“They also preached” – Assistants and Associates St. George’s 1973-1976. Part 1- Charles Sydnor

It must have caught the Vestry by surprise in September, 1972 when Rev. Tom Faulkner made the following statement – “During almost 27 of the best years of our lives, Mary and I have always tried to put St. George’s church first in our thinking. Again it is with St. George’s welfare in mind that I make the following statement to you.

“On June 18, 1973, I shall be 65 years of age and eligible for retirement. In view of this fact and in order we all may plan better for the future, if everything can be put into order by June 30, 1973…I plan to give up the rector position of St. George’s church as of June 30, 1973.”

For many, Rev. Tom Faulkner was the only minister they had known at St. George’s, beginning his ministry, Feb. 1, 1946.

In Dec. 1972, the decision had changed. In the Vestry meeting Faulkner cited demographic factors with 500 active and 150 inactive communicants, leading to the decision to consider adding a rector and not making a decision to replace Faulkner.  He suggested a reduction in the Diocesan pledge to help pay for it. Pledge $7000, $500 to region and $7,500 for assistant rector for ½ years and reduce pledge to $2,000. Vestry voted instead for $5,000 for the Diocesan pledge and appoint a committee of the wardens and rector to consider the next steps. Then in Jan., 1973 the Vestry decided to take on the decision themselves as a committee of the whole on Jan 15, 1973.

At the same time Christ Church in Spotsylvania was interested in St. George’s helping with its ministry since it did not have a rector. The rector and assistant would serve in that capacity.

A special Vestry meeting was held on Jan. 22 to “firm up those plans and implement them.”The name of Churchill Gibson came to the forefront. He was the chaplain of St. Stephen’s school in Alexandria. An original motion was to give him a call and then a committee decided to approach him at Diocesan Council which was to be held shortly.

Another Vestry meeting was held Jan 29, the Monday after Council. Then Faulkner shifted gears again. He announced that “an associate rectorship appeared to be fraught with difficulties” and that he would resign as of June 30, 1973.  There may have been difficulties trying to find a way to finance it.

The Committee reported they had consulted with Gibson. The results were not included in the minutes though they decided to extend a call. Greenup called him on Feb. 4. Gibson was not sure he wanted to leave but was agreeable to meet with the Vestry to discuss it. He did want the Vestry to send him a letter with the specifics and he mentioned specific topics and expectations. A committee was setup to prepare such a letter.

By March, Gibson decided to stay in Alexandria.  The Vestry then requested that Faulkner rescind his resignation for 3 years. The Vestry would look for an assistant to serve both St. George’s and Christ Church Spotsylvania if the details could be worked out.

A letter to the church was written on April 5 signed by Senior Warden Russ Roberts. They pointed out some shortcoming to be addressed – Christian Education and that Faulkner was not meeting all the pastoral needs of 700+ members of the congregation. They said it was not a reflection of Rev. Faulkner but of demands on his time. A new rector brought in now would crowd more of Faulkner’s time and not address the above problems.

They said Faulkner would remain at St. Georges for 3 more years and they would seek to add an assistant rector, particularly one experience in Christian education for all ages.  The letter mentioned the need for more financial giving from the congregation.  Christ Church was also mentioned.  An arrangement was sought where St. George’s rector and assistant rector would also be present for the congregation other than Sunday. They would contribute part of their budget to St. George’s.

From May to October, the Vestry met with assistant rector candidates.  The candidates Rev. Richard Busby and the Rev. Andrew Krumbaugh  were part of the June discussion. A special meeting of the Vestry on June 26 considered the above plus James Peterson, Steven Harris and Guerdon Ramsey. They voted to call Busby. Apparently, that was not successful as they met with Steward Henderson in July as well as Randall Prior. The Vestry voted to extend a call to Prior as of Aug.5. Prior was the assistant at St. Stephens in Richmond.  A letter of Aug 8 mentioned a starting salary and the benefits as well the fact that the assistant rector position would have Christian education and that he would alternate services with Tom Faulkner at Christ Church.  Prior declined to accept saying that the position “is not right for me at this point in my ministry.”

