Historical Vignettes presented at the All Saints’ Day Service at St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church and the Luncheon following
Newark, Delaware
November 1, 2015

 

Sections 1-4 written by Connie Cooper, section 5 by Bruce Finnie

1. Founding

Even though St. Thomas’s observes 1842 as its founding year, the story really begins in 1835, when the Rev. George Allen, an Episcopal priest, came to the village of Newark to teach classics at Delaware College. He also occasionally held services in the building now known as Old College, for the nearest Episcopal church was St. James, Mill Creek, eight miles away.

By 1842 Allen and a group of people—the first saints of St. Thomas’s—decided that is was time to form an Episcopal church in Newark—to join the Methodist and Presbyterian congregations already present in town.

The next step was to build a church–but what sort of building? Some would have been content with a very simple structure, but George Allen had other ideas. This is where our story, and this building, become interesting.

For many years the Episcopal church had emphasized the Protestant side of our Anglican tradition—church buildings and worship were simple and restrained. But beginning in the 1830s some clergy and laypeople, first in England and then in the United States, wanted to revitalize the church by reviving our pre-Reformation heritage with more color, more ceremony, more music, more appeal to the senses. This is known as the Oxford or Tractarian movement. For church buildings, this meant reviving the Gothic style of architecture. There was great debate over these new ideas, for they went to the core of what it meant to be Anglican or Episcopalian. Delaware’s bishop, the Rt. Rev. Alfred Lee, did not approve of the new ideas.

But George Allen and several members of the vestry did support the new ideas, and they wanted their new church building to reflect them. Allen got in touch with his mentor, the bishop of Maryland, who connected him with Richard Upjohn, a leading architect of the Gothic revival. Upjohn, who designed Trinity Church in New York, provided a drawing of a simple Gothic-style church that would meet the needs of a small congregation in a small town. He did this at no charge to St. Thomas’s, so the design was a great gift to the infant parish.

There was some discussion over which plan to build—Upjohn’s design or a simpler building– but George Allen and his supporters prevailed, and the first portion of this building was erected. Bishop Lee consecrated it in 1845. It stands today, not in its original use, but beautifully restored. It is an early example of Gothic revival architecture and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The first saints of St. Thomas’s created a structure that served the congregation for over a century, and that still serves the University of Delaware.

2. Growing into God’s kingdom

As Christians, we believe that each and every human being is made in God’s image, and that there are no distinctions between people. As we look around each week in our worship services, we see the great variety of people that God has created, all contributing to making St. Thomas’s the house of faith that it is today.

However, all people live in time and place and culture—which often have not reflected God’s desire for God’s people. Such was the case in Newark, Delaware, in the 1840s. At that time, white men controlled American society. Women had no leadership role, although they participated in various ways. African Americans were expected to be subordinate, and slavery was legal in Delaware. And, family was understood to be father, mother, and children who were seen but not heard. The founders of St. Thomas’s were no better, and no worse, than other people of their time.

Some of St. Thomas’s founders owned slaves. When the church was first built, the gallery was reserved for African Americans, whether free or enslaved, and the seating was not as nice as it was downstairs. So, yes, St. Thomas’s practiced the segregation that was the custom of the times in Delaware.

For many years, women played a supporting role in the church. They taught Sunday school, raised funds, and did good works. As time went on, they became more and more active in parish life, but it took many more years for them to reach the top levels of parish leadership. Women began to serve on vestries in Delaware shortly after World War II. St. Thomas’s elected its first female vestry member in the late 1950s. Women and girls also did not serve as acolytes or lay readers until fairly recently—their only liturgical participation was through the altar guild or choir. The struggle for ordination took even longer. The first women priests in the Episcopal Church were ordained at an “illegal” ceremony in 1974, and the church formally allowed women priests in 1976.

Similarly, our understanding of family has grown, especially in recent years. As we look around the congregation today, we see traditional families of mother, father, and children—but also single-parent families, same-sex couples, single people of all ages, and everything in between.

Today, St. Thomas’s is growing as a diverse congregation that welcomes all to worship and serve. May we continue to grow into a true reflection of God’s kingdom.

