The basic philosophy of the early mission and parish was that the church is not buildings. The church is people, living out their lives in community, loving God and loving each other, serving God and each other, joining together in gratitude to worship and praise God.
In 1954 Bishop McKinstry asked about twelve families (members in good standing of city parishes) living in mid-Brandywine Hundred to help start a mission church. Weekly house meeting began that July with two initial groups meeting in the homes of Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Patterson and Mr. & Mrs. Carl Von Dreele.
The first four months we discussed the Church — Christianity — what we wanted and did not want in St. David’s. Meanwhile a mission building was being constructed on Grubb Road and the Reverend J. Seymour Flinn was visiting every existing household in the area. Among the first mission committee members were: Joe Patterson, Carl Von Dreele, Gil Loomis, Betty Harford and Harry Thorogood.
When the mission opened in November, 1954, the early members were mostly Arden villagers and members of the farming community, with a few people from the fairly-new Carrcroft suburban area. Most of the people were unchurched or from a background of other denominations. Our land was generously given by James Fraser, next-door neighbor. Facilities consisted of seating for 130 people, a tiny kitchen opening onto a small parish hall, an office and small classrooms.
The church was officially dedicated on November 20, 1954 by Bishop Coadjutor Mosley. The processional cross, now placed on the aumbry door, had been sent to Seymour by a cousin in the diplomatic service in Ethiopia. He bought it in a market in Addis Ababba, mailed it, and amazingly enough it arrived in time for the dedication. Carl and Peter Von Dreele, the only trained
acolytes, participated in the ceremony. James Von Dreele, eight years old that day, always felt he received a church for his birthday. Today he is himself an Episcopal priest.
Regular services began November 21, 1954. About fifty adults began regular attendance and Church School opened with fifty-five pupils and about a dozen teachers. Joe Patterson was the first Church School Superintendent.
In the spring of 1955, Mr. Flinn was ordained to the priesthood and became Vicar of St. David’s. At the end of the first year St. David’s became self-supporting and began exploring the means of achieving full parish status. Such an event had not occurred for so long in the dioceses that no guidelines existed, so work began from scratch.
There was simplicity and minimum of tradition in both the worship and life of the community because many had never had a church experience. Baptism was a frequent service. Though it was a period of expanding birth rate, the majority of baptisms were adults in those early years. Confirmation classes were large (mostly adults) because very few children were old enough.
The Church School grew to more than 200 children in a few years and during the second year of operation it was necessary to have two services and two church school sessions. For five years the parish emphasis was education, for both old and young, and families became more than nominal Christians. Church School ran twelve months of the year, superintendents called on all new families, teachers called on all new pupils and those absent for more than three weeks. Concern for each other was the criterion.
In September, 1955 a Christian day kindergarten was established under the direction of Ann Loomis. Ann, Barbara Lamborn and Ruth Dolmetsch were its first teachers.
There was no formal choir. A group of a dozen met weekly and rehearsed the hymns for the following Sunday to assist in the congregational singing. Coffee hour afterwards was a joyous time when members ministered to each other.
By 1956 it was evident that no more children could be crowded into the little building. A campaign was sponsored for the purpose of funding added church school rooms. This was a sacrificial offering for a year or two on the part of parishioners — no new clothes, no new cars!
In September, 1958 headlines read: “St. David’s Breaks Ground for $100,000 Building” — our present parish hall. Seymour Flinn was here for the ground-breaking, but our recently-married priest was assigned in the summer of 1959 to Africa to aid the Anglican Communion in Uganda. The Reverend Harry Mayfield was called by our vestry from St. Philip’s Church, Laurel, Delaware in September, 1959. At this time a rectory, two blocks from the church, was purchased.
