The History of Saint Thomas’ Parish and an Invitation
Like a number of other congregations in our part of the world, Saint Thomas’ is a Parish with a proud history – and a bright future in serving our Lord Jesus Christ!
As early as 1797, Church documents indicate Baptisms among Episcopalians residing within “Hancocktown”, as the community named for local settler Joseph Hancock was first called. Records of regular Baptisms do not begin until 1829. In that year, The Reverend Leonard H. Johns, Rector of Emmanuel Church (Founded 1803), Cumberland, reported an agreement. He would conduct services in Hancock on alternate weeks with those at Emmanuel. The Priest made his trips on horseback over the Old National Pike (today U.S. 40 and I-68/I-70). In 1832, Mr. Johns noted that he was now officiating twice a month at Hancock and Clear Spring. We may chuckle at what he added: “But there is still a great deal of wickedness among many of these charges.”
Growth continued, and in 1835 the Parish was duly recognized by the Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and named Saint Thomas’, for one of the twelve Apostles of our Lord. Also in 1835, The Reverend John Delaplane, of Frederick County, was called as the first official Rector. Thanks to Mr. Johns, work had already begun on the Church building. Irish and German workers from the C & O Canal Project were engaged, and the impressive job was completed before Winter.
Our historic and beautiful brick building is believed to be a physical copy of the original Emmanuel Church, Cumberland. Both edifices were erected on hilltops overlooking the Potomac River, occupying significant and highly visible locations in both their communities. The name “Thomas” was likely chosen for our Hancock Church because it means “twin”. Thus, our building is thought to have been designed as a twin to the one in Cumberland. Since Emmanuel’s original brick building was torn down in 1851 and replaced by a grander and larger stone Gothic structure, St. Thomas’, Hancock stands as a monument to both original Churches.
The original brick Church stands to this day and greets all who pass up and down the steep hill known as Church Street.
Particularly intriguing to most is the fact that the Church served for 18 months (1862-63) as a hospital for Union soldiers during and after General Stonewall Jackson’s infamous Civil War shelling of Hancock. Women from the congregation and town nursed the wounded right in the Nave itself, and later, in the Rectory. Thus, Saint Thomas’ has a long and proud history of reaching out in Christ’s Name to all people, especially those in serious need or trouble.
The Parish Hall was not erected until 1932, a generous memorial to the father of then Rector The Reverend J. Moulton Thomas. Its interior was significantly improved in 1981-82.
The historic Church remains true to its early, graceful design. Striking stained glass windows have been added over the years, including a Tiffany work. A movable Nave Altar was added several years ago, without disturbing the High Altar, Sanctuary or Chancel. Both Altars are normally used in Sunday worship.
The Parish has a fine tradition in music and boasts a talented Minister of Music, a devoted Parish Choir and a beautiful thirteen-rank M.P. Moller Pipe Organ. In 2005, the Organ was rebuilt, enhanced and relocated to the Church Balcony – formerly a slave balcony. This change made possible an accessible entrance and restroom for the 1835 building. The Parish emphasizes Christian formation/education for both children and adults and is proud of its strong Sunday School, Youth Fellowship, Vacation Bible School and Adult Education programs.
Generations of Episcopalians from Western Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania have worshipped and loved the Lord in this place for nearly 200 years. Today, approximately 300 tri-state area households look to a lively and growing Saint Thomas’ as their spiritual home. Faithful worship, strong Christian education, warm fellowship and caring outreach are the hallmarks of our congregation’s life in Christ. In His Holy Name, warmly invite you to join us!