150th Anniversary Presentation
by Dr. Alan Horres
October 11, 1998
We are gathered this morning to begin our celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the founding of our Parish and the 143rd Anniversary of the completion of our Church building. I’m here with a great deal of apprehension because I’m not trained as an historian but as a scientist, and I know that to make history interesting and alive requires a great deal of skill that I fear I do not possess. My only qualification is that I have been in this place for nearly seventy years. As a young boy I fell in love with the people of the Church of the Holy Communion. I was loved and nurtured by these people to know my Savior, Jesus Christ. My knowledge was deepened by visibly spiritual clergy. Only later did I come to appreciate this Church building as a special place where I always sense the presence of God. I still find this to be a very special holy place where I can kneel to say my prayers, or to find solace in silence while gazing at the white marble high altar or just looking up into the darkness of the ceiling supported by its beautiful wooden arches. As a boy I remember looking up into that darkness as if looking into space and knowing God was right there. So this place is dear to me.
One hundred-fifty years ago the west side of the Charleston peninsula above Calhoun Street was sparsely populated. There were no Episcopal Churches north of Calhoun Street except for St. Paul’s (Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul) and St. John’s Chapel on the East Side. In order to establish the church presence in the western suburb, Bishop Christopher E. Gadsden called a meeting in St. Phillips Church of "friends of the enterprise" on November 7, 1848. He urged the formation of "a Church to be known as "The Church of the Holy Communion, free to all who should desire to attend upon our services." Even though there was no congregation, Wardens and Vestry were elected and the Rev. Edward Phillips appointed minister-in-charge.
The first service was held on November 12, 1848 in the home of the late Bishop Nathaniel Bowen at the present 209 Ashley Avenue. The Commandant of the nearby Federal Arsenal was present and offered a room at the Arsenal for the purpose of divine worship. The Rev. Mr. Phillips and the Rev. J. Ward Simons continued services until the autumn of 1849; when Edwin A. Wagner was appointed lay reader-in-charge. The Vestry called him as minister-in-charge when he was ordered Deacon and as Rector upon his ordination to the priesthood on May 2, 1852. He resigned late in 1853 to be effective January 1, 1854. He reported at that time only 10 families in the congregation after six year’s efforts.
The Vestry, much discouraged about the future, asked Bishop Davis for recommendations. Bishop Davis responded that the only one of his young men with the means to support himself and his family while building a church and gathering a congregation was Anthony Toomer Porter, a candidate for holy orders and Sunday School Teacher at St. Michael’s. An invitation was extended to Mr. Porter to look over the field. He arrived on January 7 and held his first service on January 8. He described the Arsenal facilities as follows: "the first story was an open cellar from which there were a steep set of steps, scarcely more than a ladder, to a long room… In this room were a few bare benches; at one end a place about 10 feet square railed off for a chancel; a table with a shabby cloth on it for an altar; a stand of common pine for the reading desk and pulpit; a space curtained off for a choir; not a carpet on the floor, and worse than all, not a sash in the open windows, nor a stove to keep one warm. A more dreary place could not well have been conceived." After this first service to eight persons, Mr. Porter told Dr. Phillips of the Vestry that if, by the next Sunday, sashes were placed in the windows, the aisle carpeted, the chancel carpeted, a stove installed, and a melodeon obtained, he would undertake the building of the church. Dr. Phillips assured him it would be done, and so it was that Anthony Toomer Porter began his long ministry at the Church of the Holy Communion, ending only at his death in 1902.
Mr. Porter found that a lot at the corner of what is now Cannon St. and Ashley Ave. had been purchased and the foundation for a small rural church had been laid. He rejected those plans and the Vestry had plans for a larger church drawn. These plans were approved without the Rector’s input, and he accepted them only reluctantly while expressing a determination to build a "reach" church as soon as possible.