3. St. Thomas’s has always been a church that has ministered to both town and gown.

St. Thomas’s has always had a close relationship with the University of Delaware, founded as Delaware College. College students (all male) were part of the procession at the cornerstone laying in 1843. In 1844, the vestry stressed the importance of meeting the spiritual needs of students. Members of the schools’ faculty and administration served the parish in many ways. From the 1920s through the 1940s, Dr. Walter Hullihen was president of the university and was also active at St. Thomas’s. Many faculty were also members. Between them, they steered many students our way. But the pace and success of college work varied over time. Until the late 1950s, the rector served as the Episcopal chaplain to the university and St. Thomas’s had full responsibility for funding and carrying out any work with students.

St. Thomas’s has always been a family church for the people of Newark. By the mid 1850s the congregation had outgrown the original building, but the needed expansion did not take place until after the Civil War. In 1866, the church was enlarged with a new chancel, robing room, vestibule, and tower—taking the form that we see here today. Twenty new pews were added to accommodate the growing congregation. Another expansion took place in 1890 when a parish house was built on the property—it could hold 50 people.

By the late 1930s, the diocese came to realize that St. Thomas’s location, facilities, and ministry to the university were not as effective as they could be, and that leads us to the next chapter in our story.

4. Making the Move
In 1939 Bishop Arthur McKinstry commissioned a survey of the diocese’s needs and opportunities. One recommendation was that St. Thomas’s be relocated closer to the university, which was developing down South College Avenue. Nothing changed immediately, thanks to World War II.

The issue was raised again in the late 1940s. In 1947 Bishop McKinstry declared that the church as a whole had neglected students and appointed committee to determine what should be done. Meanwhile St. Thomas’s rector, the Rev. William Hanckel had organized a Canterbury Club and was holding activities for students.

By now it was clear to the people of St. Thomas’s themselves that the church and parish house were inadequate for both parish and college ministry—Newark was growing rapidly thanks to Chrysler and DuPont expansion.

The parish began to consider its options shortly after the arrival of the Rev. Theodore Ludlow in 1948. Should they improve the current parish house? Should they try to acquire land adjacent to the current property? After much deliberation, the parish purchased land on South College Avenue in 1950. This land was once owned by founding vestry member James Martin, so in a way we have come full circle. After fundraising and construction, the new parish house was completed in 1955 and the congregation moved in—the Great Hall served as the sanctuary while the new church was being built. The church itself was completed in 1960.

Even as St. Thomas’s was moving to its new location, the Diocese of Delaware created a Division of College Work within the Department of Christian Education in 1955. In 1959 the diocese funded a full-time university chaplain based at St. Thomas’s.

So 65 years ago the saints of St. Thomas’s decided to leave their longtime home for a new place. The new church was only a few blocks away, but in many ways it was a world away. We’ll tell the next chapter in our story after lunch at our current home.

5. Some Historical Remarks about St. Thomas, 1950 to the Present
The Rev. Ted Ludlow retired to Massachusetts in 1980 with the title, ” Rector Emeritus.” He had shepherded St. Thomas parish since 1948–an amazing 32 years, including six years in the Great Hall while the nave was being built. His great accomplishment had been to lead the fund-raising and transition to our new church home and to sustain the parish for such a long time. But the congregation had pretty well “aged out” by the end of his time here, and attendance had dropped significantly.

In 1982 The Rev. Robert Duncan became our 19th rector. He at once reinvigorated the various guilds and ministries. With his liturgical style and sermons on love, church attendance in his early years here grew so much that on festive occasions folding chairs had to be added to accommodate the crowds. Hundreds attended even on ordinary Sundays. A former campus chaplain himself, Fr. Bob emphasized campus ministry, and many college students, led by campus ministers Fr. Jack Stapleton and then by Fr. Robert O’Connor, became active in the parish.

With the advent of the new 1979 Book of Common Prayer, no longer was Morning Prayer with sermon the normal Sunday service. Now every chief service focused on the Eucharist. In the mid-1980s, the altar, which had been against the east wall, was brought forward to its present position so that the priest now faced the congregation. The pulpit and lectern were moved out even farther toward the congregation. Five rows of front pews were removed to accommodate the changes. Before this, a chancel rail had separated the altar and altar party from the congregation, and its gate was closed as the Eucharist proper began. In the 1980s, loud speakers were installed and the mortgage paid off.

