I usually use the privilege of writing columns to speak to topics of general interests to Christians and hopefully to people of faith more generally. This week, however, I am going to brag just a little bit about my own congregation, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Harris Hill Road. We are celebrating our 75th anniversary this year and the actual day of the anniversary is today. So, this is a little bit of a birthday card to St. Paul’s.
In the early 1940s, gasoline rationing had led families in the Harris Hill area to discover that they were no longer able to drive into Buffalo for church and Sunday School.
In 1942, a meeting was held at the home of George Lavis. The purpose of the meeting was to begin a survey of the religious needs of the area. It was decided that there was a need for another place of worship and that an Episcopal Church would be a middle of the road choice that would draw the largest number of people. The decision was made to start a Sunday School, since that was the need that seemed most pressing.
On Sept. 6, 1942, the Sunday School met for the first time at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Messermith. It was led by Rev. Frank Blackwelder of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Rev. Frank Patterson of Calvary, Williamsville. There were 47 children at the first meeting of the Sunday School, too many for one home. So the Sunday school met in the homes of Howard Messersmith, E.H. Viner, Fred Sreketee and A.B. Howe.
In January 1944, a house (the current rectory) and the adjoining land was purchased. Construction of a church building would have to wait until the war ended and building materials would be available. Originally the church was called St. Andrew’s, but in December 1944, the name was changed to St. Paul’s. The house was overcrowded on Sunday mornings and it was used by many community groups during the week.
One of the things that I have learned in my ministry is how values that are present at the beginning of the life of a congregation echo through the years. The “DNA” of the congregation seems to replicate generation after generation. St. Paul’s is still a place that focuses on the spiritual development of children and that offers our space to the community.
To bring this column back to something of general interest, what is the story of the beginning of your congregation? What themes do you see in that story? Are those themes still present in the life of your congregation today? Sometimes looking back at our history helps us identify our current call to service.