The first occasion for public prayer in America took place in what later became Lynnhaven Parish on April 26, 1607. The Rev. Robert Hunt was in the company that landed at Cape Henry. That first service was performed in the spiritual traditions of the Church of England and conducted according to its Book of Common Prayer. The landing party, organized by Admiral Christopher Newport, erected a cross and named the spot Cape Henry, after the popular Prince of Wales.
Not long after the official colonization of Jamestown, a religious-civil district, called Lynnhaven Parish, was formed in this area. The parish was a formless tract until 1642 when an act of the Colonial Assembly established its definite boundaries. In 1639 the first church edifice was erected on a spit of land belonging to Adam Thoroughgood one mile from the Chesapeake Bay on the west side of the Lynnhaven River. It became known as Old Donation and became the mother church of the parish. Outlying chapels of ease were served by the parish priest, or prayers and sermon were given by duly licensed clerks.
The American Revolution brought disestablishment of the Church of England, and many churches fell into disrepair and neglect from lack of use. The social upheaval of the Revolution fostered reaction to anything “British,” and the Church of England took its share of the impact.
By 1840 most of the families who had lived near Old Donation had moved away, and the parish church was in ruins. The Rev. John C. Hull gathered those Episcopal families who were living in or near Kempsville and determined that this little pre-Revolutionary village was the place for a new church.
David Walke donated a plot of land in the center of Kempsville, and the first church was completed in July 1843. The Rt. Rev. William Meade, Bishop of Virginia, consecrated the building on November 27, 1843. Kempsville, a busy, active, coastal trading port on the Elizabeth River, was known then as Kemps Landing. As Virginia grew, the town lost its economic function, and Emmanuel gradually became a rural parish.
Emmanuel observed her 100th anniversary on July 18, 1943. Less than three months later a fire of unknown origin burned the church almost to the ground. Two sailors saw the fire, broke into the burning building, and were able to save the altar cross, communion silver, brass eagle lectern, many of the pews, and the organ. With the help of outside friends, the core of the present church building was restored and consecrated by the Rt. Rev. George P. Gunn, Bishop of Southern Virginia.
By 1961 the parish had outgrown the old parish hall. It was donated to St. Thomas Church in Great Bridge (since destroyed by termites), and the present educational building was dedicated to the memory of the Rev. Richard Alfriend who had served as rector from 1899 until his death in 1923.
In 1973 another addition was made to the parish hall as the congregation continued to grow. In 1992 an addition to the chancel and nave of the church was completed, dramatically increasing the available seating, yet leaving the original portions of the building intact.
An addition to the parish hall and education wing was completed in the summer of 2001 and dedicated by Bishop Bane in September 2001. Additional property behind the church was acquired to provide room for growth. The Day School is in its own wing and boasts eight new classrooms and two offices. Virtually every other office or meeting room in the parish hall was expanded. The kitchen was upgraded to an industrial kitchen wth all amenities. The parking lot was expanded and repaved, and an additional entrance for improved accessibility was added.
The City of Virginia Beach instituted eminent domain proceedings against Emmanuel in 2001 as part of its plan to relocate Princess Anne Road from the front of the church to a new road crossing our property behind the church. After years of legal and emotional ups and downs, an equitable out-of-court settlement was agreed upon in May 2012. The church received additional land in compensation for the taken property plus a monetary award to assist in making use of this new land and to erect a wall to protect the Day School from the new Princess Anne Road traffic. The additional ground will enable Emmanuel to meet the need for future growth.