Harry presided over the new construction. For more than a decade the new parish hall doubled as a temporary nave and all-purpose room to accommodate 450 people. The platform and altar table were moved to set up for dances, bazaars, benefits, youth groups, dinners and community service activities. The new hall more than tripled our usable space. The Women of the Church transformed the ill-equipped kitchen into its present degree of efficiency. Money was raised by annual Fashion Show, Card Parties…; in later years from the Country Fairs, events requiring months of preparation and dedication. At one time the kitchen was also a lending library and study center. In 1960 this interim worship area was connected to the original mission building by a corridor of four classrooms for the growing Day School.
Our youth groups swelled. We experimented with liturgical changes, held house communions, fold masses and altar dramas. We welcomed new people into parish life with greeters, coffee hours, dinners for newcomers and discussion groups for all. We had three Sunday morning worship services and yearned for a “real” church as we worshipped in our “automobile showroom.” We were to use the folding chairs from the original mission for nineteen years!
Harry Mayfield stayed with us until mid-April 1967, at which time he accepted a call to St. Mary’s in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. The four members of the Rev. David Joslin family moved into the rectory temporarily. David was installed as our third rector on October 29, 1967. Since David chose to accept a housing allowance, the rectory was sold and his family moved into their own home in Lancashire. David came from St. Paul’s Church in Montvale, New Jersey where he had been assistant rector. In 1969, the Rev. John E. Keene, Executive Director of the Episcopal Church Home Foundation, was elected as a part-time priest assistant.
After much scrutiny of plans and costs, the vestry in April, 1969 approved a mortgage of $260,000 offered by Delaware Trust Company for the construction of our nave. The work was awarded to Haddock Construction Company. The ground-breaking ceremony was held May 4, 1969, with the late Bishop William H. Mead officiating. Some of the articles placed in the cornerstone are a cross, a prayer book, a Bible, parish list (1969) and a newspaper of the day. St. Thomas’ Church in Newark gave us the tower bell from their original building, and on the 31st of May in 1970 our new sanctuary was dedicated.
An appointed committee coordinated the furnishings. This committee selected the design and fabric for the nave’s cathedral chairs, the antiques in the nave and sanctuary, the carpeting, and the Oriental rug in the area of the altar. Sculptor Charles Parks gave us his ‘Christus Rex’ of iron which is over the entrance to the nave. An antique pulpit from Immanuel-on-the-Green, New Castle was restored and presented by the descendants of the original donors. Vestments and frontals for our altar were given as memorials. In 1974 we were finally able to purchase the Allen Electronic Organ.
Since its beginning St. David’s has sought to serve the community. Holy Child Roman Catholic Church used our facilities several days a week during their building period. Boy Scouts, the Opera Society, Recovery, and Alcoholics Anonymous are organizations which have met here regularly. We have revamped and retained our kindergarten and Day School programs to meet a growing community need — a non-denominational day care center presently numbering 150 children, forty of whom receive day care and lunches.
In March, 1974 David Joslin accepted a call to become Rector of Christ Church, Westerly, Rhode Island. John Keene served as priest-in-charge until the fall of 1974 when he moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Nearly a year elapsed before our vestry called the Rev. David Tontonoz from Trinity Church, Milford, Massachusetts. Our church hosted the Diocesan Convention that elected Bishop William H. Clark in January, 1975.
Father David’s family of five settled in Lancashire. Much of our life and worship continued along established patterns with various innovations by Father David. Tweny-five years after our start, we had a family service at 9:00 a.m. with communion, giving our children exposure to a full worship service.
While no longer preoccupied with expansion of membership and buildings, we sought inner growth and depth for ourselves. Probably the most intensive effort in this direction was the Faith Alive Weekend held in October, 1975. Small prayer groups continued to meet and prayer vigils were held on special occasions. An evening group met weekly to study the Bible, and The Holy Eucharist and Ministry of Healing services on Wednesday mornings were followed by Bible Study.
Of equal magnitude was our sponsorship of a Vietnamese family, the Nuygens, who lived for some months with Alan and Sue Miller until they were able to have their own home. St. Davidians gave of themselves and their resources until this family was launched in a new homeland.
