Townsend, Craig D. 1955-

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Townsend, Craig D. 1955-


Born September 25, 1955; married; children. Education: Earned degrees from Brown University, 1978, and the Episcopal Divinity School, 1982; Harvard University, Ph.D., 1998.


Home—New York, NY. E-mail—[email protected].


Priest and theologian. St. James Church, New York, NY, associate rector for education.


Faith in Their Own Color: Black Episcopalians in Antebellum New York City, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2005.


Craig D. Townsend is a priest and theologian. Born on September 25, 1955, Townsend earned an undergraduate degree from Brown University in 1978 and continued his studies at the Episcopal Divinity School, graduating in 1982. He became an Episcopalian priest, preaching briefly in Michigan before moving to New York. He eventually became the associate rector for education at Manhattan's St. James Church. In 1998 he completed a Ph.D. at Harvard University, focusing on American religious history. His doctoral dissertation, "An Inexpedient Time: Race and Religion among New York City Episcopalians, 1809-1853," provided the bulk of material for his debut book publication.

Townsend published his first book, Faith in Their Own Color: Black Episcopalians in Antebellum New York City, in 2005. The book discusses the oldest black Episcopalian congregation in New York City at St. Philip's Episcopal Church. Townsend starts the book in 1809, when the African Americans broke away from the Caucasian-dominated Trinity Episcopal Church. The account ends in 1850 when the church was finally admitted into the convention of the Diocese of New York. Townsend highlights how the congregation fought to retain its African American heritage through its faith; dealt with racism and proscription in antebellum New York; searched for black rectors; and was eventually admitted into the convention of the diocese despite the negative reception and blocking by white Episcopalian Church leaders and lack of equality among the races in the same religion. Townsend places the African American Episcopalian experience in context of the wider religious spheres of New York. He also chronicles the roles of the church's leaders, including its first black rector, Peter Williams, Jr., Henry Scott, and Philip White.

Kenneth A. Scherzer, writing in H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, observed that "the strength of this book is also the cause of some weaknesses, albeit minor. If his insider's view yields a richness of understanding of theology and how diocesan governance operated, the narrow focus of the work prevents Townsend from directly comparing the appeal of Episcopalianism to black worshipers with that of other Protestant denominations." Scherzer noted that "this focus also comes at the expense of an understanding of the historical context of the changing status of African Americans under worsening racism in the 1820s. Nor did church leaders operate in a vacuum. Splits in Whig politics were clearly on the minds of some leaders, for William Jay argued that the debate over admitting St. Philip's to the Convention was one of ‘conscience vs. cotton’ (p. 180). Townsend's effort to explain decisions and understand the motivations of those making them sometimes comes off as defensive." Scherzer concluded that Faith in Their Own Color "successfully moves the spotlight away from more-studied evangelical denominations. By showing the intersection between race, church politics, and theology, Townsend had made an important contribution to our understanding of a neglected chapter of New York City religious history."

Sandy Dwayne Martin, reviewing the book in Church History, claimed that Faith in Their Own Color "is of immense value." In particular, Martin pointed out that the book "casts an insightful light on a black congregation within a predominantly white denomination" and illustrates "how free blacks utilized their faith tradition to deal with life in the very racialized atmosphere of antebellum America." Martin criticized, however, that "the major concern I have is the harsh manner in which the author deals with John Jay and the abolitionists in general and Alexander Crummell." Nevertheless, Martin "highly recommended" the book, adding that "Townsend has done a fine job in illustrating how the people of St. Philip's in the face of tremendous odds and trying circumstances retained and enhanced ‘faith in their own color.’"



Church History, June 1, 2007, Sandy Dwayne Martin, review of Faith in Their Own Color: Black Episcopalians in Antebellum New York City, p. 446.

Journal of American History, December 1, 2006, Graham Russell Gao Hodges, review of Faith in Their Own Color, p. 866.


Craig D. Townsend Home Page, (July 1, 2008).

H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, (May, 2006), Kenneth A. Scherzer, review of Faith in Their Own Color.