The Church of the Epiphany Centennial History
Extrapolated from “75th Anniversary 1912-1987 The Church of the Epiphany”, 1987 and updated by Rachel & John Baildon)
One hundred years ago the summer residents of the Abingtons began to winterize their homes for year-round use, making it difficult for them to travel to Scranton for their weekly services. Thus they realized a church closer to these old homes was needed. In the early 1800’s Mr. Jonathan Hall, who married Eunice Capwell, needing a school for their eight children, had built a schoolhouse near the old Abington-Waterford Turnpike. He hired a teacher and invited neighborhood children to attend. When the township erected a new school, Mr. Hall moved the old schoolhouse and converted it into a kitchen for his home, now owned by our parishioner, Nadina Mattes. The bark from its logs is still visible in her kitchen.
In 1911, another schoolhouse, built in 1876, became available for purchase. And on Epiphany Sunday, January 6, 1912, a meeting was called by Russell Dimmick to consider purchasing the property. It had to be cut short because the pot belly stove was not supplying enough heat, but not before they decided to buy this old schoolhouse for $550. Colonel Oakford and Mr. Dimmick provided the financial resources. The group assembled was made up of Mr. & Mrs. Dimmick, Colonel & Mrs. James Oakford plus their 9-year old daughter Frances, Mr. & Mrs. J. W. Bunnell, Mr. & Mrs. Louis Cheeseman, Mrs. Clara Pellett, and Mr. Jay Coleman. In the summer of 1912, pews replaced school desks, walls were painted, a Bishop’s chair from the Church of the Good Shepherd was brought in, and St. Luke’s Church contributed the walnut lumber for use. Over the front door a panel was placed which read “St. John’s Memorial Chapel”.
At first the chapel had services only during the summer with the Rev. Skelton serving the first year and Rev. Spettigrew following the next. In 1914-15 a curate from St. Luke’s, F. Percy Houghton officiated and in 1916-17, during World War I, the Revs. Haupt and Lindstrom alternated serving. In August 1917, after the renovations mentioned above had been completed, St. John’s Mission was admitted to the Diocese of Bethlehem.
The Rev. Frederick Percival Houghton, D.D. (Nov. 1919 – Nov. 1927)
In 1919, the Rev. Percy Houghton was called and given a salary of $150 per month. He had previously served as Army Chaplain of the 28th Division in World War I.
Just before his call, a porch for the chapel was presented to Mary Oakford as a birthday gift from her husband and Mrs. Lathrop started a tradition of breakfast snacks served on this porch.
Further alterations occurred with the construction of a sanctuary and choir stalls; the chancel was enhanced with a beamed ceiling, a hot-air furnace was installed, and the present oak altar was put in place. Gold leaf was stenciled by the parish men and the walls painted. Brass candelabras were obtained in New York by Rev. Houghton. William Shurtleff commissioned a brass cross for the altar to be made in the shops of the Hudson Coal Company. Over the altar, light blue glass windows were placed which remained until 1957 when the current arched window of old hand-rolled glass, the same type used in the original schoolhouse, replaced the colored glass. Mrs. Oakford asked her dear friend Mr. Vauclaim, who was president of the Baldwin Locomotive Company to donate a bell for her “Little Church in the Dell”. He complied, but the bell was so heavy that the belfry rocked whenever it was rung. In addition, it was so loud that one of the summer parishioners gave a large sum of money to keep the sexton from ringing the bell for the 8:00 service. In 1921, Mrs. Oakford presented a new Estey reed organ which was badly needed.
At a meeting held in 1922, the Rev. Houghton suggested a name change for this little chapel to the Church of the Epiphany since it was on the Feast of the Epiphany ten years earlier when the first meeting was held to purchase the little schoolhouse. This was agreed upon and adopted.