The strategy to find an assistant changed by the fall. In September it was reported that 28 letters had been sent to younger clergy to see if any of them would be interested. Among the 5 replies mentioned was one from Charles R. Sydnor. Sydnor came down for an interview on Oct. 1. By Oct 7, they had visited a service and in a special Vestry meeting issued a call to Sydnor.  Charles Sydnor  became assistant rector November  1, 1973. Faulkner eventually retired in February 1976, and Sydnor became rector seven months later and served until  May 1, 2003.  

Born in Kinsale,Virginia, Sydnor received a BA Degree in English and Speech 1966 and was Phi Beta Kappa. He attended Virginia Theological Seminar 1966-68. From 1968-1969, he served as an Industrial Intern with IBM with the Inter-Seminary Church and Society Program. He returned to the seminary in the fall of 1969 and received the Masters of Divinity in 1970. Before coming to St. George’s he was worker-priest in charge of a mission in Sterling VA.

From Nov.1973 until Feb 1, 1976 Sydnor was the Assistant. He was tasked Christian Education particularly youth and reported their activities in Vestry which was in keeping with satisfying the weaknesses at St. George’s mentioned in the April 5, 1973 letter. He helped train the teachers. He worked with the youth group and even devised field education for one student Mike Devine for his seminary training

Sydnor attended a Parish Development Conference and organized Vestry retreat of not only the vestry but also parish leaders at Roslyn in Richmond exploring how Christianity helps to fulfill modern human needs. Out of it came 8 ideas for Christian education in marriage, money management, teaching about various parts of the service, advertisements and outreach ideas for the downtown business community. Some advertisements developed in the conference were actually published in the Free Lance-Star. The Vestry authorized at least two instructional services for 1975. The marriage encounter was tried but did not achieve sufficient participation.

Sydnor participated in a 5 man preaching mission team at St. Stephens in 1975. He pushed to try it at St. George’s. A Mission Planning Board was formed for St. George’s to invite guest ministers to preach. The event was called “The Joyous Renewal in Christ”, an event the Free Lance-Star labeled it a “happening”. It involved an evening over four evenings conducted by five visiting Episcopal clergy followed by discussion groups at various parishioner homes. They were housed and fed by various families in the church. The conclusion is that while it did not reach as many as the organizers hoped, people did comes away “renewed.” It was planned to be repeated but it doesn’t appear to tried again.

By May, 1975, Faulkner decided to retire June 30, 1976. However, when the budget appeared tight in December, 1975 he decided to retire as of Feb 1, 1976 which was the 30th anniversary of serving as rector. This would allow an interim before a new rector arrived. Sydnor as priest in charge would be responsible for services and other duties but the Senior Warden and the Executive committee would oversee the church.

A Profile Committee setup coordinated 2 congregational meetings to help determine what type of priest they needed. He pushed a survey idea which was later done to find out St. George’s strengths and weaknesses. The Profile Committee did issue a survey in May, 1976. It covered basic likes, dislikes and future directions as well as qualities that the next rector should have.

10 candidates including Charles Sydnor as well as Churchill Gibson were evaluated on June 21. It is not clear the extent of the investigation. Within two months, by Aug. 26, Sydnor had accepted a call from St. George’s as the next rector.

He issued the following document, a set of goals, “New Way for a New Day” which was also published in the newsletter.

Attendance and commitment were the main goals. The Vestry had noted the decline of communicants 527-485 from 1965-1974 and decline in average attendance 210 to 138 in the same years in the July meeting. The communicant figures were from Diocesan reports. The attendance was only a 8% sample from the first Sundays in Feb., July and November. The Vestry related budget deficit to this trend and warned of increasing problems down the road if the trend continued. The Vestry proposed procedures was to identify bonafide members and select the best rector and Vestry to rebuild the parish.