CHARLES TOWN – Zion Episcopal Church is almost as old as Charles Town.
The congregation can trace its history back to 1815. A larger church was built on the original site in 1848, but was destroyed by fire shortly after its dedication.
According to an excerpt from the Spirit of Jefferson about the fire: “This church, as our distant readers may be aware, had just been erected, at a cost of six or seven thousand dollars. In size, beauty of architecture, superior finish, interior and exterior, it surpassed any other church we know of in the valley of Virginia.”
The present church was completed in 1851. During the Civil War, it was used as a hospital for Union troops and suffered significant damage.
The word Zion means “city on the hill, the heavenly Jerusalem,” and this church sits on the highest point in Charles Town.
Surrounding the church is a churchyard containing 1,500 graves. Seventy members of George Washington’s family are buried here, more than any single site in the United States, save for Mount Vernon. Ninety Confederate soldiers are buried here, along with two Revolutionary War soldiers.
The church does not use the word graveyard or cemetery to describe the gravesites. “The churchyard is not simply a place of repose, it is a place of joy. You are surrounded by the saints of Zion and those that have died and those that are living,” the Rev. Melanie McCarley said. “Members of the community are welcome to walk through our churchyard.”
McCarley was ordained 20 years ago and has served at Zion for 11 years. Originally from Reston, Va., McCarley served previously at churches in Virginia and Indiana. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Mary Washington University and a master’s in divinity from Virginia Theological Seminary.
The church is deeply rooted in Holy Scripture, reason and tradition. “We are focused on following Christ,” McCarley said.
The church embraces its community.
“Faith is not confined to four walls, but is best lived out in your daily life,” McCarley said. “Church is a place of support for those sent out in mission.”
A founding member of Jefferson County Community Ministries and a board member of Good Shepherd Interfaith Caregivers, Zion serves as the host site of the Jefferson County cold weather homeless shelter and hosts a monthly meal ministry the last Saturday of each month, where about 150 people are fed.
Zion sent adults on missions to Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina and has sent teens on missions to Kentucky and Tennessee. McCarley and her daughter, Hannah, recently traveled to Bogata, Colombia, to establish relations between the Diocese of West Virginia and Colombia.
Zion holds two Sunday services. A traditional Holy Eucharist and sermon starts at 8 a.m. followed by a choral Eucharist service at 10:30 a.m. Other services during the week include a healing service at 10:30 a.m. every Thursday. A weekly Bible study, ecumenical and open to anyone, is offered Wednesdays at 10 a.m.
Zion also hosts a spring auction — set to be held at Harewood this year — and an annual farmer’s market held the first weekend in November. The farmer’s market includes a flea market; thousands of books, clothing and bake items offered for sale.
For more information about Zion Episcopal Church, contact the church at 304-725-5312.