History of Saint James’: Rev. Paul Bowden

BowdenThe Rev. Paul Delafield Bowden 

10th Rector of Saint James’ Church (1920-1963)

Part I

On taking up his ministry in 1920, Paul Bowden wrote in the Parish Register:

“Having accepted the call to succeed the Rev. W. G. Pendleton as rector of St. James’ Church, Warrenton, Va., I took charge of the parish on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 1920 and preached my first sermon on the following Sunday. The parish had been without a rector or resident minister for six months. The report showed about 250 communicants. The equipment consisted of the church building, a small parish house and a rectory.  There was a debt of some $9000 [$100,000< in 2015 dollars] on the rectory. May the spirit of God aid me in the work among His people. – Paul D. Bowden”

Born in 1893 at Napoleonville, Louisiana, Paul Bowden was raised as an Episcopalian and followed his father and maternal grandfather into the ministry. He graduated from the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, in 1916, and entered Virginia Theological Seminary.

With the declaration of war against Germany on April 6, 1917, Paul Bowden informed the bishop of West Texas of his intention to interrupt his studies and join the Army. The bishop replied within days on April 11, 1917, in part, “….  While the commission to service in the United States Army is one of great dignity and of high opportunity for the discharge of sacred duties, yet the commission to preach the Gospel of peace is higher and it has greater power for the nation’s good.” Paul accepted the bishop’s plea, completed studies at Virginia Theological Seminary in 1919, and was ordained a priest that year.

At age 27, Mr. Bowden came to Saint James’ in 1920 from San Marcos, Texas, where he had been rector of St. Mark’s Church.  Thus began the longest continuous service – 43 years in a single pulpit in the history of the Diocese of Virginia (at least up until that time). He was often considered for larger churches and for other responsibilities, but with the bishop’s consent, he chose to remain at Saint James’.

In 1924, Paul married Margaret Primrose Spilman, daughter of General Baldwin Day Spilman and his wife, Annie, of Warrenton. Through the combination of the Rev. Bowden’s visionary leadership and his wife’s considerable resources, Saint James’ Church grew as it never had before. A major achievement was the family’s gift of the Spilman Memorial Parish House in 1929. Where he saw a need, Mr. Bowden filled it, paying for alteration of the Chapel, adding pews in memory of his parents, supplementing the salary of the church organist, adding memorial windows and financing many everyday church expenses.  Fundraising campaigns and bazaars became less necessary.

Saint James’ was truly his church. A hard worker who did almost everything himself, he had no regular secretary or assistant, and often only one acolyte. He ran the choir and Sunday school. He hand-addressed all mailings and often decorated the church for special occasions, bringing in cedar trees for Christmas and flowering branches for Easter.

The Bowdens’ lifetime generosity extended beyond the aesthetic into college scholarships for needy youths and providing food and clothing in the Depression. During World War II, Mr. Bowden made the parish house available by opening its doors to hundreds of soldiers, which included USO entertainments. He had showers installed in the basement for soldiers’ use; rooms were used for first aid classes, training air raid wardens and Red Cross activities. He personally hand-knitted mittens and socks for men in uniform.

In 1945, at war’s end, Mr. Bowden was honored for 25 years service at Saint James’ by a speech of tribute and gift of silver and glass. Along with spiritual growth and outreach, the church had been freed of debt, the church plant enlarged and the parish house built.

(to be continued)