Meanwhile, the pipe organ in the loft had broken down. A new digital organ was later installed downstairs behind the altar (during the next rector’a tenure), and the choir, which had also been in the loft, moved downstairs, too. A major part of Fr. Bob’s legacy was his plan for the north-wall windows to depict over 100 saints and other historical worthies facing east toward the altar and led by St. Thomas himself. After more than 20 years and many tens of thousands of donated dollars, the beautiful stained-glass window project was completed.

In 1992, Fr. Bob left for another position in Pittsburgh, but not without leaving the parish in some disarray, since his focus had shifted elsewhere during his last two years. He also left part of the parish deeply offended over his vigorous and conservative position on gay clergy in the national church—and, by extension, over the worth of gay people in general.

After a period of frustration, in 1994 the parish received the Rev. Thomas Jensen as its 20th rector. Fr. Thom provided many opportunities for worship and spiritual growth. He also angled the pews in the nave to emphasize community. He welcomed as a very effective campus minister the Rev. Kempton Baldridge and later the Rev. Donna McNeil (“Mother Donna,” as she asked to be called), who preached some of the best sermons ever. She was succeeded by the Rev. John Brockman, who was also a professor of English. His wife, the dynamic Rev. Sarah Brockman, was also attached to the parish– “Father Sarah,” as she insisted on being called.

At the very end of his tenure in 2007, and as a parting gesture to the LGBT community, previously ignored, Fr. Thom placed a rainbow flag in the outside glassed-in bulletin board. The parish was again forced to try to come to grips with the whole gay issue. After a stormy vestry meeting, the flag was removed. And after vocal parish-wide meetings, the gay issue was again left unresolved. Parishioners could only agree to disagree. Some members of the congregation on both sides of the issue left the parish.

Soon, the Rev. Paul Gennett became the 21st rector, preaching his first sermon on Thanksgiving Day, 2008. Fr. Paul recharged the various ministries. His specialty is pastoral care, focusing on the spiritual needs of individual parishioners and visiting the sick. He is now assisted by the Rev. Elizabeth Masterson, associate priest, at the 5:30 Eucharist and on other occasions.

Besides conducting a beautiful liturgy, assisted by Mark Cheban and the choir, Fr. Paul has provided strong leadership and stability to the parish. We just have to read the current “Carpenter” to realize how vibrant the parish has become, with all sorts of opportunities for worship, study, outreach, fellowship, and fun. Also during Fr. Paul’s time with us the new heating and air-conditioning system has been installed with the sale of the vicarage on Kells Avenue.

One of the significant things about the present congregation is its growing diversity. Some of us remember our beloved Jim Strickland, former head of the acolyte guild, and the Rev. Canon Barbara Duncan, who served as deacon here long before becoming attached to the National Cathedral. Of course, Deacon Cecily Sawyer Harmon, our current campus minister, has earned a special place among us, as has Belinda Young-Payne, who oversees children’s education. Other African-Americans, beginning with Fr. Thom’s ministry, are continuing to join our community as are Hispanic-Americans and others.

Children’s education and activities have thrived under Fr. Thom and Fr. Paul, especially with the guidance of Belinda Young-Payne and the service of many volunteers. One thinks of Christmas pageants and the Lites Choir, for instance. (And we might sneak in here the mention of non-staff members Bob Rys and Teri Quinn-Gray, who continue to provide strong spiritual training for those studying to be confirmed.)

We are located where we are to serve the University. Deacon Cecily provides strong leadership for our ECM group, which has thrived under her vivacious encouragement. Our youth and college students are active in the life of the church in many ways, whether by picking apples or going on mission trips, and are a large part of our very reason for being. Youth Ministry leaders include Jacob Capin, D’Aesha Hamilton, and Max Holdsworth. Catherine Morse is the current president of ECM.

Perhaps Fr. Paul’s greatest accomplishment—so far—has been to convince the parish to buy the grove next door. With a three-year commitment from parishioners, help from the diocese, and money from the sale of the rectory on Indian Rd., the new property is a legacy for future parishioners. In the mid-19th century, parishioners looked to the future as they founded the parish. In the mid-20th century, another generation had the foresight to build our present buildings. Current parishioners, as well, are looking Forward in Faith with confidence and hope. To quote Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”