Our story begins in 1954
We were all called here, to 2320 Grubb Road, to a lot of land donated by James Fraser in 1954. This is our continuing story.
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.