In August 1922 the Walter Griffin homestead just below the church was purchased for $5655 by Colonel Oakford and leased to the church for a year, whereupon he deeded it to Epiphany. A $40,000 restoration project was started to change the home to be suitable for school rooms, meeting rooms, and an auditorium, with a rectory established on the second floor. A men’s club was organized in 1923 and the first fund raising carnival was held, which became an annual event. The swinging doors between the vestibule and the nave of the church were given in 1924 in memory of Trystine Morris Simrell by her husband Dr. H. Eugene Simrell and Mr. and Mrs. William F. Shurtleff.
When Mr. Shurtleff died unexpectedly in 1926 after being junior warden for many years, his employer at the Hudson Coal Company donated a bronze mixture bell as a memorial to him. This bell bore the words, “In Memory of William Shurtleff” and is the same bell that rings for all services in the steeple today.
After having led Epiphany from its beginnings, the Rev. Houghton resigned in 1927.
The Rev. Samuel Ezra Neikirk (Dec. 1927 – July 1929)
The Rev. Neikirk was close to retirement when he came to Epiphany from St. James Church, Pittston. He was taken in immediately and was called Dad by the parishioners. He loved the outdoors and enjoyed hiking during the winters, occasionally finding shelter behind a barn to wait for a blizzard to pass. During his tenure Gladys Jermyn gave carpeting to enhance the church’s beauty. Regrettably, he died after only having served as rector for a year and a half.
The Rev. Horace Wood Stowell (Sept. 1929 - April 1931)
The Rev. Stowell admitted in the parish newsletter that, unlike “Dad” Neikirk, he did not like the winters here. In spite of that, he was so well liked that the children called him Uncle Toddles. Unfortunately, he died of pneumonia at age 55 after less than two years with us
The Rev. Edward G. McCance (Aug. 1931 - Sept. 1936)
The Rev. McCance was instrumental in fostering an interest in youth by the parish, thereby increasing Sunday School attendance. He saw the need to enhance church school facilities and with the aid of George M. D. Lewis, an architect (and Junior Warden for 35 years), a stage was constructed in the parish hall where concerts and plays were performed. Mrs. Oakford paid the $8000 needed. It was on this stage that three Gilbert and Sullivan operettas were presented with Senior Warden Richard Little, Sr. and Mr. McCance holding title roles. Because of ill health, Rev. McCance had to resign.
The Rev. William Paul Thompson (Jan. 1937 – Oct. 1946)
The Rev. Thompson was a young man with a wife and children when he came to Epiphany. He brought new life to the parish causing the church to grow. He established the “sit-in-the-front-row” club, emblematic of the sense of humor which endeared him to his parishioners. Under his leadership an ecumenical youth group was started. He also had a room installed behind the altar where the priest and choir could gown up.
By 1939, through rummage sales, weekly luncheons, bazaars, suppers, and the like, the Women’s Guild had raised $30,000 toward paying off the remodeling of the parish hall, and with a $5000 donation from Mrs. Oakford and her challenge to raise another $4000, the mortgage was burnt with Rev. Houghton returning to hold the burning paper while Bishop Sterrett, Welles Belin, and George M. D. Lewis looked on. At about the same time, the old reed organ was on its last legs, so for $1240 an electric Hammond organ was purchased and remained in use until its replacement by the current pipe organ.
When World War II broke out, the women of Epiphany volunteered, rolling bandages for the Red Cross, and a number of young (and not so young) men from the parish served, including Lt. John Berens, Jr., who died on a mission over Germany.
The Rev. W. Kirk Cresap (Oct.1946 - March 1952)
The Rev. Cresap was a natural teacher who got the Episcopal students at Keystone Junior College to attend Epiphany. It was during his tenure that land located north of the church was given by the Shumaker and Griffiths families for the establishment of a second parking lot in memory of Mrs. N. G. Robertson and Mrs. Paul Belin.
The Rev. Joseph Mason (Aug. 1952 – Sept. 1958)
Senior Warden Richard Little, Sr. headed the vestry in selecting the Rev. Joseph Mason from Cortland NY after Mr. Cresap’s resignation. Mr. Mason had served in mission work in Hawaii and was instrumental in ministering to the less fortunate in our community regardless of church affiliation. He worked closely with the vestry in helping to raise over $35,000 for church and property improvements. Mr. Mason also initiated the practice of an after church coffee hour.
