Reflections of St. Stephens Reformed Episcopal Church History

St. Stephen’s Reformed Episcopal Church began under the leadership of Bishop Peter F. Stevens, the first Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the Missionary Jurisdiction of the South. He lived in Charleston, SC and taught at South Carolina State College of Orangeburg, S.C. He often traveled through Summerville, S.C. and consequently became interested in starting a mission in this beautiful town. Thus, began the history of St. Stephen’s Reformed Episcopal Church.

St. Stephen’s Church was one of 27 built for poor freedmen farmers under the direction of Peter Stevens- the man who also ordered the first shot fired from Morris Island Battery, opening the Civil War. Bishop Stevens purchased a quarter block of property in the new town of Summerville from the Southern Railway Company. He then hired a carpenter to build St. Stephen’s Church on Palmetto Street. In order to pay the carpenter, Bishop Stevens gave him a corner block that had been purchased from the railway company. The inside half of the block was kept for St. Stephen’s Church, and in July of 1885 St. Stephen’s Church was built in the contemporary style for Episcopal Chapels of that period.

The building is basically the same as it was when it was built in 1885. It has been often admired and photographed by tourist, sketched by artists, used as a subject of study for art classes and as a design on note stationary by a local artist. On October 29, 1995 The Rev. F. Ernest Gasch donated R.E. church banner and on November 5, 1995 he donated the Baptismal Font. In November of 1995 Rev. F. Ernest Gasch, The Rev. Dr. J. Ronald Moock, & Family and Mr. Gerard Mikell, Sr. & family donated the overhead lights & fan units. The Rector and Bishop’s Chairs were given to the Glory of God in November of 1995. In November 2002 under the leadership of Rev. Anthony B. Thompson St. Stephen’s Church underwent major renovations. The church foundation was reconstructed, interior and exterior painting, air conditioning ducts insulated and reconnected, window panes replaced and re-glazed, carpet installed, cushions made for pews, a sidewalk was constructed around church, monkey grass and hedges were planted around the church. A wooden cross was built at the top of the church’s exterior in 2008. Henry Morant, the designer and builder of the cross, added a touch of flowing red pain to symbolize the blood the JESUS shed on the cross for our sins. In June of 2003 under the leadership of Rev. Anthony B. Thompson, St. Stephen’s purchased the house at 108 North Palmetto Street.

St Stepehn’s is most unique among the Churches of the Diocese of the Southeast in many ways. On February 21, 1997 St. Stephen’s Church was declared eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places. It is a benchmark of Dorchester County Black History. It is a part of the African American Trail that stretches from the Tuskegee Airmen monument in Walterboro to the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston. The church children’s pews play a role in Black History. The children’s pews sit in front of the church. One pew sits about a foot off the floor and the other sits about a half of a foot instead of two feet as the regular pews. The two Children’s Pews as well as the regular pews were built especially for St. Stephen’s Church and are still a part of the church’s furniture. St. Stephen’s also holds the distinction of being located in the same town as the Diocesan Headquarters, Cummins Memorial Theological and the historic Pengelley Chapel, now known as St. Paul’s R. E. Church. The Church also claims its distinction in that retried Bishop S.K. Rembert (1956-1959) as well as the late Bishop Ordinary James C. West were pastors of St. Stephen’s Church before they became ordained Bishops. Another distinction claimed by St. Stephen’s Church is that Bishop Seller’s who at the time was Reverend Sellers, delivered the morning message at St. Stephen’s on the Sunday that the Jurisdiction of the South became the Charleston, Atlanta, and Charlotte Synod. St. Stephen’s is also the home church of one of our missionaries, Bill Jerdan (son of the late Bishop Emeritus William H. S. & Mrs. Eleanor Jerdan), who along with his wife Diane were missionaries in France. We received a publication from a French newspaper called “The Herald”. In that publication they talked about Bill Jerdan’s affiliation with St. Stephen’s. They stated:

“St. Stephen’s Reformed Episcopal Church was Bill Jerdan’s Home-Church

And an early training ground for his future ministry. He was a Sunday

School teacher there and before leaving for college he served for some

Time as The Sunday School Superintendent.”

Bill also brought short messages from the pulpit since the assigned pastor usually conducted services only two Sunday’s per month.

