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Parish History Notes 24: The Short Rectors

It might be considered irreverent to classify a member of the clergy in this way, but two of the most successful rectors of St. Martin’s Parish were height-challenged. 

Rev. William Augustus Alrich was born in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1836. After serving as a military chaplain during the Civil War he was ordained priest in 1868. He was called from Fairfax County to St. Martin’s in 1869. Two years later his wife died in childbirth at the Rectory, and she is buried in the churchyard. His second wife was Mary Berkeley of White House, Old Ridge Road. Mr. Alrich was known as a very short man with a big heart, serving the parish during the difficult period of reconstruction.

Rev. John Philips was rector of St. Martin’s Parish from 1815 to 1824, during the period of reawakening in the Episcopal Church. According to Bishop William Meade, “His person was the most diminutive I ever saw or heard in the pulpit, but it was remarkable for its quickness and energy of action. He required to be elevated on a high block or platform to be seen at all in the pulpit. When praying in private houses he always knelt in the chair, not by it.”

In 1824 Rev. Philips was reassigned to a parish in Lunenburg County. Bishop Meade also related the circumstances of his death: “While riding in a plain conveyance with Mrs. Philips, who always drove him about, as she did many other things for him, he expired without her knowledge, until, stopping at a tavern to water the horse which carried them, it was discovered that he was sitting by her side a lifeless corpse.”

A Fork Church legend describes the minister who fell off of his platform while preaching, “Soon you will not see me.” This tale must refer to one of these great men.