Sometime during the 1950’s George M. D. Lewis designed plans for the remodeling of the church. These plans included a true-to-scale steeple, an extension of the nave and a larger vestibule with a colonial doorway that now faced the parking lot. These alterations, keeping in scale with the original schoolhouse, have resulted in one of the most attractive small churches in the area.
The Rev. H. Arthur Doersam (Mar. 1959 – Dec. 1966)
After the resignation of Mr. Mason, the vestry purchased a rectory in Sunset Acres, Clarks Summit, to allow for more modern and comfortable living for the new rector. This allowed the second floor of the church school building to be used as more Sunday School space. The Rev. H. Arthur Doersam was called in 1959 and instituted a more spiritual educational program A 9:15 morning service including a sermon was established for children and their parents. He also set up a four year revolving vestry membership so that more parishioners would be involved in the lay management of the church. Another innovation was engaging Epiphany in the student exchange program of the Abington Ministerium.
In 1962 the Church of the Epiphany celebrated its 50th anniversary with a gift from the parishioners of a new lectern Bible and a tea service from the women to be used for all the special occasions that arose. The vestry gave the newly established St. Peter’s Church in Tunkhannock a baptismal font in remembrance of all the assistance given to Epiphany in its early years. During the anniversary celebration on April 30, 1962, Bishop Sterrett remarked, “I would always remember you as a church whose members radiate a genuine spirit of Christian Fellowship.”
The Rev. Art Doersam resigned to assume a diocesan position, whereupon Epiphany functioned for almost a year under lay leadership with the help of supply priests. This continued until the Rev. Henry A. Male, Jr. was called in 1967 after having served for twelve years in Keyport, New Jersey
The Rev. Canon Dr. Henry A. Male, Jr. (Sept. 1967 – June 1993)
Under Father Male’s leadership committees were established including Music and Worship, Stewardship, Finance, Ushers, and Pastoral Care.
In 1971 a new parish hall was built adjacent to the church. A bigger kitchen, efficient offices, larger meeting areas and better Sunday school rooms resulted. And in 1976 the church commemorated the U. S. Bicentennial with parishioners dressing in period clothes and celebrating together in the front garden.
During Father Male’s tenure, a Lenten series was established with a specific topic to be discussed in Adult Forum. A pancake supper became a traditional Shrove Tuesday event with the men of the church cooking the pancakes and sausages for parishioners and the community alike. Also on the first or second Sunday in Advent, a celebration with handicraft activities began after the services. This included a luncheon, followed by children and adults making ornaments for the parish Christmas tree, wreathes for homes, and cookies to eat and share. Both the Advent Event and the pancake supper continue today.
Adult Education began to flourish at this time with speakers from the community covering different topics of faith, comparative religions, and social issues. The children’s population increased, necessitating the hiring of a leader for the Sunday School.
The Women’s Guild stepped up its program to help improve the church property by sponsoring fund drives through rummage sales, cookie and soup sales during Lent, and Christmas bazaars of handmade items. The contribution of dry goods to the Dalton Food Pantry began at this time and is on-going.
The 1970’s saw the establishment of two outreach programs, Agapé, used for small immediate needs in the community, and the Christian Outreach Committee originally used to provide seed money for mission projects at home and throughout the world. This last committee came about because of a bequest of Joseph and Grace Rothwell and funded grants for programs to migrant workers, to the Abington Ecumenical Ministerium (which Fr. Male was instrumental in setting up), to youth programs, and for food distribution. This committee is still functioning and has expanded its mission of providing seed money to one that also gives ongoing support as needed and funding for disaster relief. The church also became involved in Meals on Wheels, supplying volunteers one day a week throughout the year, a commitment that continues to this day.
One of our parishioners, Nancy Bird, saw a need for pre-schoolers to be exposed to worship at their level. The children would meet with her during our regular church service, listen to and discuss Bible stories, pray, sing, and talk over anything that popped into their heads. They still enjoy this worship and afterwards come in to join their parents in time for communion, with one of them chosen to bring up their collection along with the adult ushers.
