July Fourth

LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION COLUMN FOR

July 12, 2014 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

I’m writing this on the Fourth of July and wanted to follow up on the article on the Liberty Bell from last week.  George Washington did not sign the Declaration of Independence because in July of 1776 he was in New York preparing to defend Manhattan against the British.  The United States Constitution was signed by Washington on September 17th, 1787 as President of the Constitutional Convention and Deputy from Virginia.  He was elected President of the Constitutional Convention on May 25 of that year.

Philadelphia was the Capital of the United States of America from 1790 through 1800 and George Washington was President from 1789 through 1796.  I was born and raised in Philadelphia and visited the Old City many times.  Besides Independence Hall there are other important buildings clustered together.  One of them is Christ Church at 22-26 N. 2nd Street.  The Church was founded in 1695 and the first wooden structure was erected in the next year.  Twenty years later the present building was conceived and was built between 1727 and 1744.  The steeple was added in 1754 making it the tallest building in North America at the time.

The importance of Christ Church for United States history is that fifteen of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence worshiped there including George Washington, Robert Morris, Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross. At the convening of the First Continental Congress in September of 1774, at which Washington was in attendance, Christ Church Rector Jacob Duche was called to lead the opening prayer.  During the Revolutionary War the Rev. William White (1748 – 1836), rector of Christ Church, served as Chaplain to both the Continental Congress and the United States Senate.

July is a time for remembering our political heritage of freedom, and we need to understand that this culture of liberty is grounded on a religious faith.  Our Founding Fathers were men of faith who worshipped regularly and who built our institutions of government on precepts taught in the Bible.

George Washington is but one illustration of the Christian commitment of our nation’s founders.  After he was chosen President he chiefly resided in Philadelphia.  The following observation is made by Mrs. Curtis, an acquaintance of the Washingtons from Arlington.

“On Sundays, unless the weather was uncommonly severe, the President and Mrs. Washington attended divine service at Christ Church, and in the evening the President read to Mrs. Washington, in her chamber, a sermon, or some portion of the sacred writings.”

Bishop White, of the Episcopal Church, said of the President the following.  “The Father of his Country, as well during the Revolutionary War as in his Presidency, attended divine services in this city (Philadelphia).  During his Presidency our vestry provided him with a pew.  It was habitually occupied by himself; by Mrs. Washington, who was a regular communicant, and by his secretaries.  His behavior was always serious and attentive.”

Christ Church can be visited today.  It is a lovely sanctuary in the style of Christopher Wren.  The pews of the signers of the Declaration are marked with brass plaques.  The faith of the men and women who worshipped here built this one nation under God.  An appropriate prayer for July would be, “Revive us again.”

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at ravscarle@verizon.net).  END-whs

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