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100 Years of Episcopal Church in Dayton

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, October 12, 1930


100 Years of Episcopal Church in Dayton

By Howard Burba


     It was on a Wednesday in October.  Since Octobers have long been pretty much alike, the probabilities are that it was just such a day as next Wednesday will prove to be.

     At any rate, we may be sure the hazel bushes along the road were taking on their garb of brown and acorns and buckeyes, pried aloose from their hulls by an early frost, were dropping into the deep dust of the road with a stifled plop.  Out of a cloud of dust in the south came a silent figure in clerical garb, man and beast, bespeaking a grueling journey of many days’ duration.

     Alighting in front of the Browning House, it was the town’s leading hostelry on that Wednesday in October, 100 years ago this week, he wound his bridle about the nearest hitching post and entered.  In gentle, kindly voice characteristic of his calling, he asked for the names of such families of the Episcopal faith as the clerk might be acquainted with in the community.  He took from his saddlebags a much thumbed notebook, from his coat the stub of a pencil.  And he jotted down the names of Judge Joseph Crane and Warren Munger, sr.  Profuse in his thanks, he asked for accommodations for the night and was shown to his room.

     On the register, in well-written script, he set down the name of “Rev. Ethan Allen.”


     In its claim to centenary honors, Christ Episcopal church of Dayton reads its title clear.  From the first moment of the first meeting of its founders, held on the 15th day of May, 1817, down to the present hour there is an unbroken, uninterrupted story of the institution in treasured volumes, zealously guarded in the rectory.

     Thumbing the yellowed, time-stained minutes of the oldest of these we learn of the visit in early springtime of the Rev. Philander Chase, missionary to the church in southern Ohio.  Dayton then boasted a population of 1000.  Older denominations had established modest houses of worship, the pioneer families and original founders of the settlement having come with their Bibles in hand.  We find a record of a meeting called by Rev. Chase on that date now so significant in the history of the local church, and then find a lapse of two years before he returned to Dayton, this time as Bishop of Ohio.  That was in October, 1819.  The records indicate that his presence and works encouraged the little band he had addressed two years before to make still another attempt to establish a church.

      On the very first page of the record we have evidence of the spirit which made Christ church possible, in words written 100 years ago, yet clear and unmistakable in their earnestness of purpose:

     “We, the subscribers, deeply impressed with the truth and importance of the Christian religion and anxiously desirous of promoting its holy influence in the hearts and lives of ourselves, our families and neighbors, do associate ourselves together by name, style and title of St. Thomas church, Dayton, Montgomery county, Ohio, in communion with the Protestant Episcopal church in the United States of America, whose liturgy, constitution and canons we do now adopt.  (Signed) Blackhall Stephens, George Grove, Ally Grove, William M. Smith, Betsy Smith, John Collins, Joseph Crane.”

     On Oct. 25 the matter of providing regular ministerial services was threshed out, the congregation by this time having been augmented to more than a score of worshippers.  It was decided to engage the Rev. Ethan Allen to serve St. Thomas church.  Then, as now, the matter of finances played no small part in congregational deliberations, so we find in the record that a subscription was taken, the signers pledging themselves to pay one-half of the sum opposite their names at the time of signing and the remainder within one year from date.  And here is the treasured list of first donors to the permanent establishment of the Episcopal church in Dayton:

     Joseph Crane, Warren Munger, sr., George Grove, William M. Smith, B. B. Beall, John Compton, C. M. Virean, N. F. Stone, M. Y. Graff, Bernard Gilbert, Andrew Drill, William Roth, Edward Smith, John G. Groff, D. C. Baker, G. T. Bostwick, O. B. Conover, H. G. Phillips, F. F. Carrell, G. Ainsworth, William Newshon, A. A. Richards, Thomas Clegg, Samuel T. Evans, Hiram Cox, James Irwin, Thomas Parrott, Samuel Steele, William Eaker, Joshua Clements, I. V. Perrine, Edward H. Burr, William Davies, R. D. Kinkaid, Charles Smith, H. Pierson, D. G. Novle, David Osborn, John W. Van Cleve, E. Browning, Lawrence Knissley, J. Matlack, E. Stebbins, John Steele, James Stover, Jacob Stutsman, Noah Johnson,

M. Patton, H. Jewett, Fielding Lowry, James Perrine, H. Bacon, H. Stoddard, E. W. Davies, G. R. Greene, L. W. Harris, E. Brabham, S. T. Evans, David Osborn.

     Services were held at regular intervals, Bishop Crane speaking often, pausing to preach here on his way to and from Cincinnati.  In 1820, when the church had celebrated its first anniversary, evidence of the vitality is offered in a report of Warren Munger, sr., who had represented the congregation in the Diocesan Convention of that year.  This interest is also testified to by Rev. Samuel Johnson , at that time rector of the only Episcopal church in Cincinnati.  During his early years in the Queen City he often journeyed to Dayton, a long and laborious trip in those days, and preached to the infant congregation.  In reporting the convention of 1820 he wrote into the records:

     “This church (at Dayton) is respectable, and established on a firm footing.  Its members manifest a zeal that would do credit to our older and more populous congregations.  Seldom can there be discovered a more correct knowledge of the Church, or a more inquisitive disposition to be acquainted with its principles.  There are some individuals in it who are zealously affected in a good cause, and spare no pains that the Church shall rise in the splendor of her primitive services and command the admiration of Christians.  In  the whole state there is not probably a church which will do more in proportion to their means for the support of religion.”