Mr. Porter was ordered Deacon at St. Michael’s Church on May 16, 1854 and in September began construction of the church from the plans he only reluctantly accepted. Funds were inadequate and Mr. Porter requested the rector of St. Michael’s, the Rev. P.T. Keith, to allow him to preach on behalf of the Church of the Holy Communion. The Rev. Keith consented and the young deacon preached to a full congregation on January 14, 1855. The result was the congregation of St. Michael’s and other churches gave over eight thousand dollars toward the construction of the church. Mr. Porter was ordained priest by Bishop Davis on May 13, 1855, and the church was consecrated October 26, 1855. St. Paul’s church donated their old organ which was repaired and placed in the balcony over the entrance.
In 1856 an adjoining lot was purchased and with a donation of one thousand dollars from Mr. George A. Trenholm and a mortgage of four thousand dollars on Mr. Porter’s house, a three story Sunday School building was completed in 1859.
An industrial school was established in the Sunday School building to help alleviate some of the poverty in the neighborhood. It grew to about 50 women and became self-supporting. It was the first such industrial school in the entire South. This school was taken over by the State Quartermaster during the war and most of the uniforms for South Carolina troops were made here. It was confiscated by the Freedmen’s Bureau but it had successfully made its workers self sufficient. During the war, the Sunday School building was utilized as the Confederate Post Office while lower Charleston was shelled.
In 1864, Mr. Theodore Wagner paid the debts incurred in building the church and Sunday School ($8,500) and the Church became debt free.
The War brought the church to a close because those who could left the city: the men were in the army, and the rector was Chaplin of the Washing Light Infantry and away. When he returned after the War in 1865, his home had been confiscated and his congregation was scattered. He went into business temporarily, cleared his debts and then came back to this ministry. Within two years there was a healthy recuperation of the parish.
In 1867, in a vision at his son’s grave, Dr. Porter determined to educate the youth of the area for there was no school for children in existence. Without means or signs of support, a church day school - the Holy Communion Church Institute - was opened in December in the Sunday School building. The house immediately north of the Sunday School building became a dormitory for 33 boys. Only through Dr. Porter’s almost miraculous contacts in the North, in England and elsewhere was this work maintained in the devastated economy of the South. The School remained in the Sunday School building until 1880 when it was moved to the old Federal Arsenal, which Dr. Porter obtained through his war-time connections. The name was changed in 1886 to honor its founder, and became Porter Military Academy (presently the Porter-Gaud School). The students were choristers at the Church for many years and were required to march up Ashley Avenue to attend Church each Sunday. The students sat in the south transept that since Hurricane Hugo contains the baptismal font. The pews from that transcript are now in the north transept at St. Mary’s Altar. Initials of some of the students are still present and visible on the backs of many of those pews – reminders that teen-agers even then did not always listen intently to sermons.
During the Civil War, Mr. George Trenholm gave Dr. Porter $50,000 and his wife purchased a lot on Rutledge Avenue (the home of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Farrow now stands on the lot) so that Dr. Porter could build his "real" church. It being war-time Dr. Porter intended to use the monies in the cotton trade with England, but was convinced by a banker that it would be more patriotic to purchase Confederate Bonds. The money was lost and the dream of building a "real" church was dashed.
Following the War, attention was directed toward making the church a more suitable place for worship and instituting changes in the liturgy as practiced in the churches of South Carolina. The prevailing influence in the diocese was decidedly Calvinistic and services of holy communion were infrequent. The churches were generally without ornamentation but beautiful in architecture. Dr. Porter was aware of this state of the church while he was a teacher at St. Michael’s and was likely influenced by the Oxford Movement occurring in the Church of England to return more to our Catholic roots in ritual and sacrament. His pronounced stand was to return to the Anglican liturgy and to have a suitable church with appropriate furnishings and ornamentation to enhance worship.
