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Faith takes forefront in Williamsburg programs

Most people know that Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. But they may not know about another of his important works: The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which led to the separation of church and state in this country.

In 1998, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation hopes to change that by focusing on religion.

Lorraine Brooks, a public relations manager coordinating the theme, says the foundation chose religion because it was an important part of everyday life that people still relate to today.

A family's faith "guides their actions, and it was no different in the 18th century," she said.

Some 350 interpreters have been trained for the 1998 program changes, many to be costumed interpreters portraying religious figures. For example, an interpreter will play Rev. Samuel Henley, an 18th century Anglican priest who'll deliver sermons about the duties of masters to their slaves.

Costumed characters will sing 18th century hymns. Interpreters playing Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry will talk to visitors about the separation of church and state. Henry supported an established Christian church, while Jefferson lobbied to sever the ties between religion and government.

The focus on religious practices will work within the larger theme of "Becoming Americans," a subject explored by the foundation since 1996 through programs showing how colonists from different countries came to be a separate and distinct people.

The foundation also plans to offer:

One-hour walking tours that give an overview of Colonial Williamsburg's religious history. Alternating days will focus on religion in daily life, or the events leading to the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

A costumed interpreter portraying four women: a gentrywoman, a midwife, a slave and a frontierswoman, sharing their thoughts on personal faith and religion.

Interpreters portraying African-American preachers discussing their experiences as behind-the-scenes religious leaders.