A number of new furnishings were added. Perhaps the major one was the sculpture of Christ above the altar. It, too, is by Charles Parks and serves as a focal point to the whole interior.
Father David had two priest assistants — the Rev. John Edmonds and the Very Rev. Edward Harris. John worked with the chaplain at Delaware State Hospital and left us in September of 1977 to continue his training in Kansas City. Our priest assistant, Father Harris, was formerly dean of Philadelphia Divinity School and co-dean of Episcopal Theological Seminary, Cambridge, Massachusetts. He functioned essentially as his predecessors.
Our parish life continued to vary according to the people and the times. Traditions were now a part of our yearly calendar – Lenten Food Closet for those less fortunate than we, Maundy
Thursday Seder Meal followed by the Lord’s Supper, Advent wreath-making and Evensong (including the Adopt-a-Family project for those in need), and St. David’s Day (March1) confirmation service. Worship was epitomized by the Christmas and Easter Festival Eucharists. Other annual events included vestry weekends at Memorial House and confirmation class weekends at Camp Arrowhead. A beautiful memorial Garden was begun — a joyful addition as well as a burial ground for ashes.
No “history” can capture all the facets of a constantly changing community of people and activities. Current members of St. David’s are indeed indebted to our predecessors who gave so unselfishly of their time and energy, bringing us to our present stage of growth — Wardens and Vestries, Altar Guilds, Memorial Committees, Church School teachers, choir members, lay readers, Women of the Church, and above all, the contributions of dedicated individuals. Each person who has worked and worshipped in St. David’s will have experienced a unique aspect.
When The Rev. David Tontonoz left in 1983 to take a position in a downtown parish in the Diocese of Massachusetts, the Rev. Ed Harris, our priest assistant, continued as interim priest for three years while we went about filling out forms and forming a search committee. We were asked by Bishop Clark to develop a profile of the parish by reviewing our lon- term and short-term goals in our search for a new rector. After the profile was done, a search committee and eventually a calling committee were formed. During this long process we continued our programs and activities. We also went from having three services on Sunday to two services. St. David’s continued to grow under Ed’s leadership and the leadership of the lay people of the parish.
In 1986, the Rev. Ronald Jaynes was called to be our new rector. He arrived from Little Silver, New Jersey with his wife, Colleen and four step-children. It wasn’t long before they settled in and became a part of our church family. Ron remembers the wonderful welcome he and Colleen received as they began their first new parish together and the excitement of owning a house for the first time. We soon discovered our new rector had an outgoing personality, loved to cook and was not afraid of change. He liked to try out new things and really kept members of the altar guild on their toes. One of the first changes he made was to move the chairs in the sanctuary into the angled sections we now have.
Besides moving the chairs around, other changes were made. A rocking chair was placed in the sanctuary and is still in use today. A gift from the Proud family allowed us to re-do what we now call the Memorial Room. This space became available for small functions, meetings, receptions and other activities. The new altar and enlarged platform, another gift from the Proud family, was dedicated in 1988. It was designed by Terry Easom, a liturgical designer from Philadelphia. The altar was built by S. Diehm Co. Inc. Architectural Woodwork from Westwood, New Jersey, and the floor was installed by Charles Ashton. Harry Crawford borrowed a station wagon so he could drive up to New Jersey and pick up the altar. As with every project of this sort, it was not without controversy. The Victorian bishop’s chair was given back to Old Swedes Church for use in their museum.
Under Ron’s direction, we started a Wednesday evening service. It all started with an Ash Wednesday “stone soup” supper where everyone brought an ingredient and put it in the soup pot. It was a multi-generational event and those who participated enjoyed it so much, it was decided to continue it through Lent. It eventually became a weekly Wednesday evening event of a communion service followed by a covered dish supper. We also began having an Easter Vigil service. Who can forget that the first one lasted two and a half hours! It was a beautiful and moving service filled with lights, bells, and music.