Men and women now participate as ushers, lay readers, chalice bearers, and Eucharistic ministers; youth of both genders serve as acolytes. All of this started during Fr. Male’s tenure. Music began to expand with the purchase of handbells, chimes bought specifically for the young members to play and a new pipe organ. Cherub, junior, and teen choirs were formed complementing the senior choir.
Along with the Abington Ecumenical Ministerium, the covenants with Trinity Lutheran Church and the Passionist Nuns of St. Gabriel’s Retreat House were also signed and many activities were shared with these groups.
John Davidson, a devoted member of the church, had an idea for a memorial garden located below and behind the new parish hall. This Woodland Garden is the final resting place for cremated remains. It is located in a beautiful setting among trees, shrubbery and other plantings. One finds here a place for meditation and moments of reflection about those interred there.
With St. Luke’s Church, the Church of the Epiphany co-hosted the 110th annual diocesan convention in September 1981 which included delegates from all the parishes in the Diocese of Bethlehem .
In 1987, the Church of the Epiphany celebrated its 75th anniversary starting with an evening of square dancing. The following day began with a Holy Communion service taken from the 1912 Book of Common Prayer. The day continued with games and activities, including a magic show, and ended with a chicken barbeque while a barbershop quartet serenaded us throughout the evening meal. That year new sidewalks and a ramp were built to replace the steps leading to the church in order to accommodate people with walking difficulties
In this time we honored our covenant with Trinity Lutheran Church by having annual golf tournaments, and sharing our All Saints services with potluck suppers in their building one year and in ours the next. At Christmas we would join to carol for shut-in parishioners from both churches. One year we met at Trinity for joint Lenten services and at Epiphany for combined Bible study. Our covenant continues, with our most recent event being a joint talent show held at Trinity. Our covenant with the Passionist Nuns of St. Gabriel’s Retreat House also continues with our use of their facilities for vestry retreats and our weekly remembrance of them (and Trinity) in our prayers.
In 1988, we commissioned a pipe organ made by Karl Wilhelm specifically for the tight quarters in our small church and financed by special gifts from parishioners. It was our organist Richard Barshinger who got that under way and was a dream come true for the many choirs we now had - junior and senior, bell, cherub, charming chimers, and teen-aged Circle of Friends. Recently a gift of a piano has been placed in the church as another instrument of music.
During this time the Fragile Earth Committee, dedicated to environmental concerns, was formed at the instigation of the high school class. Parishioners were encouraged to bring in their own mugs for coffee/tea rather than continue to use disposable cups and to separate cans and plastics for recycling. This was long before the townships became involved in recycling efforts. A rack was constructed in the kitchen for storage of the mugs. Evening coffeehouse sessions on environmental issues were presented by members of the local community. In addition, Epiphany adopted a two mile stretch of highway which we continue to clean twice a year.
When Father Male learned there was an Episcopal priest from Uganda studying at Baptist Bible College, he made a point to meet the Rev. Charles Busingye. They became fast friends and from that friendship aid was established from Epiphany to support Rev. Busingye’s mission to the pygmies of Uganda. With the pygmies’ removal from the Ugandan rainforest by the government in order to make a national park, these nomads needed to learn to live in one place and develop agricultural practices. The Christian Outreach Committee provided money to purchase land for a settlement, and a school for the pygmy children and those within the neighboring communities was established, financed initially by the Church of the Epiphany and called Epiphany School. It has been growing structurally and student-wise to this day. Many Epiphany parishioners are sponsoring pygmy children so they can attend the school. One parish family provided money to establish the McMahon Medical Clinic for the pygmies while others have contributed generously for additional improvements to the pygmy community.
Young people are important to the life of Epiphany. Before our minister of twenty-six years, Henry Male, retired in 1993, he started Youth Sunday in which the children are leaders of the service from ushers to readers to a senior picked to write and deliver the sermon. When one of our parish members died unexpectedly, the Lawrence Ketcham Memorial Scholarship was set up for graduating seniors to use for their coming year.
