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St. Cyprian's Historic Episcopal Church

St. Cyprian's Church, as it Appears Today

St. Cyprian's Historic Episcopal Church, St. Augustine, Florida

By Amy Howard

St. Cyprian's was born in 1900 from the best intentions of racial segregation - a gift from whites to blacks. It provided a beautiful Episcopal environment safe from the racism in the blended church. For eighty years, it thrived as a spiritual hub for a unique segment of St. Augustine's Lincolnville community. They were conservatives who preferred slow and steady improvement over radical social change.

The civil rights movement changed St. Cyprian's, even though the church stayed out of the uproar. In the following generation, it deteriorated in membership and as a church building. Because of its age and classic beauty, the crumbling building was restored in the 1990s. Its human outlook is renewed as well. Honoring its original purpose, St. Cyprian's offers sanctuary from today's social stigmas.

Episcopal Church in Florida

The Episcopal Diocese of Florida was created in 1838. From the beginning, key clergy have worked to incorporate the black community into their church. It was an uphill battle against racism.

Before the Civil War, American slave owners often insisted their slaves learn Christianity. Consequently, white Episcopal church services were largely attended by black slaves, who sat in the back or in balconies. Some clergy conducted services for slaves right on the plantations.

After the Civil War, newly freed African-Americans could choose where they would attend church, or if they even wanted to at all. Although the Florida Episcopal Diocese tried to keep its black members, it tried harder to keep its white members. Racist attitudes generally prevailed. Black church-goers were still sectioned off to the far fringes of the sanctuary, and black children were prohibited from youth camps. Integrated Episcopal churches quickly lost most of their black members to the social comfort of Negro Baptist and Methodist churches.

Two years after the Civil War, John Freeman Young was elected as the second Bishop of the Diocese of Florida. Bishop Young fought to regain the black membership by developing educational programs for emancipated slaves. By the time he died in 1885, the Diocese had created nine African-American Episcopal churches in north Florida, though not in St. Augustine.

Bishop Young was succeeded by another maverick, the Right Reverend Edwin Gardener Weed. Bishop Weed ordained five black priests in Florida, even though the Diocese newspaper stated, "We do not favor the ordination of colored men to the priesthood."

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