John Stark Ravenscroft

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John Stark Ravenscroft (1772–1830) was the first Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.


Born near Blandford in Prince George County, Virginia in 1772, his early life was spent in Scotland. Ravenscroft did not decide on any profession until he was 27, when he enrolled at William and Mary College to prepare for a career in law. His education was interrupted when he was compelled to return to Scotland for the final settlement of his father’s estate. Returning to Virginia, Ravenscroft lived as a country gentleman at Spring Bank in Lunenburg County for eighteen years, during which period he reportedly "never bent his knees in prayer, nor did he once open a Bible."

Around 1810 he experienced a religious conversion or awakening, joining a group known as "Republican Methodists" and deciding to become a minister. However, he began to harbor doubts as to whether every Christian denomination (including the Republican Methodists) were valid and authorized by scriptures, and especially their fitness to perform sacraments. His old-line Virginian family had been members of the Church of England, but his involvement with its post-revolution successor in America, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America was almost nonexistent until his decision to seek a ministerial post with a more established church. He was soon confirmed in the Episcopal Church by Bishop Richard Channing Moore.

On April 25, 1817, Bishop Moore admitted the 45-year-old Ravenscroft to the diaconate in the Monumental Church, Richmond, Virginia, and on May 6 of the same year, advanced him to the priesthood in St. George's Episcopal Church, Fredericksburg. Only five years into his ministry, Ravenscroft was elected Bishop of North Carolina and consecrated in St. Paul's Church, Philadelphia, on May 22, 1823. He was awarded doctorates in divinity the same year by Columbia University, the College of William & Mary, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


A dedicated "high churchman," Bishop Ravenscroft was known for his strident promotion of the Episcopal Church and its doctrines. He mentored several priests who later became pioneering bishops in new dioceses. Ravenscroft was also vilified by the Bible Society of North Carolina for his assertion, during a sermon before that group's annual meeting in December 1824, that the Bible could not be properly studied without a qualified teacher. Ravenscroft engaged in a theological duel of sorts over the content of his sermon with Presbyterian theology professor John Rice. Not one to mince his words, spoken or printed, Ravenscroft published a defense of his beliefs and character with the 1826 book, The Doctrines of the Church Vindicated from the Misrepresentations of Dr. John Rice, and the Integrity of Revealed Religion Defended against the "No Comment Principle" of Promiscuous Bible Societies.