Parish History

parish history

The Church of the Epiphany, the older of Danville’s two Episcopal churches, is a significant landmark located in the center of Danville’s Historic District at the corner of Main Street and Jefferson Avenue, a spot which the church has occupied since its founding. Epiphany’s history reflects service to the needs of the community, respect for the beauty of a place to worship, a love of music and a need to enjoy and respect diversity in multiple areas.

The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany was founded in 1840 by Dr. George Washington Dame, who came to town to serve as principal of the Danville Female Academy. Four years later the church erected a wooden structure of Gothic design, on the corner of Main Street and Jefferson Avenue. By the time of the Civil War, Dr. Dame’s original congregation of four women had grown to 265 communicants. In the 1860s Dr. Dame gave Epiphany’s first church bell to the Southern Army (CSA) and served as the chaplain for the Danville Post of the CSA. He took communion to, and served in many capacities, the Northern Army’s (USA) prisoners of war being held in nearby tobacco warehouses which served as prisons. Jefferson Davis worshiped at Epiphany before fleeing the south at the end of the war. A new church bell, which remains in service to this day, was donated in 1867, by local citizens impressed by Dr. Dame’s wartime contributions.

The original frame building was demolished to make way for the present structure, which was completed and consecrated in 1880. The last council for the Diocese of Virginia was held at Epiphany in 1881, and the first council for the Diocese of Southern Virginia was held a year later. In April 1895, Dr. Dame gave his farewell sermon at Epiphany, and his assistant, The Reverend Dr. J. Cleveland Hall became Rector. Shortly thereafter Professor Robert S. Phifer, an accomplished musician who was a friend and benefactor of the British composer, Frederick Delius, was hired as organist cementing Epiphany’s ongoing reputation for excellent music. Dr. Hall served Epiphany for twenty-five prosperous years. By 1914, Epiphany’s membership reached 594, new parishes in the area had been formed and Epiphany began sponsoring young men for ordination in the Episcopal Church, a tradition which continues today for the benefit of all.

Under The Reverend George R. MacClintock's twenty-seven year tenure as rector from 1944 to 1971, a new parish hall was built and the "Budget Box", a store for lightly used apparel, was started and became important to the church and community. The Reverend James Mathieson was called to Epiphany in 1993, and the Free Clinic of Danville was established with initial financial support from Epiphany. This was housed within the church initially and served those in the community who were employed, but could not afford health care.  During Father Mathieson’s tenure, the Parish Hall was renovated, an elevator was installed for our multi-level parish house, a new sacristy was built as well as a new parking lot, and the Columbarium was added to the Memorial Garden. 

In his autobiography, Dr. Dame spoke of his belief that God called him to ministry and later to Danville. He wrote, "I could never understand what made me leave my home and make the heavy sacrifice unless it was the moving of Him who by His Spirit leads the blind by ways they know not..." In Dr. Dame, God called a new church into being. 178 years later, we strive to live into that early call. Throughout its history, the people of the Church of the Epiphany have followed a call to be a church whose heart is centered in revealing and manifesting God's love to the world. Over and over we have sought to be a place whose arms open wide for the work of God's kingdom.

stained glass

Most of the stained glass memorial windows, installed during the first quarter of the 20th century, were designed and executed by the J.R. Lamb Company of New York. The chancel “Christ as Shepherd” window honors the lifework of Epiphany’s first rector, who retired in 1895.  

In the Episcopal tradition, we value worship in beautiful spaces as a way to honor God and to help us to connect with God. This is a gift from our Catholic heritage. Stained glass windows are not only a teaching element, but also "lift our hearts." We worship in beautiful spaces, giving our best to God. Our worship space gives a sense of worship as beauty and wonder invites us to mark time differently - sacramentally, eternally.

180 years

In celebration of Epiphany’s centennial in 1979 of the current structure, the balcony at the rear of the nave was enlarged to accommodate an Andover tracker organ. The installation of this instrument was one of the early projects made possible by the Schoolfield Trust. About the same time the church received two more significant gifts. Longtime member E. Stuart James Grant, purchased and donated to Epiphany, the Main Street property immediately adjacent to the church. In 1980 a beautiful garden was created on this land in memory of Mrs. John G. Boatwright. 2020 MARKED OUR 180TH ANNIVERSARY AS A PARISH!