During Ron’s time with us, the five Episcopal churches in the area joined together and became the Brandywine Parishes. (St. David’s, St. Alban’s, Ascension, Calvary, Grace) We shared office space at St. Alban’s as well as secretaries and supplies while continuing to worship in our own churches. We shared special services and summer services with the five parishes and got to know people from the other congregations. Ron gave up his office at St. David’s to Beth Beck, the day school director and moved into the room behind the Memorial Room named the Fuzzy Room by the teens of the church due to its textured wall covering. Ron remembers it as a “nice little office, but every time the rains came, the floor would flood.”
Ron started reserving a week at Memorial House in Rehoboth Beach for St. David’s. Many families attended and it offered a great opportunity to visit and get to know each other. One of Ron’s favorite memories was having the time to sit and talk to Fred Van Catledge and learn what it was like to be an African American.
We continued our many programs and started some new ones. We began a companion relationship with the Diocese of Pretoria in 1988. We were the sponsoring parish for Mary Ann Dorner as she entered the seminary to study for the priesthood. Our day school has always been considered an outreach program for the community so the vestry established a scholarship fund. Pat Van-Catledge began a Good Friday “Walk to Easter” program. This program still exists and teaches children the Easter story by walking them through the story of Jesus from Palm Sunday to Easter. It started out with one session of students and grew to two sessions of about 200 children and is an outreach program to children throughout the community. One of our assistant priests, Mary Lindquist, and others who have observed the program, have incorporated it in their Holy Week programs.
In 1993, our organist, Ventie Williams, celebrated 83 years of life and 25 years as organist at St. David’s. She was a strong personality and had definite ideas she was not afraid to share. Many can remember the stories she told of her life growing up as a black woman in Wilmington, her study of music and her work during WWII. She added much to St. David’s and is fondly remembered by many.
Buildings and grounds were not without problems. In the late 1980s, our roof started to leak and, during a heavy rain, it was not unusual to find plastic sheeting and buckets in place on and around the altar platform. A new slate roof was put on the church but it did not completely solve the problem. It took many visits and much investigation to finally get the problem solved. One year during Advent, our furnace failed and we were without heat for Christmas and beyond. It was a cold winter, so we decided to hold Sunday services in the parish hall. That meant moving folding chairs and then removing them after the services so the room would be ready for the day school children on Monday. We even held our Christmas Eve services there and greens and red ribbons transformed the parish hall into a festive worship area. A wedding was also held in the parish hall at this time. Many remember the quick change from church to reception area.
We were active in many areas. One day a month, a group made dinner and another group baked cookies for Emmanuel Dining Room. At Christmas, we provided for families through the Adopt- A- Family program. We stocked a food closet for Claymont Community Center. We took communion to residents of Kamin, a retirement center, and provided assistance as needed. Some of our members drove for Meals on Wheels. In May, the men of the parish fixed a gourmet meal for the women of the parish. At least half the parish thought it was a great idea! We held a family picnic in June. We held work days twice a year and these included a “gourmet” hot dog lunch for all the workers. The men of the parish continued the Shrove Tuesday pancake supper. We held our Church Fair in November and prepared gallons of beef vegetable soup, dozens of baked products and crafts. Who can forget seeing Ron and Harry Crawford at work in the kitchen helping to prepare the soup? Many of these events would not have been possible without the involvement of the whole parish community.
Ron and his family stayed with us until 1994 when he left to accept a call to St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church in Tampa, Florida, The Rev. Driss Knickerbocker became our interim priest while we again started the searching process.
The Rev. Driss Knickerbocker was our interim while we again went through the search process. Driss took good care of us and was always available when needed. He told us this was a golden opportunity to try out new things. He also loved to cook and shared his black bean soup recipe with us. During the summer we began having one Sunday service at St. David’s. This gave us the opportunity to worship at St. David’s or one of the other Brandywine Parish churches.
