St. Alban's History
St. Alban's was first organized as a parish in 1857 when a group of cotton farmers along the Big Black River joined together in worship. Mrs. William Sthreshley invited the Rev. Henry Sanson of Canton, Mississippi, to perform a service in the Bovina community. The first service was held in the Baptist church at Mt. Alban, just west of Bovina in the fall of 1857. In response to a general request from those who attended for another service at the earliest possible time, the Reverend Sanson held a second service 4 - 6 weeks later. At the close of the service, on November 29, 1857, the Articles of Association were adopted by seventeen men and women of the area to form St. Alban's. A vestry was elected, and Henry Sanson, D.D., was asked to serve as Rector, supplying the parish with services once a month. On December 13, 1857, Emily Elizabeth Sthreshley, daughter of William H. and Martha C. Sthreshley, became the first child born to a member of the congregation.
For a few months, regular services were held at the school house in Mt. Alban. On June 18, 1858, the vestry and congregation voted to erect a church about a quarter mile southwest of the train depot in Bovina. Three and three-quarter acres of land near the tracks were deeded to the "Vestrymen and trustees of the Protestant Episcopal Church called the Church of the Nativity" by Mr. and Mrs. Peterson Bass on September 23, 1858, and $5,000 was raised to build the church. The Rt. Rev. William M. Green, Bishop of Mississippi, consecrated the church now known as St. Alban's on May 5, 1859. Rev. William C. Crane of Jackson gave the sermon on that day. The Bishop also confirmed 19 people, five of whom were slaves.
In 1860, Mrs. Malvina Folkes was buried at St. Alban's by the Rev. Sanson. The parish burial ground surrounds the north and east sides of the church.
During the Civil War, the planters and their slaves continued regular worship at St. Alban's, with the number of slave communicants eventually outnumbering the white. In the summer of 1862, St. Alban's and the Bovina community became havens for the civilians who fled Vicksburg during its first bombardment. By May 1863, St. Alban's was "appropriated for military purposes," and rifle pits were dug all over the grounds during the siege of Vicksburg.
On July 4, 1863, Vicksburg surrendered to Grant. Traditional accounts state that the church was used as a butcher shop, a dance saloon, and a stable. One traditional report states that the cornerstone of the church was used for bayonet practice, but contemporary study suggests it was rather used for rifle target practice. Another traditional account of the occupation suggests that the Army purposefully destroyed the church, but recent study suggests that the destruction was accidental. Regardless of the how or why, St. Alban's lay in complete ruin after the occupation. All that remained was the mutilated cornerstone and a few pieces of glass from the windows which Mrs. Amelia Barr saved "for sentiments sake."
Seven years passed before steps to re-establish a parish were taken. Dr. William Barr asked the Rev. James Angel Fox, a long time member of the parish and a retired pastor, to serve as rector of St. Alban's. In his letter of acceptance, Parson Fox wrote, "We all wish to see the St. Alban's rise from its ashes and ruins & although we cannot expect to behold the comely edifice and flourishing congregation that existed previous to the horrid scenes of 1863, we may still hope, that with God's blessing, the St. Alban's may afford shelter and consolation to many in their journey to this 'vale of tears' to a better and more enduring inheritance."
Parson Fox began the building fund by seeking a donation from St. Alban's Church in New York. Ten years and $1200 later, St. Alban's had a new church building, of plain plank, on the grounds of the original church. In one of the doors was a small window which incorporated the pieces of glass saved by Mrs. Barr. The new building was consecrated on February 27, 1880. The Rev. Fox died the next year.
Regular worship services were held in the frame building until 1928. At that time, an endowment from the Townsend family paid for expanding of the church. The chapel that was built in 1880 was turned and moved slightly to serve as the Parish Hall. A brick church was built, and offices, classrooms, and a modern kitchen were added. In the 1970's a rectory was built on land just east of the church. In 1995 an extensive refurbishment was completed.
In 1919, Valentine H. Sessions began an illustrious pastoral ministry to what he affectionately called "The Bolton Field" serving St. Mary's Church, Bolton, and St. Alban's Bovina, as well as churches in Brandon, Madison County, Raymond, and Ridgeland. Thus began a relationship of sharing with other small area churched that lasted for a number of years. By 1921, St. Alban's had reverted to mission status because of a decline in membership, probably resulting form the war and yellow fever epidemic. The people of St. Alban's continued to worship in their small frame building until 1928. In that year the Rev. Sessions oversaw the building of a chapel given by Townsend Palmer and his sister, Mrs. Nathan Fabrizric, in memory of their mother, Matilda Townsend Palmer. The family was descended from John and Samuel Townsend, signers of the Articles of Confederation of the church in 1857. The 1871 building was rotated, renovated, and covered with brick. This connected structure now serves as the parish hall.
