Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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St. Stephen's Church

CITY, ST, ZIP: Culpeper, VA 22701
PHONE: 540/825-8786
FAX: 540/825-6651
E-MAIL: Office

CLERGY: Benson Shelton
TITLE: Rector
E-MAIL: Benson Shelton

WEB URL: St. Stephen's Church
ECW: St. Stephen's ECW


The history of the Anglican-Episcopal Church in Culpeper County begins in 1730 with the formation of St. Mark’s Parish following a meeting at Germanna. A parish vestry was organized in 1731 and a “chapel of ease” was established at the fork of the Hazel and Rappahannock Rivers. This chapel, Little Fork Church, was to become St. Stephen’s mother church.

Almost a quarter century before the American Revolution, benches were provided in the Culpeper Courthouse, on the northeast corner of Main and Davis Streets, for the congregation in town. Today, St. Stephen’s Church actively participates in ecumenical activities, but this was not always so. When the Anglican Church was established by law, Baptists were often imprisoned for preaching without licenses. In 1769 Culpeper officials imprisoned James Ireland for preaching without a commission from the ecclesiastical/civil authorities. He was placed in the Culpeper Jail on the northwest corner of East and Davis Streets. Ironically, in 1969, two centuries later, St. Stephen’s purchased a former Baptist church on the old jail site for use as a community center. The building housed various community services such as an outreach project. It was sold in 1983, but St. Stephen’s long involvement in outreach and community service continues

When the Virginia General Assembly adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Statute of Religious Freedom, the Episcopal Church, no longer the Church of England, experienced loss of establishment status, loss of income, loss of glebes, and loss of members to newly organized churches of other denominations. In 1814 the Diocese of Virginia’s Convention could list only ten towns and five counties in which the Episcopal Church showed signs of life. One of these counties Culpeper was Culpeper.

In 1814, The Rev. John William Hawley, a deacon, became the first recorded minister at St. Stephen’s. In the early nineteenth century, congregations worshipped at Great Fork (near the fork of the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers), Little Fork and perhaps Buck Run Churches. In town, the Masonic Hall and later the courthouse were used for services. From 1820-1830 the church contributed $10 - $20 annually to the Diocese. Continuing to be supportive of Diocesan programs, our contributions have increased considerably since then. When the second Bishop of Virginia, Richard Channing Moore, visited St. Stephen’s in 1815 to confirm a class of 60, the church appeared on the Diocesan Council’s records for the first time.

The Church building was erected in 1821, on one acre of land willed by the Revolutionary patriot, Brigadier-General Edward Stevens, as a memorial to his young son. The cornerstone reads: “James Madison, President U.S.A. 46th Year of American Independence.” Tradition says the cost was $2,500. The pulpit was above the reading desk, with the vestry room in back of it, as was the custom. The church had galleries along each side and in the rear. Early in the twentieth century the side galleries were removed