In 1996 we welcomed the Rev. Gary Rowe as our rector. We held a gala party to celebrate his new ministry and many of his friends from his previous church, Eastern Shore Chapel in Virginia Beach, Virginia, spent the day with us. He and his family have been a wonderful addition to our church family. We’ve watched Leah and Daniel grow up and have enjoyed Leslie’s participation in our music program. In 2003, Gary celebrated the 20th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood with us.
Under Gary’s leadership and the vision of some parishioners, new programs were started and programs already in place continued. Chris Yovino began “Journey to Adulthood”, a program to help young people grow in their church life. Pat Van Catledge developed “Godly Play”, a children’s chapel for 3-year-olds to third graders which is held in the Memorial Room during the Ministry of the Word at the 10:15 service. Children join their parents in the sanctuary at the Peace for the Ministry of Holy Communion. “Walk to Easter”, another program started by Pat, continues to grow and reach out into the community so that two sessions are now needed. This caused us to move the Good Friday liturgy to 7:00 p.m. instead of 3:00 p.m. A program for Junior High School and Senior High School students was started. Late in 2002, St. David’s Outreach Committee, with the help of Amy Myers, started an outreach program with Knollwood, a low-income community located near us. It provides an opportunity for us to get involved and help make a difference in the lives of others by providing clothes and school supplies, gifts at Christmas time, tutoring, helping with community activities, working at a summer camp and donating money to help stock their food closet. Our relationship with the day school continues to strengthen and grow. All of these programs depend on adults willing to support them with their gifts of time and talent.
We’ve shown our creative side in many ways. We held an art show on Trinity Sunday in the spring of 2001 and were asked to express God’s movement in our lives through art. We had exhibits from photos to textiles, to flower arrangements. Amanda Kimball chaired this event and also designed a cross to be used as St. David’s logo. The cross was put on a banner which was carried in the procession during Bishop Wright’s installation. The banner now stands in the front of the sanctuary and has a reverse side used during the Easter season. Wilson Somers, a previous music director, wrote “Mass for the Homeless”. It was performed at St. David’s and had its world premier on November 30, 1997 at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington and was presented in Rome in 2003.
Betsy Von Dreele was commissioned to design and make new Lenten vestments. The appliquéd orphrey banding on the chasuble reminds us of the hills of the Judean Wilderness. In 2004, Betsy was commissioned by the Rev. Nancy Calhoun to make festal vestments in memory of her sister, Barbara. Since Barbara was a quilter, Betsy decided to use the Cathedral Windows quilt pattern in her design of many colors. It was first used at the Easter Vigil and is now used at all our festive services.
We entered the computer age and upgraded our database software, and, with Harry Bacon’s help, set up one of the first websites in the diocese. Danny Schweers, our present webmaster (or pixel plumber as he likes to be called) keeps it up-to-date. We use e-mail to communicate with each other and to send news and notices.
In 1998 we received an endowment from John Proud’s estate and the Vision Committee was formed. We were all asked what we would like to see done at St. David’s. It took many questionnaires and over a year of discussion to come to some decisions but it eventually lead to a feasibility study and to our building and renovation project. In 2001 we started a three-year Capital Campaign to raise money for the project. The Vision Committee also recommended that we consider calling an assistant rector. In 1999 the vestry voted to look for a person to help with Christian Development. This led to the calling of Mary Lindquist to become our assistant priest. Shortly after joining us, she was ordained on May 20, 2000, to the Sacred Order of Deacons by the Right Reverend David Joslin, Assisting Bishop of New Jersey. Later that year, we celebrated with her as she was ordained to the priesthood at a ceremony at St. David’s. She made many contributions to our church family during her time with us and we feel we’ve mentored and help form a new priest. It was a wonderful experience for all of us and we had mixed feelings when she left in 2003 to take a call to a parish in Hawaii.