In 1937, the church began a bus route, which ran thorough Sherman Avenue, Culkin, Jackson Road, and Highway 80. By that year services had dwindled to every other Sunday, but with the influx of new people, the congregation began to grow once more. St. Alban's fulfilled a great need during the gasoline-starved war years by transporting and training the children of the surrounding areas as well as those in Bovina, thus helping build the now thriving Methodist, Baptist, and other local churches.
With the advice of Bishop Duncan Gray, Sr., the church made an agreement in 1959 with All Saints' School for the Rev. Raul Mattei, a native of Puerto Rico and a teacher at the school, to serve St. Alban's on weekends. The church rented its first rectory on National Street and then purchased a rectory on Groome Drive. Members moved nearer to their long-time goal of becoming a parish once again by deciding the addition of an educational wing to the church was their first priority. The $35,000 structure was built of variegated brick following the same Gothic style architecture as the original buildings. Bishop Allin dedicated Sessions Hall on October 29, 1967. The church now had the full-time services of a resident priest and an excellent educational facility.
On April 7, 1969, the Diocesan Mission Committee voted that St. Alban's should become a parish and a congregational meeting was called by the priest-in-charge, the Rev. Gene Moore. But St. Alban's did not achieve parish status until the 146th Annual Diocesan Council convened January 26-28, 1973. This most glorious day had arrived and many parishioners were there to witness the regaining of the status that had been lost 52 years earlier. One of the goals of the new rector, the Rev. Victor Bircher, was the building of a rectory on newly acquired property adjacent to the church. This was accomplished and on October 31, 1976, open house was held for a delighted congregation. The Rev. Bircher's dream of a pipe organ for St. Alban's was also about to materialize. A beautiful recital and dedication was held July 16, 1978.
In January 1981, the Rev. Marry Lancaster became rector. The Rev. David Booher arrived at St. Alban's in September 1983. On June 20, 1984, the 125th anniversary of the consecration of the church was celebrated. St. Alban's welcomed as deacon-in-charge the Rev. David Christian in June 1991. On December 21, 1991, the Rev. Christian was ordained to the priesthood at St. Alban's. The church continued to grow and accomplished a number of restoration and expansion projects, including the addition of a new sacristy, under the able guidance and leadership of the Rev. Christian.
St. Alban's has been famous through the years for its wonderful dinners-on-the-grounds, when the congregation gathers under the giant cedar and live oak trees and spread the homemade dishes out for a hungry congregation. The first account of the congregation gathering "under the spreading trees" for dinner was following the 1859 consecration service. In the 1950s the ECW began holding a fund-raiser serving meals of ham or chicken and noodles. In the Country Market, baked goods, cheese, and stone ground meal were sold. That tradition was revived in the 1980s, and each year in October the church welcomes the community to "Dinner-on-the-Grounds at St. Alban's" complete with children's activities, crafts, tours of the historic church buildings, and the traditional Country Market featuring wonderful homemade breads, sweets, jams and jellies. Proceeds from the event are use for parish outreach and restoration work on the historic church structure.
Today St. Alban's serves the Bovina and Warren County community through more numerous ministries than ever before in its 143-year history. St. Alban's has many active organizations including the Episcopal Church Women, Episcopal Young Churchmen, Altar Guild, lay readers, Guild of St. Vincent (acolytes), and choir. The church also has an active Christian Education program, with stewardship, outreach, and evangelism committees. St. Alban's has served for years as sponsor for Boy Scout Troop 113 with Boy and Cub Scout groups meeting at the church each week.
Our present rector, the Very Reverend Billie Abraham, began her ministry at St. Alban's in 2008. Services are held each Sunday morning with Holy Eucharist at 8:30 and 11:00 and Christian Education at 9:45. Holy Eucharist and Unction are celebrated each Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
Lift High The Cross: The History of St. Alban's Episcopal Church
Members involved in Saint Alban's Founding
Articles of Association prescribed by the Convention of the Diocese
of Mississippi were signed by the original parishioners
The First Vestry
The Very Reverend Billie Abraham, Rector ◆ The Reverend Deacon Josie Williams
5930 Warriors Trail ◆ Vicksburg, MS 39180 ◆ Phone: (601) 636-6687