Advent on the Edge: Peter Tinsley

Peter Tinsley

Bulletin Board For Peter Tinsley

Peter Tinsley was the first long-term rector at The Advent. We chose to highlight his ministry in our first bulletin board because his life and work both shaped and challenged the parish in ways that are still visible today. Not only is the altar dedicated to his memory, but his kindness and passion for outreach continues today. On the bulletin board, we highlighted 4 themes:

Rector during Growth


Tinsley’s Faith

Tinsley Embodied at The Advent

Quick Facts:

  • Born: 1833, in Powhatan County VA.[1]
  • Died: 1908 in Cincinnati (age 75). Buried in VA.[2]
  • Rector at The Advent: 1870-1901[3]


Theme 1: Rector during Growth

Growth at Advent and CincinnatiWhen Peter Tinsley was called to The Advent in November, 1869, the city was much smaller than it is now. Walnut Hills as part of Cincinnati was bounded on the north by McMillan and what is now William Howard Taft on the east.[4] But the city was bursting at the seams: Population grew from 216,239 in the 1870 census to 325,902 in the 1900 census[5]; Walnut Hills (east and west as we know them today), the Village of Woodburn, Hyde Park and Oakley all became part of the city by 1911.[6] The annexation of villages and townships during this period reflected the expanding population of factory, mechanic and transportation workers and the middle class jobs that came with Industrialization.

The Advent was well situated to minister to this growth. Since its founding in 1855, the church had provided a place of worship for the professional class of Cincinnati who lived on the cliffs of Walnut Hills. As the physical borders of the city expanded to include all present-day Walnut Hills and points east, so The Advent became the locus for Episcopalians “on the Hills” – both merchant and professional. Pew rental was a major source of revenue during this time.[7] The Advent’s Communicant members increased from 169 to 540 during 1870 to 1900 — 220%, well beyond Cincinnati’s population growth of 51%[8]. The increased size of the building also reflects growth in worship attendance.[9]

Other Episcopal churches in Cincinnati also were founded and/or grew during this period, and the Diocese of Southern Ohio broke from the Dioceses of Ohio in 1875, in part because of the need for more focus on the quickly growing metropolis and surrounding areas. The Advent, under Tinsley’s leadership, advocated for the new Diocese.[10]


Theme 2: Mission/Outreach

Mission Churches founded by TinsleyIn a later write-up, we will cover some of the work of the Women’s Auxiliary and other mission-oriented groups at Advent, but here we focus on parochial work directly undertaken by Tinsley and supported by the Vestry: Church plantings in Oakley and Madisonville.

One of the most touching reminiscences of Tinsley comes from an Oakley parishioner:

If there is anything needed to confirm your faith in Missions ponder the results of the missionary efforts of the Church of the Advent not only here in Oakley but also Madisonville and Norwood for these missions were established by the Advent under the direction of that saintly man Peter Tinsley.  He was a perfect Christian gentleman. …  My first recollection of his coming to Oakley he was seated on a fine bay horse.  He was over six feet and had a neatly trimmed beard, twinkling blue eyes and a most bewitching smile, reminding me of one of the old Crusaders.  Afterwards he came to the services in a buggy filled with Prayer Books and Hymnals. [11]

Though assisted by Mr. Cox, Tinsley continued his “hands on” connection with these churches through the transition period to the Diocese. At transition, each church was able to sustain itself without help from The Advent.

Church planting seems an obvious mission activity during such a period of population growth, but we should also remember that The Advent was taking on additional financial obligation for building expansion during this period as well. The commitment of the Vestry to support Tinsley with an assistant focused on the new churches, and to support each church financially, speaks to their shared faith in The Advent’s mission. Vestry members were hard-headed businessmen and it was their money that kept The Advent proper going and growing. Those leaders understood that their church should be doing outreach as well as providing worship and church school education for its members. They valued and supported their Rector’s work.


Theme 3: Tinsley’s Faith

Diaries during Civil WarPeter Tinsley attended Hampden-Sydney College[12] and then graduated from  Virginia Theological Seminary in 1861 – one of the leading Episcopal Seminaries at that time. National and regional politics during Tinsley’s twenties were dominated by the increased tension between the North and South, and, when the war broke out in 1861, Tinsley joined the Confederate Army as a chaplain. We have no record of Tinsley’s reasons for his enlistment, but we know that Virginia Theological Seminary had soldiers and chaplains on both sides.[13]

Even though a chaplain, Tinsley did not stay on the back lines; he was assigned to Pickett’s 28th brigade and participated in the marches, bivouacs and battles that group endured; he gave services and attended the wounded. We have Tinsley’s diary from June to December, 1863, when the brigade was part of the horrific Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg.

