The Rev. David J. Greer
11th Rector of Saint James’ Church (1964-1980)
In 1964, David Jay Greer succeeded Paul Bowden as Rector of Saint James’ Church. Mr. Greer resigned as rector of Christ Church, Gordonsville, to come to Warrenton. Noteworthy is that recruitment of a successor priest was different then. Reflected in an oral history taken in 1997, David Greer spoke of the manner in which the call to take the pulpit at Saint James’ came about.
“One of the fascinating things that happened several years before Paul Bowden retired was that he came to clergy conference at Roslyn (diocesan center) and I was sitting across the table from him; he leaned over and said, ‘David, when I retire, how would you like to come to Warrenton?’ I thanked him – I thought he was a wonderful man and appreciated what he had said – and I said I had never been to Warrenton and appreciated the suggestion.”
“Next, a group of people I didn’t know came to church every Sunday for at least six weeks.”
David recalled that a choir member would look out into the congregation and say, “We’ve got some pirates today!” In time, Saint James’ senior warden extended the call which David accepted – on the condition that the vestry would take him to visit all parishioners to get a sense of their vision of the church. He began at Saint James’ on March 15, 1964, at a time when cultural and political change was on the horizon – the church included.
After settling in, David introduced a third service on Sunday mornings that included a children’s talk, he formed an adult education class. The big challenge came in 1968 when Episcopal churches were asked to introduce services for trial use for the purpose of revising the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. It fell to the Rector to take the lead and efforts were made to get parishioners to like the changes. There was, however, strong resistance at Saint James’, and elsewhere, to any liturgical change. “…some people weren’t really interested in knowing about the new services… and left Saint James’ to form a separate church.” It was an unsettled time for Saint James’ and the Episcopal Church.
Trial services continued for some time, resulting ultimately in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer that we use today. At the time, however, the Vestry would not allot money to buy the new Prayer Book. Bishop Hall intervened and gave David the go-ahead to personally buy the new book. On his departure in 1980, David gave instructions that the new Prayer Book should be placed in the pews and the 1928 book removed. (David was reimbursed through gifts, memorials, etc.)
The thinking that lay behind an addition to the Parish House was that Warrenton was going to grow and the time was ripe to marshal the resources. For funding, a dinner was held at the Armory – well supported and attended, resulting in a degree of financial backing. Also, the church had been willed a residential property; proceeds from its sale helped pay the eventual debt. Architecturally, the new wing was designed to be harmonious with the existing Parish House.
The lot behind the new building (now the parking lot) had been acquired, and during Mr. Bowden’s time the Kirby Building became church property. The Rectory, which had been rented to a tenant, underwent a $35,000 restoration after which the Greer family moved in.
Opportunities for Outreach
With completion of the Education Wing in 1968, Saint James’ opened a Youth Center, a clothing bureau, public classes for handicapped children, and a New Hope School for children isolated at home. Already established was a “bum fund,” renamed by David Greer as “Good Samaritan;” it was funded by all the churches and administered through a court magistrate. Its purpose was to help people traveling through town who needed assistance. They would be offered services, not money.
David related an incident in the mid-1970s when four people dressed in white sheets and sandals, carrying staffs, appeared on the Rectory porch. The head man introduced himself as Jesus Christ, the woman as Mary Christ; there was Gabriel Christ and others. They wanted to sleep in the church. The Rector explained that the church was not equipped for overnight visitors and that there was a Good Samaritan fund which could provide a place to sleep, and that help may be obtained at the Police Station. The head man declined saying they wanted to sleep in the church, that the monasteries used to allow it. David replied that Saint James’ was not a monastery. After further protestations, they left. Later, the police chief encountered the group and asked where they were from. They answered, “We came from God.”
Clergy and Outreach
As Dean of Region 13, David Greer started five community Lenten services, followed by luncheon. As Dean, he was asked to support Ugandan Bishop Yonah Okoth and his family for a year. Okoth had fled Uganda on the threat of execution by president Idi Amin. The family was taken in locally for an extended period; later he returned home to become Archbishop of all Uganda.
Mr. Greer was a leader in the Cursillo Movement in the Episcopal Church. He was a director of the Shrine Mont Conference. And, when drugs became a problem with some young people, Saint James’ started a healing program called, “Blue Grass Pipe.” It evolved into a center for Saint James’ Youth Group, using space on the ground level of the Parish House with pool tables, ping pong, a library and a place to dance.
During his time, the Fauquier Ministers Association had a radio program in which David Greer recorded talks for broadcast. He took his turn as president of the association, where 12-14 clergymen would meet monthly in the vestry room at Saint James’. Mr. Greer founded the chaplaincy program at Fauquier Hospital. Within the community, he worked to develop better race relations.
In 1980, Mr. Greer accepted a call as rector of St. Paul’s Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. He has visited Warrenton several times since then and has fond memories of Saint James’. His wife, Barbara Greer, a person of accomplishment, died in 2012
NOTE: The above is largely extracted from an interview with the Rev. David Greer on October 14, 1997. The complete text is available in church archives.
Compiled: History Committee – Richard Gookin
Sources: The Rev. David J. Greer (oral history); Fauquier Democrat; church archives
File: The Rev. David Greer