Jefferson Once Helped Create an Evangelical Church

[Photo by Jerry Newcombe—that church met where this courthouse now stands]

One of the main points of our book, Doubting Thomas, is that Jefferson was not a lifelong skeptic. In fact, in 1777, when he was in his 30s—a year after he wrote the first main draft of the Declaration of Independence and the same year he wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (adopted in 1786)—Jefferson helped create a Christian church, as a layman. It was called the Calvinistical Reformed Church of Charlottesville. The church called Rev. Charles Clay, an evangelical, as its pastor. Our book contains two sermons of Rev. Clay in print—for the very first time. To our knowledge, none of his sermons have been in print. And to think, Jefferson helped created this church. He wrote up its charter, and he financially supported it.

Thus, Jefferson drafted a document entitled a “Subscription to Support a Clergyman in Charlottesville,” and a companion document called a “Subscription to Support a Clerk of the Congregation in Charlottesville.” Actually Jefferson drafted another document first that organized what was called the Protestant Episcopal Church, but it did not have good response, so the document cited above was then circulated for signatures and voluntary pledges of money to create a fund for a “Calvinistical Reformed Church” in the new era of non-state churches. (This was in a time of transition, where Jefferson and others were trying to move away from the state-established church in Virginia, i.e., the Anglican Church “by law established.”

In the next blog, I’ll quote the actual document Jefferson wrote to help start the church. In future blogs, we’ll hear from Rev. Clay himself.

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