A Brief History of St Paul's, Kent
View of St. Paul's Church from the road.
Miss Maria L. Gamble gave the chandelier in the nave in 1882 in memory of her two sisters.
St. Paul’s was established in 1692 as one of the original thirty Church of England parishes in Maryland. The vestry was organized the next year and Michael Miller (buried just north of the main doors) donated the land.
While to modern eyes the location may seem isolated, Route 20 did not exist at the time. The church was, thus, on a main road.
The first church was a simple frame building which, by 1711, had deteriorated beyond repair. Plans were made for a brick structure to cost, in the “currency” of the region and day, 70,000 pounds of tobacco.
Opened in 1713, St. Paul’s is the oldest continuously used Episcopal church building in Maryland.
Musicians shared the semi-circular apse with a portable communion table. The floor was not raised as it is today. People sat in “box pews” on chairs (like theatre boxes) and faced a “three-decker” pulpit in the middle of the north wall. The main door was on the south wall.
A colorful cleric of the Colonial period was the Revd. James Sterling (1740-63). A poet, playwright, and entrepreneur, he also managed to be appointed customs collector of Chestertown!
In 1766, the Vestry House, where church meetings were held, was built. Once common in Maryland, ours is one of only two surviving (the other in Perryman).
When the Revd. Robert Read moved to Virginia in 1777, St. Paul’s was served part-time by the Revd. Dr. William Smith of Emmanuel, Chestertown.
Dr. Smith embraced American Independence and was instrumental in organizing former Church of England parishes into what became “The Episcopal Church.”
His successor, in 1785, the Revd. Colin Ferguson, was the first priest ordained by the Rt. Revd. Samuel Seabury, the first bishop of The Episcopal Church.
St. Paul’s, however, declined with the social upheavals caused by the war and the rise of Methodism.
By 1840, the parish was down to a dozen families. Fortunately, this was to be the low point. The 1840’s and ‘50’s proved to be years of growth as dedicated clergy and laity worked to reach people with no religious affiliation.
It was during these years that the pew boxes were replaced by fixed benches (still in use) facing east. The south entrance was bricked up. In keeping with “Oxford Movement” influence, the worship focus now became the communion table, permanently placed in the apse behind an altar rail. The three-decker pulpit was removed.
The parish was torn by the Civil War, with men fighting on both sides of the conflict.
The “Dove of Peace” window, installed after the war behind the altar, incorporates the fleur-de-lis, a symbol of Mary(land) in panels of red/white for the South and dark blue/gold for the North, representing the state’s divisions. The central Trinity panel symbolizes that unity does not mean sameness, while, above it, the logo of the 12th Corps, in which Union Eastern Shore regiments served, is artistically blended with the “Cross Bottony” used by Maryland Confederates. The Revd. Sewell S. Hepburn was here between 1874 and 1881. While locally well-regarded for his ministry, his grand-daughter, Katherine, achieved some wider fame of her own!
The small one-room brick Vestry House was constructed by 1766. It is one of the only two remaining in Maryland, and uses the early 17th century one-and-a-half story form. It has been variously used as a school, an office and as a barrack for troops during the War 1812.
The economic difficulties which plagued St. Paul’s during this time reflected those of rural America in general—bank and crop failures. A succession of clergy were called, but lack of funds led to their eventual departures.
An exception to this pattern was the Revd. Christopher Denroche who arrived in 1892 after thirty years of ministry in his native Canada. He stayed until his death in 1906 and never once received his full salary.
It was Fr. Denroche who initiated the plan to commemorate Kent County’s only War of 1812 action by building a memorial for the Battle of Caulk’s Field (Aug. 30th, 1814). It still stands today on the Tolchester road (Rt. 21).
Another rector who brought a wealth of experience was the Revd. William Wyllie who took up his duties in 1933 at the age of sixty-five (clergy had no fixed retirement date, then).
In the face of the Great Depression, the vestry minutes of 1939 record a “rising vote of thanks” to him “for his economic administration of the affairs of the parish.”
Time and tide wait for no man, however, and in 1948 he entered the Church Expectant. Like many past rectors, he is buried in the churchyard. r constructions and destructions. Histories are made by ordinary people living ordinary lives and yet making extraordinary things possible.”
St. Paul's Parish Hall is a warm and inviting arena for Sunday fellowship and Parish suppers. It is also available for rent for personal occasions.
The Revd. John Nelson succeeded him and was present during two major building programs—the Parish Hall and Rectory (clergy hitherto had lived in Fairlee or Chestertown).
Baltimore architect Bryden Bordley Hyde designed these buildings, replicating features found in Annapolis’ Hammond-Harwood House and Chestertown’s Hynson-Ringgold House. He also painted the heraldic arms of the founding families above the Parish House fireplace.
Mr. Hyde’s ancestor, the Revd. Stephen Bordley, had been St. Paul’s second priest (1697-1709).
The Revd. George Taylor, oversaw the burgeoning of the Sunday School in the “Baby-Boomer” years. His excellent work in the parish was curtailed in 1966 when he was elected to be Bishop of Easton, an office to which he brought distinction.
In 1992, the parish celebrated 300 years with a festival year of events including a visit from Canon John Sausmarez of Canterbury Cathedral in Kent, England.
Membership growth led to an expansion of the Parish Hall with a classroom/office wing in 1999.
In 2005, a meditation Labyrinth was dedicated in the churchyard’s Memorial Garden based on the one at St. Vitale in Ravenna, Italy.
In the 21st c., St. Paul’s has benefited from its intentional welcome of new residents, many of whom have retired to the area from D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia.
What does the future hold? One cannot but wonder, for, as one author has put it, “Histories are written about major constructions and destructions. Histories are made by ordinary people living ordinary lives and yet making extraordinary things possible.”