In its early years St. Stepohen’s Church served the community by providing a once a week sewing class for the females in the community regardless of their denomination. Mrs. Mabel Pengelley (widow of Bishop Pengelley), was the supervising instructor. Her assistants were Mrs. Emily Boone, Mrs. Celia Liferiedge and Mrs. Susan Smith. The sewing classes were discontinued in the early 1940’s.

Today St. Stephen’s continues to serve the community. In October of 2004 St. Stephen’s along with 30 other churches was one of the leading churches to organize and implement the first county-wide 40 Days of Community Program (of Pastor Rick Warren, author of “Purpose Driven Life” and “40 Days Community”) in the Charleston and Dorchester Counties. In 2005 St. Stephen’s Church joined with the Dorchester County Solicitor’s Office Youth Mentor Program and became a mentor for disadvantaged and troubled youth in the Summerville community. In 2008 St. Stephen’s became a participant of the Public Service Employment Program of the SC Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.

In approximately 1923 the Liferiedge family arrived in Summerville, S.C. Reverend Aaron & Mrs. Celia Liferiedge their children, Virginia, Robert, Simon, Fred, Catherine, Louise, Aaron, Jr., Lucille, and Samuel did not know at that time, but would later become the “Fixed-Membership” at St. Stephen’s Church. Mrs. Celia Liferedge use to gather the children in the community and bring them to Sunday School at St. Stephen’s. She was also the Senior Warden and the Church’s treasurer. Her son Simon served as the Junior Warden and her daughter Virginia taught Sunday School., served as the organist and secretary. Cilia Liferiedge served as the Senior Warden for more than thirty (30) years, until her death in 1978. When Celia Liferiedge died, her son Simon became the Seniror Warden and her daughter Louise became the Junior Warden and the organist. In March of 1999 Simon Liferiedge resigned his duties as Senior Warden due to failing health and became Senior Warden Emeritus until his death in June of 1999. When Virginia Liferiedge Cummins health failed, her sister Louise took over Virginia’s duties and served as secretary, Sunday School teacher, and Sunday School Superintendent. Louise Liferiedge served as the Sunday School Superintendent, treasurer, and interim secretary until God called her to rest. The Liferiedge family was a “Fixed-Membership: at St. Stephen’s R.E. Church from 1923 until the death of Louise Liferiedge in April of 2000.

In the early 1920’s and 1930’s under the administration of Bishops Pengelley and Kearney respectively, St. Stephen’s provided a ready congregation for Student Ministers from Cummins Training School, presently known as Cummins Theological Seminary. The Student Ministers often conducted mid-week services at St. Stephen’s, but were not considered to be pastors of the Church. Among these were: Rev. R.A. Madison, Rev. Samuel Lloyd and Rev. Aaron Liferiedge, Sr. In September of 2000 Rev. Donnel Liferidge was assigned to St. Stephen’s as a student Minister. In September of 2008 Postulant Johnnie Wilson was assigned to St. Stephen’s as an intern.

The ministers who served as pastors of St. Stephen’s Church in addition to those previously mentioned are: Rev. John H. Doiley, Rev. Joseph Collins, Rev. Holman, Rev. W. R. Campbell, Student Minister Harleston, Rev. Thomas Addison, Rev. Peter West, Rev. S. P. Montgomery, Rev. Joseph Gadsden, Rev. Edmond Mazyck, Rev. Thomas Handy, Rev. Lee Bryant, Rev. William Perry, Rev. Dr. J. Ronald Moock, Sr., Rev. John A. Perkins (assisted by Student Minister, now ordained Presbyter Mikle Jenkins), and the deposed F. Ernest Gasch (assisted by Student Minister, now ordained Presbyter Anthony B. Thompson), Rev. Dr. J. Ronald Moock served from 1977-1994.

The Reverend Anthony B. Thompson, Sr. stepped over the threshold of St. Stephen’s as a Student Minister on September 16, 1995. After F. Ernest Gasch was deposed in 1997, Rev. Anthony B. Thompson, Sr. became the Student Minister-In-Charge. In 1998 he was ordained Presbyter and served as Vicar of St. Stephen’s from September 1997 until September 19, 2010.

Submitted October 11, 2011 by Rev. Anthony B. Thompson, Sr.

St. Stephen's-St. Paul's Reformed Episcopal Church

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