served as the Archdeacon for Negro Work in the Diocese of Southern Virginia. Harris was appointed the first Secretary for Negro Work by the National Council of the Episcopal Church in 1943, and two years later he was elected by the House of Bishops as the Bishop of Liberia, where he served until his retirement in 1964.
THE FOUNDING AND EARLY GROWTH OF ALL SAINTS'
In the Antebellum period, black and white parishioners were most often members of the same Episcopal congregations, though often spatially segregated by the practice of consigning black worshipers to balconies and temporally segregated by offering separate periods of religious instruction. After the Civil War, the Episcopal Church in North Carolina encouraged the formation of separate black congregations. Sometimes, as in Warrenton, this initially took the form of holding separate services on Sunday afternoons.
By 1891, however, the black parishioners attending the afternoon services at Emmanuel were prepared to purchase property and start their own church; this they did in 1892. At the same time, the Diocese of North Carolina had bolstered its outreach and support for black ministries by appointing an archdeacon to spearhead this work. The first archdeacon, a white priest named William Walker, proposed that a newly ordained priest, the Rev. Henry B. Delany, also a professor at St. Augustine’s in Raleigh, be charged with ministering once a month in Warrenton and with helping to found a parochial school. Delany continued in this role through 1902, and it was under his auspices students and graduates from St. Augustine’s came to teach in Warrenton, including Pauli Murray’s aunt, Pauline Fitzgerald Dame.
But the most notable aspect of All Saints' was the initiative and leadership demonstrated by the congregation members themselves. As Archdeacon Walker stated in 1895, “At Warrenton a day school has been maintained the past season by the people themselves without any aid. . . . They are reducing their debt by their own exertions, and have shown a faithfulness which is deserving of praise.” That school first met in the home of Annie and Albert Burgess, and then moved to a location behind the Hendrick House. It was a one-story wooden building with an auditorium and classroom. By 1907, All Saints' could claim 32 communicants, 286 Sunday school scholars and 48 students in the parochial day school.
A NEW BUILDING FOR ALL SAINTS
As early as 1901, Archdeacon John Pollard reported a desire to build a new church in Warrenton that would serve as a fitting memorial to the Rev. Thomas White Cain, who perished in 1900. The initial plan was to build on the site of the existing church, but Warrenton's white residents and the local newspaper threatened it would be better for the members of All Saints' to relocate to Warrenton’s predominantly black neighborhood. The search for a new site resulted in the 1910 purchase of the lot at the corner of Front and Franklin Streets.
By this time, Delany had succeeded Pollard as the archdeacon for black ministries throughout the Diocese, in addition to his ongoing responsibilities at St. Augustine’s and in Warrenton. For him, the building of the Thomas Cain Memorial Church became a matter of diocesan, and even national, significance, and he sought to raise funds from black communicants throughout the Episcopal Church in recognition of Cain's groundbreaking service as the only black priest elected to General Convention. He was joined in this nationwide appeal by the Rev. George Freeman Bragg, Cain’s cousin and another Warren County native.
Work on the new All Saints' church, a substantial concrete building dressed as stone, began in 1913 and was sufficiently completed by December 1, 1918 to hold the first public service in the building. From 1914 to 1918, the congregation made do with the basement of the new structure for worship and education.
MINISTRY AND COMMUNITY SERVICE AT ALL SAINTS
A succession of notable black priests served All Saints' from the 1920s through 1960. Among these were the aforementioned the Rt. Rev. Bravid Harris (1922-1924), later missionary bishop of Liberia, and The Rev. Odell Greenleaf Harris (1933-1937), who became archdeacon in the Diocese of Southern Virginia. After 1960, All Saints again shared clergy with Emmanuel, Warrenton, and, more recently, with Good Shepherd, Ridgeway.
Still, All Saints' anchored a major gateway in the historical black community and made significant contributions to Warrenton and Warren County. A special needs child development center opened in the basement of All Saints in 1976. Next to occupy the basement was a private child development center, which remained there until the basement flooded. A very active congregation during the latter part of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st century provided scholarships for college-bound students, participated in a number of community charity events and opened the church up for many community activities. With an aging congregation and fewer community members interested in church life, All Saints' dwindled to the point where there were too few members to sustain the life of the church. Church services were last held at All Saints on June 10, 2015.