The Rev. F. John Kelly, III (July 1994 – March 2001)
A call went out to the Rev. John Kelly in 1994 and under his leadership the church expanded its programs for youth, the elderly, and spiritual growth. For the youth he started LOGOS, which met one afternoon a week for Bible study for different ages and culminated with a supper, all supported by parishioners who worked with the children and who prepared the meals. The acolyte membership expanded substantially under the leadership of Rick Little. In addition to monthly meetings for instruction and fellowship, they hold a chicken barbeque annually for the support of their yearly trips to the Acolyte Festival at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The barbeque is dedicated to the memory of Adrien Miller who began the barbeques, and only in his later years divulged the recipe for his secret sauce.
For the more mature members of the church, Father Kelly started the Empty Nesters, a group that enjoyed afternoon study as well as occasional trips, one being to Lancaster County and another to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. The Ugly Quilt Group was formed during this time to make sleeping bags for the homeless which they augmented with simple toiletries. Their work continues to this day. We grew to such an extent that a youth minister was needed, and the Rev. Demery Bader-Saye answered that call. She met with our young people weekly for study and activities and led them on mission trips in both the United States and Central America. She also set up a program for confirmation which included having a mentor for each child and taking them to observe services not only at churches of other denominations, but also at a synagogue. She did such an outstanding job that our bishop called her away from us after a few years to lead the youth of the whole diocese. Our young people also became involved through the Abington Ecumenical Ministerium in the Appalachian Service Project to restore homes in that area. One or more of our parents often went as chaperones.
In the course of Rev. Kelly’s tenure, he became ill and had to resign after seven years. Rev. Bader-Saye, who was an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ became our assistant pastor and led us through the interim until 2002 when the Rev. Susan Cembalisty was called to be our rector.
The Rev. Susan Cembalisty (May 2002 – July 2004)
The Rev. Cembalisty was the first of her gender to hold that position here. She was a teaching priest who held classes for all who participated in the church, from readers (both youth and adult), to ushers, chalice bearers and Eucharistic ministers who went out to the homebound to serve them communion.
However, in 2004 she had to resign for personal reasons.
This left a huge gap, and an interim priest, the Rev. Alan Mead, came in to fill it. His mission was to keep things flowing and to continue building us spiritually in preparation for a permanent rector. He brought in the Rev. Graham Cliff, a retired Episcopal minister, to assist us with pastoral care and adult faith formation. He also saw our need for a youth minister because our once strong youth programs were in jeopardy. With that, Josh Frank came and picked up where Demery had left off.
The Rev. Craig Sweeney (July 2006 - )
Our interim priest was with us for a year and a half and in 2006, the Rev. Craig Sweeney was called to Epiphany. He had served two churches together in Kansas and, having a business and legal background, he formed a marketing committee that oversaw the updating of the church’s webpage, advertising in different venues, and publicizing church activities in local newspapers. Unfortunately for us, during this time the Rev. Cliff accepted a position with another parish, and our youth minister moved to Chicago to serve there. Father Sweeney is committed to the Gospel and Episcopal liturgy. He enjoys teaching at adult forum and encourages the growth of individual stewardship.
It was in 2010 that a discovery was made that the structure of the roof and walls of the parish hall had become compromised. With that, construction was started in 2011 to repair the problem, and in so doing, upgrade the heating and air conditioning for the building. The hidden blessing in all of this is that we connected with other churches. Dalton Methodist Church accommodated our Consecration Sunday meals catered by the Church of the Good Shepherd and provided a place for our Shrove Tuesday pancake supper and for an evening of square dancing. Trinity Lutheran Church also opened its doors for us as we joined them in our annual talent show.
Epiphany still rings its bell every Sunday morning to remind us all that life goes on; we are alive. Sadly, however, our members are decreasing as seems to be the case in many churches. But with renewed fellowship opportunities in our renovated parish hall, we are determined to come through this as we celebrate our one hundredth anniversary with optimism, love, and faith because Christ leads us on.