The first movement in the desired direction was to make the simple 40’ by 70’ church structure larger. Dr. Porter expressed this desire to the Vestry in 1867 and Mr. Theodore Wagner told him to get a draftsman and contractor and if the cost was reasonable that he would pay for the alterations. Thus, the rear wall was removed and a recessed chancel and a chamber to accommodate a new organ was constructed in 1868. The side galleries and rear gallery were removed, the flat ceilings was removed and altered, pews were added and provision for a center aisle was accomplished. A white marble altar was installed, and a white marble cross placed upon it. This altar cross was a first in the Diocese. In 1871, the rear of the church was once again removed and the present domed recessed chancel was constructed and paid for entirely by Dr. Porter. The congregation at that time pledged funds to construct the transepts and raise the roof to install our present hammer-beam roof modeled after that in Trinity Hall, Cambridge, England. Stained glass windows were also installed. The building was complete. It was a building filled with Christian symbolism – a far cry from the absence of such things in our colonial churches. The stained glass windows each had appropriate symbols to be reminders of writers of the Gospels and the sacraments. Even the tiles paving the sanctuary that we gaze upon as we receive communion depict "the Way of the Cross" and the "Crucifixion." In all it became a magnificent church full of color and reverent symbolism.
Immediately following the architectural alterations of the church, Dr. Porter began introducing other changes. He tells of expressing his wishes to Mr. Trenholm that his choir boys wear surplices to cover their shabby clothes during worship. Mr. Trenholm told him he would purchase the cloth if Dr. Porter would enlist the women of the Parish to sew the vestments. In this way involving the women should assure the acceptance – and it did. It is related that the women became anxious to see the choir vested. He began using colored stoles with seasonal color hangings for the pulpit and reading desk. He placed candles on the altar and introduced a processional cross causing quite a stir in the community. He also began wearing Eucharistic vestments and introduced the vested choir and choral Eucharist on Easter Sunday of 1872. This was done with permission of Bishop Howe, his congregation, and the Vestry. To quote the Vestry minutes of April 2, 1872: "Whereas it has been the aim and desire of the Rector and Vestry of the Parish to advance in every possible way, within their power, its spiritual interest and growth by the full and consistent exercise of the teachings, privileges and customs of the Protestant Episcopal Church; it is with unfeigned gratitude and approbation that the Vestry witnesses the initial steps of the Rector towards the re-establishing of the time honored usage in the form of worship in our Venerable Church, as practiced in the Old and in many parts of the New World; but, unhappily, so long abandoned in our mist; and we congratulate him upon the success and sweet influence of the new services of Easter Day, in which we recognize the dawn of a more Church-like form of worship, and a heartier rendering of praise to our Heavenly Father from "these cold hearts of ours." While the congregation, vestry, and Bishop approved the vested choir and choral Eucharist, it caused quite a stirring in the City. Much was said about "going to Rome," but now these customs are widespread in the Diocese. Being first often results in initial condemnation but finally general acceptance. Dr. Porter’s and the Church of the Holy Communion’s most outstanding contribution to the diocese was the improvement of the use of the liturgy to raise the standards of worship.
In 1886 the Great Earthquake hit Charleston and did extensive damage. The rear portion of the Sunday School building was destroyed. If you look at the present 3 story structure, the roof on the rear is visibly different from that on the Ashley Avenue side. The Church, itself sustained little damage, but in 1888 the flying buttresses on the sides of the nave were constructed to reinforce those walls, and stucco was applied to the exterior.
Dr. Porter continued as Rector until his retirement in 1898. He was succeeded by his son, the Rev. Theodore Atkinson Porter who served as assistant Rector from 1885. The Rev. Theodore Atkinson Porter resigned in 1899 because of ill health and was succeeded by his assistant, the Rev. Henry Judah Mikell on September 26, 1899.
After Dr. A.T. Porter’s death in 1902, Rev. Mikell also assumed the duties of rector of Porter Military Academy, a duty assumed by succeeding rectors, with exception of two, through 1952. Rev. Mikell was also in charge of St. Andrews Mission of upper King Street. The Rev. Mikell and his assistant, the Rev. Henry Hope Lumpkin resigned in 1908. The Rev. Mikell later became Bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta.
The Reverend Frederick Harrison Harding came from Tarboro, N.C. to serve as rector from 1908-1912. From stories told to the writer by some now deceased persons, it would appear the rector and congregation were not an entirely happy match. It is said at one time the Vestry even threatened to sell the rectory from under him. The Rev. Harding resigned in 1912 to accept a call to Grace Church in Camden, S.C.