Gary organized a trip to Jerusalem in June of 1999. Fourteen of us from St. David’s, plus three others from the area, flew to Israel and took part in a program at St. George’s College in Jerusalem. There we joined other students from around the world to learn about the Palestine of Jesus. Although we had teachers from the college, Gary was also our guide and teacher as we walked the Old City streets, watched the sun rise while sitting on a rock in the Judean wilderness, sang songs in churches with wonderful acoustics and took in the sights, sounds and smells of the city. Besides having wonderful memories from the trip, this experience helped bring the gospels alive.
On May 7, 2000, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of our nave. Ken Marengo and his committee did a great job in planning the celebration. We were joined by Bishop Wright and previous clergy and former members of St. David’s as we gave joyful thanks for our nave. The sermon was given by the Right Reverend David Joslin, the third rector of St. David’s. Wilson Somers, our music director at the time, wrote special music for the occasion. Our celebration began with a procession that included balloons, banners and butterflies and ended in the parish hall where we were treated to a luncheon buffet and entertained with 30 years of stories, pictures, and memorabilia.
Buildings and grounds still had problems. Even though we had a new roof, we still had to place buckets on the altar platform when it rained. It took many months of persistence to finally find and fix the problem of our leaky roof. In 1999 Hurricane Floyd came through with a vengeance and flooded not only the office and Memorial Garden but continued on through the sanctuary on its way out the side door to the parking lot. We still have a reminder of the damage to the floor in the sanctuary in the form of a large patch near the center doors. We also made some changes on the altar platform and added a raised platform behind the altar for the placement of the chairs.
The five churches forming the Brandywine Parishes decided to dissolve and Gary reestablished an office at St. David’s. Office space was tight but we were happy to have our rector back on site.
Gary’s leadership style encourages participation by many in the congregation. He encourages a variety of people to take leadership roles and get involved. Sandy Frazer was given the title
Lay Pastoral Assistant. She and Gary work closely together in taking care of the pastoral concerns of the congregation. Many of us have had a hospital visit from one or both of them. We also have the benefit of having two clergy as members of our church family and participants in our services. The Rev. Nancy Calhoun and The Rev. James Von Dreele have been given the title Priest Associate and will occasionally preach or be the celebrant at our services. Gary and Steven Weatherman, our music director, work together to fit the music to the lessons and sermon. Steven, a church musician, is very involved in the Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Christmas Eve liturgy. He has included many of his original works in our services. We’ve also tried different forms of the liturgy, such as, The Creation Liturgy and Rite 1. Gary has also played a significant role in diocesan leadership. He has been vice president of the diocesan council, a deputy at the general convention twice, and has served on the standing committee — including serving two years as its president.
The building renovation lasted much longer than any of us thought it would. As the months stretched into years, our patience wore thin. We ran into unexpected problems along the way. It took a long time to get an inspection done and to have the work approved. After a year of construction, the church offices were ready but the day school offices could not open until they passed county inspection. During this time the office behind the Memorial Room was used as both the church office and the day school office. It was packed to the rafters with equipment and people and moving around had to be carefully choreographed. We kept our sense of humor through it all and, when there was a little grumbling, we all understood.
Our church family has changed and become more diverse. We have people from many walks of life taking leadership roles and contributing in various ways to our church family.
The best way to sum up our 50 years together is to quote Gary’s April address to the congregation. “Fifty years is a significant milestone … but 50 years is the most significant anniversary … far more significant than 100 or 300 or 20 or 30 years. Why? As a congregation you have moved beyond the first generation — the congregation builders, the first storytellers, the founders. You are the new storytellers, the sustainers and makers of the future with God’s grace and help. The past 50 years are past and we’ll celebrate in November. The next 50 years are in your hands by God’s grace. Happy 50th Anniversary. May you always be aware of God’s grace smiling upon you as you walk the tight-rope of serving God in the 21st century!”