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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Did George Washington Commune?

John Fea posted an opinion piece about George Washington's faith on AOL. There is a reference concerning accounts GW communed. These accounts are from Clergy and a respected military officer (whose good character and memory is testified to by Bishop Meade) not from persons wanting their names in the paper. Yes, communion accounts are not in GW's handwriting. However, there are countless Orthodox Christian Fundamentalists that have no written accounts of communion.

The account of James Abercrombie--the Asst. Rector of Christ's Church in Philadelphia--of GW walking out of communion may be due to an ulterior motive. GW may have had an issue with him, or his Church, thus, Bishop White and James Abercrombie never saw him commune. As to GW walking out of communion, Bishop Meade gives a probable reason:
[I]n former days there was a most mistaken notion, too prevalent both in England and America, that it was not so necessary in the professors of religion to communicate at all times, but that in this respect persons might be regulated by their feelings, and perhaps by the circumstances in which they were placed. I have had occasion to see much of this in my researches into the habits of the members of the old Church of Virginia. Into this error of opinion and practice General Washington may have fallen, especially at a time when he was peculiarly engaged with the cares of government and a multiplicity of engagements, and when his piety may have suffered some loss thereby.
First, here is a first-hand account witnessing GW taking communion:
Extract From Major Popham's Letter To Mrs. Jane Washington

New York, March 14, 1839. My Dear Madam: You will doubtless be not a little surprised at receiving a letter from an individual whose name may possibly never have reached you; but an accidental circumstance has given me the extreme pleasure of introducing myself to your notice. In a conversation with the Reverend Doctor Berrian, a few days since, he informed me that he had lately paid a visit to Mount Vernon, and that Mrs. Washington had expressed a wish to have a doubt removed from her mind, which had long oppressed her, as to the certainty of the General's having attended the communion while residing in the city of New York subsequent to the Revolution. As nearly all the remnants of those days are now sleeping with their fathers, it is not very probable that at this late day an individual can be found who could satisfy this pious wish of your virtuous heart except the writer. It was my great good fortune to have attended St. Paul's Church in this city with the General during the whole period of his residence in New York as President of the United States. The pew of Chief-Justice Morris was situated next to that of the President, close to whom I constantly sat in Judge Morris's pew, and I am as confident as a memory now laboring under the pressure of fourscore years and seven can make me, that the President had more than once—I believe I may say often—attended at the sacramental table, at which I had the privilege and happiness to kneel with him. And I am aided in my associations by my elder daughter, who distinctly recollects her grandmamma—Mrs. Morris —often mentioned that fact with great pleasure. Indeed, I am further confirmed in my assurance by the perfect recollection of the President's uniform deportment during divine service in church. The steady seriousness of his manner, the solemn, audible, and subdued tone of voice in which he read and repeated the responses, the Chrisitan humility which overspread and adorned the native dignity of the saviour of his country, at once exhibited him a pattern to all who had the honor of access to him. It was my good fortune, my dear madam, to have had frequent intercourse with him. It was my pride and boast to have seen him in various situations—in the flush of victory, in the field, and in the tent—in the church and at the altar, always himself, ever the same. [bold face mine]
--Bishop Meade, Old Churches Vol. II. p. 490. George Washington The Christian by William J. Johnson. Andover-Harvard Theological Library Cambridge, Mass. 1919.

Notice his daughter--having a better memory than him--seconds the account by remembering her grandmother affirming the event. This cannot be swept under the rug. Furthermore, Major Popham served under Washington and was married into the Morris family; a distinguished family GW knew. The Major writes he sometimes sat in Judge Morris's pew, next to Washington.

It appears this is an authentic first hand account of a man--vouched for by Bishop Meade--testifying he communed with George Washington at St. Paul's Church in New York. This is important because Abercrombie was pastoring Christ's Church in Philadelphia.

Here is second-hand account of Washington Taking Communion:
I have the following anecdote," says Dr. Coxe, "from unquestionable authority. It has never, I think, been given to the public; but I received it from a venerable clergyman [Dr. Hillyer], who had it from the lips of the Rev. Dr. Jones [Johnes] himself. To all Christians, and to all Americans, it cannot fail to be acceptable:

"While the American army, under the command of Washington, lay encamped at Morristown, New Jersey [winter of 1776-7], it occurred that the service of the communion [then observed semiannually only] was to be administered in the Presbyterian church of that village. In a morning of the previous week the General, after his accustomed inspection of the camp, visited the house of the Rev. Doctor Jones [Johnes], then pastor of the church, and, after the usual preliminaries, thus accosted him: "'Doctor, I understand that the Lord's Supper is to be celebrated with you next Sunday. I would learn if it accords with the canon of your church to admit communicants of another denomination?' "The Doctor rejoined, 'Most certainly; ours is not the Presbyterian table, General, but the Lord's table; and we hence give the Lord's invitation to all his followers, of whatever name.' "The General replied, 'I am glad of it; that is as it ought to be; but, as I was not quite sure of the fact, I thought I would ascertain it from yourself, as I propose to join with you on that occasion. Though a member of the Church of England, I have no exclusive partialities.' "The Doctor reassured him of a cordial welcome, and the General was found seated with the communicants the next Sabbath."
This account is from a Clergyman to another Clergyman. Who would claim their testimony is not valid? Also, in the account is more testimony to support this event.

This doesn't mean Washington was a Christian. But it doesn't mean he wasn't a Christian either. The fact he never mentioned his faith in Christ is not evidence for or against. Many people do not wear their religion on their sleeve, yet alone write about it.

Although GW walked out of communion for many years, based on this testimony, this is a foundation for making the claim George Washington was a Christian.


Our Founding Truth said...

Here is another valid testimony of GW communing. Interesting to note, most of the testimony's of him communing are during the Revolution:

"I have heard her say that General Washington always received the sacrament with my grandmother before the revolution."

--Nelly Custis-Lewis (Washington's adopted daughter) to Jared Sparks 26 February, 1833.

It may be a second hand account, but the lady lived with GW for twenty years, as Jared Sparks explains.

Anonymous said...

[my mother, Eleanor Calvert-Lewis] who lived at Mt. Vernon for 2 yrs until 1776 with Mrs. Washington's son, John Parke Custis.