Father Frederick Ancrum deRosset became rector in 1913. He was a skilled musician, a scholar and dedicated parish priest. To quote an early account by a vestryman of the time: "Under his guidance the people grew in knowledge and true Godliness, and were led on in that type of Churchmanship which had its commencement under that pioneer Dr. Porter." He was well loved and it is said he literally worked himself to death carrying out a program of service beyond his physical strength. His brief, but productive rectorate ended with his death in 1915.
The Reverend Homer Worthington Starr, Ph.D. came from Chapel Hill, N.C., to become rector in 1916. Dr. Starr was a scholar and energetic leader with an unquenchable interest in persons, and accordingly a superb pastor to his congregation. He was vitally interested in education and was Provincial Chairman of the Department of Religious Education, and Dean of the Faculties at Kanuga. He established the first Young people’s Service League (now the Episcopal Young Churchmen) in 1921 and helped establish this youth movement throughout the Diocese. He formed the first Boy Scout Troop in South Carolina. The Parish was put on firm financial ground, the organ was rebuilt, the church interior redecorated with elaborate stenciling, and Bird Hall was constructed behind the Sunday School Building on the site of the earthquake destroyed portion of the Sunday School. The bequest of William M. Bird provided for the construction and provided additional sums to be added to what was then called the contingency fund. The fund even loaned $20,000 to Citadel Square Baptist Church and for a time held a mortgage on the property. These funds were invested to provide income, but were unfortunately lost in the Great Depression of 1929. Dr. Starr was greatly loved by the congregation and I recall a later rector laughingly telling some parishioner that he "could never be another Dr. Starr." Dr. Starr served until his death on July 5, 1936. He is memorialized in Starr Chapel where daily services are now held. Much of the work to establish the chapel was done by Mr. Elias Ball, and the grapevine carvings on the altar and tabernacle are the work of a later rector, the Rev. Paul Linaweaver.
The Reverend William Wallace Lumpkin was rector from October 15, 1936 until May 31, 1948. His interests were in young people, good music with accent on liturgical forms. Accordingly, he spent much time with the youth of the parish – acolytes, Boy Scouts - and established a cadet parish at the Citadel in 1940, St. Albans. A new organ was purchased and installed in 1940, and the choir was a special recipient of his attention. He was assisted by the Rev. Colin Campbell in 1941-42. Mr. Lumpkin obtained a leave of absence to serve as chaplain in the U.S. Navy during the World War II years of 1942-45. The Rev. Arthur R. Willis served as locum tenems rector from 1942 to 1944. The Very Reverend S. Alston Wragg served from 1944 until Mr. Lumpkin returned from his war-time service. In 1948, the Rev. Lumpkin resigned to accept a call to Calvary church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
From September 1, 1948 until September 1, 1953, the Rev. William Lofton Hargrave was rector. He was a superb administrator and did much to clear the parish records. He became President of Porter Military Academy during one of its crisis times and served for one year to assist the Academy back toward health. His parish years were filled with activity. The stained glass windows of the nave and transepts were replaced, and the men of the church undertook the repainting and redecoration of the interior, a long but fruitful undertaking and reported with a front-cover picture in the "Living Church". Plans were initiated for construction of a new Sunday School building and a new rectory was acquired. The Rev. Hargrave resigned to return to the Diocese of South Florida where he later became Suffragan Bishop and then Bishop of the Diocese.
The Rev. Edwin Ballenger Clippard became the rector on January 1954. The new two-story Sunday School Building attached to Bird Hall was completed. A family Eucharist was initiated in conjunction with Sunday School. St. Mary’s altar was constructed and placed in the north transepts to accommodate larger attendance capacity for daily service. Rev. Clippard resigned in early 1959.
In the interim between Mr. Clippard and the arrival of the Rev. Paul Glenwood Linaweaver, Captain, USN (ret) the parish was served by the Rev. William Henry Hanckel, Jr. as locum tenems rector.