July 2 [Day before Pickett’s Charge]

… On the way we hear various conflicting [versions] of the battle of yesterday at Gettysburg. We bivouac about 5 miles from G. I hold prayers in the Regt. in anticipation of a great battle next day. Officers & men generally express great confidence of victory tomorrow tho spirit of these remarks is too boastful & seems not to recognize the hand of God in the matter. I recollect Maj. Wilson made some remark of this sort: ‘I am a[s] certain of the result as I am that I now live though many of us may not live to see it.’ And Henry Allen looking toward the setting sun said to me: ‘That is the last sunset that many of us poor fellows will see.’ I must confess that I have serious apprehensions of disaster or defeat, & so much so that I [take] my commission from my trunk & placed it in my pocket, in case I should be obliged to remain behind.

July 3 [Day of battle]

… The scene at our field hospital stand is horrid beyond description & by far the worst I have ever seen. Friend after friend comes in & gives the most dreadful account of the slaughter of his comrades so that, that which we hear of is worse almost than what we see. It is delightful to see in the midst of this suffering the triumph of the Cross. … [K] comes out with arm seriously wounded. He walked up to me with a [cheerful?] smiling face & said: “Br. Tinsley I am badly wounded in the arm but I reckon it is all for the best [..]” This is the most dreadful afternoon & evening of my life.[14]

After that carnage, Tinsley was a prisoner of war, serving again near hospitals. During this period we see Tinsley repeatedly turning to his Biblical and theological readings for comfort and guidance:

August 15

… Weather very hot. I am busy visiting with my old journal. As usual read two or three chapters in Greek Test[ament].

Aug 30, Sunday 13th Sunday after Trinity

The weather is cool & pleasant & the barracks quite still & we have a peaceful Sabbath. (A.M) Carson preacher. His style is very plain & he has very little action; substance good & clearly exposed. I take him to be a simple-hearted, unaffected man. After sermon I read two of Chalmer’s lectures on Romans; matter & style very rich. At night Gilmore preaches a plain good sermon; has no action, is rather timid & cramped in delivery. I go to Capt. Baglon’s tent, read evening prayer. I have a talk with Cook on subject of Apostolic Succession, calls to the ministry, etc.

Aug 31st Monday

I read a chapter in Greek Test[ament].[15]

What we have Tinsley’s later sermons are heavy on “theology” to modern ears:

We have then a Trinity revealed to us. 1st The devine Father, who hath made us. The divine Son, who hath redeemed us & all mankind. The divine Spirit, who sanctifieth us and all the people of God. When this revelation was complete – that is when our Lord Jesus had finished His work on earth – when He had instructed His disciples respecting the Holy Spirit, He made to them a distinct declaration of the Holy Trinity, by commanding them to baptize all people into the name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Ghost. By being thus baptized they professed their belief in this Holy Trinity. …[16]

We should remember that the learning he imparted from the pulpit was tried in the court of the carnage of the Civil War’s battles. Tinsley was present at the surrender of the Confederate armies at Appomattox in 1865.[17] Four years later he was called to lead the young, vibrant congregation at The Advent. He brought his theology, his leadership, his memories and his faith to that calling.


Theme 4: Tinsley Embodied at Advent

Altar dedicated to TinsleyYears after Tinsley’s retirement and death, people at The Advent still remembered him and intended that future generations would remember his work, faith and leadership as well. In 1908, there was a major renovation of the chancel, and the subsequent windows, pulpits, choirs and altar rails are dedicated to his memory. (See before and after pictures on the Bulletin Board.)

Subsequent renovations have changed some of the look of the chancel, but much of this artistry still guides our worship today. And the people who generously gave to the new chancel did so in honor of Peter Tinsley.

Why? What words or deeds had he done to inspire such love? We have no historical records. We have only their gifts.



Peter Tinsley was the third Rector of Church of The Advent. Reverend Smallwood, the first rector, served for 6 years (1862-1869)[18]; Peter served for more than 30 years. He never married. He is remembered for kind words, for riding to a mission church, for smiling eyes, for friendship.

Some of you may have known Mr. Reminose, a Russian artist who lived on Walnut Hills near the Advent.  He called himself an atheist.  He was a fine citizen.  One day he said “if there is anything that would lead me to believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, it is the life of Peter Tinsley”.[19]

[Tinsley] was of a most genial, gentle nature, always courteous and considerate of others, and wherever he went he won friends who became deeply attached to him.[20]

Tinsley guided The Advent during a period of rapid growth and the strains that come from that kind of change. He kept before the congregation the need to reach out to others even as it provided for the spiritual needs of its members. And he was remembered with love in permanent structures of this church.

As we come to the Eucharist railing to partake of the Holy Feast, let us remember with thanksgiving the man honored by what see around us.