     Immediately following the convention funds were raised to secure the services of a rector half the time, and the Rev. Spencer Wall, a deacon then in charge of the missionary work at Piqua and Springfield, took charge of the parish on alternate Sundays from Oct. 19, 1821, until March, 1822.  He was the only regular clergyman during the years that St. Thomas church was in existence.

     While it functioned as St. Thomas church, services were held in the Lancasterian schoolhouse, which stood on St. Clair st., opposite the public library of today.  At time services were held in the homes of the members, and we find an occasional reference in the minutes to meetings held in the old courthouse.  But inability to secure or support a full-time rector discouraged the little band.  There was a gradual falling away in attendance.  “The old, old story of sadness was repeated,” the church historian assures us, “as the requiem of a promising church chanted in doleful strains from bleeding hearts at the time when that church had an opportunity of taking equal rank with other religious bodies.  For the want of a minister of God, the golden opportunity of the church in Dayton was lost, and Christians of other names outstripped in the race.”

     The last services of that decade of which there is any record were held in 1827, and from then until 1830, the Episcopal faith had no voice in the religious life of the struggling town.

     From the treasured records in the rectory we take another volume.  Its very covers bespeak the birth of a new hope in the community.  We lay back the seared and yellowed pages, and there under the date of Oct. 7, 1830, we rest our eyes upon a new and brighter picture. It tells of the visit of Rev. Ethan Allen, on a missionary tour of the southwestern counties of Ohio.

     It explains his mission; his visit to Judge Joseph Crane and Warren Munger, sr.  We can almost hear him say, as he approached them with hand extended in token of love and fellowship:  “I have come to spend Sunday in Dayton.  I would like very much to preach to all those who care to assemble.”

     But his hopes dissolved.  Members of the former congregation had been widely scattered.  There was not a sufficient number of the faithful to form a congregation for even this one service.  Heavy of heart he returned to the hotel, spent the night, and early in the morning hours mounted his horse and rode to the south.  Back to Cincinnati, downcast and discouraged went this pioneer worker in the vineyard of Christianity.  And another opportunity for planting the Episcopal doctrine in this part of the wilderness was lost.

     It is to the everlasting credit of the human race that it has from time immemorial boasted men who know no such word as defeat.  This pioneer missionary was one of them.  He had covered 400 miles on that gruelling trip through what was then little more than a wilderness.  But a few days of rest and prayer in Cincinnati found him ready for a more determined battle than he had yet waged.  Declining easier fields, he returned to Dayton in two weeks, and this time not to be repelled.  He visited among the families whose members had once been affiliated with the denomination he represented; he found them receptive to his plea.

     The old Presbyterian church at Third and Ludlow was procured, and on Sunday, Oct. 24, 1830, the Rev. Ethan Allen delivered two earnest sermons.  They must have been the most earnest, the most inspiring of his long and useful life.  For from them fell the seed that flourished and grew into the magnificent institution which now stands as a deep-rooted and substantial landmark in the field of local religious endeavor.

     The following morning a subscription paper was started to secure a support for Rev. Allen, so thoroughly had he rallied the scattered forces and awakened again their zeal. The sum of $320 was pledged.  Using this, and a small sum granted for work in the Miami Valley, he set about the permanent founding of a congregation of the Episcopal faith in Dayton.

     A few weeks later he brought his family from Cincinnati, and on Sunday, Nov. 24, began a ministerial service that still stands as the brightest chapter in the history of the church in this city.  And in that chapter we find this significant fact, that during the 10 years in which services were held intermittently before his coming, the Holy Communion had not been celebrated.  On the first Sunday in January, 1831, that rite was celebrated for the first time here.  This faithful old soldier in the army of the Lord officiated.  The three communicants whom he found here, the church records reveal, were Mrs. Marcus Y. Graff, Mrs. Andrew Drill and Mrs. Neibert.  Their descendants are now, 100 years later, numbered among the members of Christ Episcopal church.

     On June 25, 1831, the first vestry of Christ church was elected in the old courthouse, and consisted of Joseph Crane and Warren Munger, sr., wardens, and George Grove, Charles M. Varian, Hibbert Jewett, B. B. Beall, Marcus Y Graff and George Drill as vestrymen.  At the same meeting it was decided to start a subscription for the purchase of a lot and the building of a church, and on May 17, 1832, $1800 was reported raised.  Three days later a building committee was instructed to proceed about the erection of a house of worship, not to exceed in cost the amount of the fund in hand.