Father Linaweaver had served the parish earlier while stationed at the Charleston Naval Base. In 1936 he was locum tenems rector between Dr. Starr and Rev. Lumpkin. Father Linaweaver initiated the celebration of Holy Communion at all major services each Sunday, the first such change in the Diocese. In 1960 a new lighting system was installed through the effort of the Women of the Church. A decision to renovate the Church was made and a capital funds effort was undertaken to underwrite heating and air conditioning systems, and to waterproof the exterior with placement of protective exterior glass over the stained glass windows. Steel Bracing was installed to reinforce the roof trusses at the transepts in 1962. Father Linaweaver retired on September 1, 1967.
On October 1, 1967, Father Samuel C.W. Fleming became rector, and began a dynamic period of expansion and growth. Father Fleming’s strengths were many but chiefly he was a Godly pastor and teacher, and these strengths reached beyond the Parish and into the Diocese and beyond. He was chairman of the Standing Committee of the Diocese for many years and served as delegate to each General Convention for our Diocese while he was rector. In 1970, the property adjacent to the Sunday School Building was purchased, landscaped and prepared as a parking lot; the interior of the Church repainted and redecorated; Bird Hall was upgraded and redecorated, in 1976, the choir room was remodeled and in 1978 the property adjoining the rear of the parking lot and extending to Rutledge Avenue was purchased, fenced and paved to expand our parking area. Thus, the Church was in the best physical condition it had been in for many years. A permanent endowment fund was established to help fund the maintenance of the church in the future. This fund in 1998 was now of sufficient size to be of a real impact on the very necessary expenditures to keep an old building in repair. Father Fleming retired in January of 1985 after leading a significant rebirth of our Parish life. His tenure of 17 years is exceeded only by the 20 years of Dr. Starr, and the 48 years of Dr. Porter.
Father Maurice Branscomb became rector in June of 1985. Father Branscomb was a talented musician and liturgist. He was assisted by Rev. Kent Belmore from 1988 to 1989. Father Branscomb resigned in 1989 to return to the Diocese of Alabama.
In June 1989, Father Clark Lowenfield assumed the leadership of the Parish. Before he could settle in good, Hurricane Hugo struck on September 21, 1989. The tin roof of the Church was rolled off, and the St. John window in the chancel as well as the two north transept windows were blown out exposing the entire interior to the extensive water damage such storms bring. In all the damage exceeded one million dollars and required more than a year to be restored. During this time, our worship services were held in Bird Hall. It was decided to take this calamity as an opportunity to expand our facilities to better accommodate our congregation. A capital funds program entitled "Led on to the Next Step" was successfully completed while the church was being restored. The expansion included the demolition of Bird Hall to allow for better access to a new Parish Hall (named Fleming Hall in memory of Father Fleming) and new offices, nursery, and refurbished Sunday School. An attractive Garth replaces Bird Hall. Father James Cantler became Priest Associate in 1992 and continued after Father Lowenfield resigned to accept a call to Houston, Texas in 1996.
Father Cantler served as interim rector from February 1996 until December 1996.
Father Alvin Kimel, Jr. became the 15th rector of the parish in November 1996. He is a scholar and accomplished liturgist. His efforts include an emphasis on improving music to complement the choral Eucharist and to generally raise the beauty of worship. Father Kimel is a superb teacher from the pulpit, in the classroom, and by published worship aid always available in the Church. He is well on his way to a successful ministry and the future of the Church of the Holy Communion looks bright.
In conclusion, I would like to read to you a short portion from Dr. Porter’s last sermon before his retirement concerning this beautiful facility we have inherited from all those parishioners who have preceded us in this house, and I quote: "I am today to retire from my past, and all this you see round you I leave as my legacy, and the legacy of those who have gone before you. Will you keep all this property in repair? Will you preserve and from time to time beautify it? Improve what you have received, and do for those who come after what has been done for you? It will not cost you the effort, the struggle, the sacrifice it cost others, but it will cost some of each. This inanimate creation cannot take care of itself, and I charge you, each and all, to remember you are custodians of our Father’s House. See to it that each does his and her duty towards it."
We have done our best in the one hundred years since that sermon and I trust that those who are here now and those who succeed us will do the same