Mac and Barbara Willis

By Ed Jones

St. George’s brought Mac and Barbara Willis together almost six decades ago.

He was a Baptist teen-ager who lived down the street—the son of a life deacon of the church. She was an Episcopal girl from Caroline County, who enjoyed “going to town.” And the youth group at St. George’s, hosted by then rector Tom Faulkner and his wife, Mary, was the place for lively discussion and fun.

Mac and Barbara married in 1956. The following year, after Mac completed his legal training at the University of Virginia, they began attending St. George’s. And now, from their home just a couple of blocks from St. George’s, they remain excited about the future of the parish.

That’s not to say they haven’t mourned some of the things left behind by the many changes in the church, locally and nationally. Mac recalls how the 1928 Prayer Book “reached out and took hold of me.” He speaks with reverence about the “majesty” and “sonorousness” of that volume, supplanted by the 1979 Prayer Book. Barbara misses the focus she remembers on the Ten Commandments and the Two Great Commandments when she was being raised in her family church–St. Peter’s in Port Royal.

Yet when asked if they would recommend St. George’s today to someone in search of a spiritual home, Mac doesn’t hesitate to say yes. “We still have a graceful, intellectually appealing, doctrinally sound liturgy,” he says.” And “beautiful music,”
Barbara adds.

Mac, who looks and sounds like the judge he has been, is quick with a funny story. So is Barbara, who helped raise four rambunctious boys. For years the Willises have hosted the oyster roast for St. George’s

Mac and Barbara prefer the more traditional approach of the 11 a.m. service, though she was a strong supporter of adding a third “family service”—a more informal liturgy at 9 a.m.

Mac and Barbara have been active parishioners, as he built a distinguished legal career that included service as Fredericksburg commonwealth’s attorney, as a circuit court judge and, most recently, as a state appeals court judge. Though Mac has retired, Barbara continues her work in the Virginiana room of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. She has brought her love of history to the Archives Committee of St. George’s. More recently, Barbara served on the Rector Search Committee.

Mac’s mother, Phoebe Willis, 101, and Barbara’s mother, Frances Pratt, 91, continue as communicants at St. George’s.

Barbara speaks with enthusiasm about the parish’s future—both the current renovation project and the possibility of expansion down the road. “You need to grow or you stand still,” says Barbara.

As for recent controversies in the Episcopal Church, Barbara says: “We’ve lived through many changes…Churches go through that too. That doesn’t affect us. We’re Episcopalians.” When she hears of someone who has left the church after becoming angry about some change, she wonders how that could happen. “That’s not why you’re a member of the church…What better vehicle is there (than the church) to make this a better world?”

Still, Mac and Barbara cherish the past. Mac remembers a service at St. George’s around the time of the Bicentennial in 1976. The evening-prayer liturgy came, for the most part, from the 1662 Prayer Book—the book that was in use at the time of the American Revolution.

Mac remembers asking then Rector Charles Sydnor, “If George Washington had been here tonight, would he have felt at home?” The answer was “yes.”