     Another red-letter entry in these treasured church records accents the date of Sunday, June 15, 1833.  For it was on that day that the edifice erected on Jefferson st., between Fourth and Fifth sts., on the present site of the Clegg building, was first opened for divine service.

     On Nov. 17 of the same year Bishop McIlvane made his first visit to the parish and consecrated the church.  The same day he also confirmed a class of 12 persons—the first ever confirmed here.  The first name registered was that of Warren Munger, sr., and it is of interest to note that he was also the first person baptized by Rev. Allen after his arrival in Dayton.

     Rev. Ethan Allen labored in Dayton until 1843, when he filed his resignation, much against the wishes of not only his own congregation but the residents of Dayton generally.  He had been a power in the civic life of the town; he had endeared himself to the hearts of everyone, regardless of religious creed.

     The Rev. Richard S. Killen succeeded him, but resigned after eight months of service.  The third rector was Rev. William W. Arnett, who accepted the charge on Jan. 5, 1845.  It was during his ministry here that a house adjoining the church was purchased, marking the first Episcopal rectory in Dayton.

     Rev. James B. Britton took up the work at the close of Rev. Arnett’s labors in 1849, and throughout his ministry the growth of the church was rapid.  It was found necessary to enlarge the original house of worship, and to add a new front.

     Then followed in succession, with the resignation of Rev. Britton on June 1, 1855, these rectors:  Rev. H. Morrell, from 1855-1857; Rev. John Woart, from 1857 to 1859; Rev. Anthony Tenbroeck from 1860 to 1862; the Rev. Edward H. Jewett, from 1863 to 1870; Rev. Edward P Wright, 1871, to 1873; Rev. Jewett, 1873 to 1879; Rev. Jesse T. Webster 1850- 1886; Rev. Herbert J. Cook, 1887 to 1894; Rev. Y. Peyton Morgan, 1895 to 1899; Rev. John Dows Hills, 1900-1902; Rev. Holmes Whitmore, 1903 to 1920; Rev. Arthur Dumper 1911 to 1917; Rev. Bartel H. Rheinheimer, 1918- to 1921.

    In 1921 Rev. Phil Porter, assistant to Rev. Rheinheimer, was installed as rector, and is now ably serving the congregation.  His official staff is made up of Rev. Donald V. Carey, Curate; Mr. W. W. Lanthurn, Organist and Choirmaster, and Miss Ruth Ewell, Parish Clerk.

     It was while Rev. Wright was rector that Ascension Chapel, a healthy offshoot of the parent church, was established and a flourishing Sunday school organized in Dayton View.

     As far back as 1868 the women of Christ church had been interested in the organization of a Union Sunday school in the eastern part of the city.  After a few months’ experiment that location was not considered favorable, however, so the school was removed to the southern part of the city.  In 1870, at a cost of $9000 a handsome chapel building was dedicated and out of this the present St. Paul Episcopal church at 33 Dixon av., of which the Rev. Herman P. Page is rector.  The years have brought still another offshoot of the parent church in a flourishing congregation in Dayton View, worshipping as members of  St. Andrews church, of which Rev. Phillip Hull is rector.  Still more recent has been the organization of  St. Margaret’s mission, for colored residents of the Episcopal faith. It is located at 439 Norwood ave., and Rev. John N. Samuels-Belboder is its rector.

     It was during the rectorship of Rev. Wright, too, that the present site of Christ church on the south side of First st. between Main and Ludlow was secured.  Two lots were purchased there at a total cost of $17,000.  The cornerstone was laid on July 12, 1871.  The old lot had been sold for $12,000, and $22,000 raised in subscriptions.  This sum would have adequately provided for the new house of worship, the estimated cost of which had been placed at $30,000.  But then came the long-remembered panic of 1873, and panics practice no favoritism. Christ church suffered with the rest.

     But the congregation, finding a way out of its financial difficulties, struggled on to the completion of the new house of worship.  But the sum of $19,000, borrowed to carry out the original program, was not paid in full until 1883.  It was in that year that the present house of worship was consecrated, though the congregation had worshipped in it regularly since Sunday morning, March 22, 1874.

     To those treasured records of this proud old institution another volume is being added during the coming week.  For on Oct. 19 Christ Episcopal church will celebrate its centennial anniversary.

     No tired, travel-worn missionary will wend his way along dim trails and over rugged passes to tie his faithful beast of burden at the “Browning House.”  No sad-eyed servant of the truth will come forth with heavy heart to take up his journey on past the town that turned its back upon the message he had sought to convey.

     But out of the past that picture will arise again.  The faith that was in the heart of the pioneer missionary will be found in the hearts of the descendants of those with whom he labored.  The seeds of his sowing have over a century of time found root and development far beyond his fondest dreams.  The ambition of a faithful, self-sacrificing missionary of 1830 finds its realization in 1930 in the most glorious celebration in the history of the institution he planted in the wilderness at a time when men reached eagerly for the hand of God.  Just as they have reached for it through all the years that have come and gone.  Just as they are reaching for it today, knowing that no other hand will do.