A Gift Shop that Gives Back to the World

Around historic Williamsburg, Virginia, Bruton Parish Episcopal Church is renowned for a couple of reasons. Established in the 18th century, it’s a tourist attraction and one of the oldest Episcopal churches in continuous use. More recently, it also has been the site of a renowned gift shop whose sole purpose is to support people in need locally and worldwide. At the end of 2011, the Bruton Parish Shop celebrated an impressive milestone: Since 1995, more than $2 million in outreach funding has been granted to 230 ministries and nonprofit organizations, including Episcopal Relief & Development.

Carol Weaver, the shop’s buyer and manager since its opening, recalled that it grew out of a biannual bazaar held by the Bruton Parish Episcopal Church Women (ECW) to support outreach. The shop is located on Duke of Gloucester Street, a main tourist path, in the former parish house. When the church began a capital campaign for a new office building, Carol said, Beverly Kelly and other visionary ECW members “decided they should open a shop when the building was free, to take advantage of the foot traffic.” 

In the 16 years since, the Bruton Parish Shop has grown into a major venture – mostly run by volunteers. Two full-time staff and one half-time employee work with more than 200 volunteers, who contribute 13,000 hours of time annually to keep the store open 358 days a year. “It’s an amazing testament to the church that there are so many volunteers – not just from the parish, but the wider community.” Carol said. Whether from other Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, Catholic, Jewish, or of other faiths, “If they believe in our mission, they come and help.” (Carol herself is an ordained Presbyterian elder.)

Among the bestselling items are those locally made, such as butternut wood crosses hand-carved by a cabinet maker. “They’re just beautiful,” Carol said. “He somehow got this message from God that he should get into this business.” Jewelry is another big seller, especially pieces made out of silverware by a local artisan, crosses and Celtic-inspired items. The store also has a Garden Shop in the spring and summer, and a very popular Christmas Parlor from September through March. Explaining the Christmas Parlor’s long season, Carol said, “October is the busiest time of year in Williamsburg,” when tourists flock in to enjoy great weather and fall foliage. “We want to be prepared for all those folks. Plus, people always like to buy Christmas ornaments. People call us and schedule their holidays around the Parlor – it’s quite a compliment.”

Since its establishment, the Bruton Parish Shop has provided a vast majority of the church’s outreach funding, according to Carol. Over the years, Episcopal Relief & Development has received generous support for a range of programs, including Japan earthquake relief, NetsforLife and the Global Needs Fund in 2011. The hundreds of other nonprofits receiving grants have included churches, seminaries, shelters, clinics, children’s services, an orphanage in Eastern Europe and a soup kitchen in Moscow, Russia.

This support has continued even through the economic downturn. “We’ve suffered the same rigors as every other retailer,” Carol said. “There aren’t as many tourists, and we’ve felt that pinch.” At the same time, she noted – confirming Beverly’s original vision in starting the shop – “We’ve been very blessed with lots of traffic.” Also, she said, “We’re fortunate that our volunteers are also our very, very best customers.”

“The ladies and gents that work in this shop are very dedicated to this mission,” Carol added. “They’re very proud of the fact that the time and effort they put in are going to places like Episcopal Relief & Development, and locally.”

“Episcopal Relief & Development extends congratulations and deep thanks to Bruton Parish on reaching this remarkable $2 million milestone,” said Brian Sellers-Petersen, the agency’s Director of Church Engagement. “We’re extremely grateful to have received such open-handed support these many years. The hard work and dedication of the shop’s staff and volunteers have enabled us to touch the lives of countless people facing disasters, poverty and sickness worldwide.”


Photo, top right: Bruton Parish Shop pioneers (from left) Carol Weaver, Buyer and Manager; Beverly Kelly, the visionary; Ann Gregory and Jim Mundy, members of the original group who made the shop a reality. Bottom left: the Christmas Parlor; middle and right: customers browse the shop’s many offerings. Courtesy of Bruton Parish Episcopal Church.