Barbara Haven and JoAnn Morse
October, 2017




1934 History of The Advent:
Dodds, Mrs. Milo G., Brief History of the Advent Church. 1934. Typed document, legal size. 14 pgs.
From Church of the Advent Archives. Transcribed by Barbara Haven. PDF: BriefHistoryoftheAdventChurch1934.pdf. Transcription: Brief History of the Advent Church.docx.

History of The Advent 1953:
Collins, William R. The Parish of the The Church of the Advent Walnut Hills Cincinnati, Ohio 1855-1953: An Historical Sketch. Self-published, 1953.

Cincinnati Population:
“Cincinnati”, accessed September 29, 2017,

Tinsley, Peter. Diary, June 6 – December 31, 1863. Leather-bound diary. From Wheaton Library, John and Joyce Schmale Civil War Collection, 1861-1869, Series 2: Civil War Chaplains, Sub-Series 2: Peter Tinsley Papers, Box 1, Folder 51: Civil War Diary. (accessed October 3, 2017).

Diocese of Ohio Annual Convention [yyyy]:
Episcopal Church. Diocese of Ohio. Journal of the [nth] Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church In the Diocese of Ohio [1870]. Bound volume. From Hathi Trust Digital Library.;view=1up;seq=3  Accessed September 29, 2017.

Diocese of Southern Ohio Annual Convention [yyyy]:
Episcopal Church. Diocese of Southern Ohio. Journal of the [nth] Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church In the Diocese of Southern Ohio]. Bound volume. From Hathi Trust Digital Library.;view=1up;seq=430 Accessed September 29, 2017.

Map of Cincinnati:
Rand McNally & Co. Cincinnati & Environs. Business Portion of Cincinnati. Map. From David Rumsey Map Collection, search on Cincinnati, Ohio. (accessed October 3, 2017).

Confederate Veteran Magazine, March 1908. Obituary of Peter Tinsley, Cincinnai, Ohio., Accessed September 29, 2017.

Anon [Friend of Mrs. Moffett?]. Remeniscenses. 1937?. Hand written notes, 9 pgs. From Church of The Advent Archives. Found with letter to Mrs. Tolson. PDF: Rememiscenses.pdf. Transcribed by Barbara Haven: Remeniscense.docx.

St. Mark’s, Oakley:
Thompson, Mrs., On Anniversary of St. Mark’s, Oakley. 1930? [50th anniversary of St. Mark’s?]. Hand written document with notes. Transcribed by Barbara Haven. Transcription: Paper by Mrs. Thompson.docx.

Tinsley, Peter. Sermon Delivered on Trinity Sunday, June 8, 1884. Copy found in Archives of The Advent.

Student Lists:
Virginia Theological Seminary. U. S. College Student Lists, 1763-1924., Accessed September 29, 2017.

[1] Obituary.

[2] Obituary.

[3] History of The Advent 1953, p 29-30, 38. The Advent’s Parish Report at the Annual Convention for 1870 reads: “This report does not include the incidental expenses of the Parish, or the amount raised for the payment of the principal and interest of the Church debt, or the contributions to St. Luke’s Hospital and other charities. [The present Rector having been in charge but four months, his report is consequently incomplete. -Sec.] Peter Tinsley, Rector.”   Diocese of Ohio Annual Convention 1870, p. 90. Vestry accepted Tinsley’s resignation on November 5, 1900, but it appears that Tinsley continued to serve until new rector (Samuel Tyler) came in June; several signs at The Advent have 1901 as the ending date of his rectorship.

[4] Information from Geoff Sutton, who is doing research on boundaries of Walnut Hills during this period.

[5] Cincinnati Population.

[6] Information from Geoff Sutton, who is doing research on boundaries of Walnut Hills during this period.

[7] 1934 History of the Advent, p9.

[8] Numbers for The Advent’s communicates in 1870 are from the Parish Report, Diocese of Ohio Annual Convention 1870, p. 90. The number of communicants for 1900 is calculated based on the number of families in 1900 (268) as compared to the number of families in 1890 (171) and communicants (365). Diocese of Southern Ohio Annual Convention 1900, p. 120.

[9] See bulletin board on building at The Advent.

[10] 1934 History of The Advent, p8.

[11] St. Mark’s, Oakley, p1. Mrs. Thomson refers to a mission in Norwood, but I cannot find that in the Diocese records during the 1880’s.

[12] Obituary.

[13] Student Lists.

[14] Diary, July 2 and 3, 1863.

[15] Diary. Aug. 15, 30 and 31, 1863.

[16] Sermon.

[17] Notes from Eugene Rice, found in Archives at The Advent.

[18] History of The Advent 1953, pp 74-75.

[19] St. Mark’s, Oakley, p1.

[20] Obituary.