More of Advent's Story

If you enjoyed learning about the founding of Advent in last week’s Advent Weekly, click here for more information on the history of our church excerpted from  A History of the Church of the Advent, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania written by Alice and Bill Steltzer: 







The name Church of the Advent was chosen for the following reason. A member of the congregation had lived in Philadelphia where he had attended that city’s Church of the Advent. Phillips Brooks, as a new priest, had been given this church as his first assignment. In 1885, when our cornerstone was being laid, Dr. Brooks had become the most famous preacher in the United States, Rector of Trinity Church in Boston, and on his way to serving as the Bishop of Massachusetts. The suggestion to honor Dr. Brooks by naming our building after his former church in Philadelphia was accepted. Time passes and many of us now forget the name of Phillips Brooks, except when singing Christmas Carols and seeing his name listed as the author of O Little Town of Bethlehem! 


The story of the installation of the church’s stained glass windows is interesting. Kennett Square’s most famous citizen, Bayard Taylor (author, poet, traveler, and diplomat), had just died in 1878. Those who knew him sought a suitable memorial. Since our church was just being constructed, it was a perfect site to honor Bayard Taylor by installing stained glass windows in his memory. His friends collected the donations that came from many persons, including the American poets James Russell Lowell and John Greenleaf Whittier, the author Samuel [Mark Twain] Clemens, the later Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, and the Episcopal Bishop, Dr. Phillips Brooks, at that time Rector of Trinity Church. The Bayard Taylor windows depict the Good Samaritan parable. 


A second set of stained glass windows later installed is known as the Hadley windows. These were given by Charles Hadley in memory of his parents, Theodore and Elizabeth Hadley. 


And another memorial to Theodore and Elizabeth was the Bishop’s Chair, still utilized today by the Church. 


A Rector was appointed to lead the new church: G. Livingston Bishop who served for three years, 1885 – 1888.  


Following him, these men served as Rector for the church’s first decade: Thomas Burrows (1889 – 1893), Thomas Dickinson (1894 – 1895), Guy L. Wallis (1895 – 1896), William Wirt Mills (1896), and Stanley F. Symonds (1897 – 1898).  


For two years, (1899 – 1900) Advent underwent a period of problems. We do not know the extent of these but for those two years there were no reports submitted to the Diocese and there is no name of a Rector in the archives. In addition, the records say that there were “almost two years of no services.” Whatever the problem was, in 1901, Thomas J. Taylor became Rector and went on to serve the next sixteen years, setting a record until tied by W. Oliver Bellis (1928 – 1944) and then surpassed by Elbert St. Claire (1952 – 1979) and Richard Kirk (1979 – 1996). 


During Rev. Thomas Taylor’s leadership, the church undertook a major expansion project. The year 1910 saw a new entrance vestibule constructed, a church steeple built, and a Parish House erected. The Church of the Advent owned an especially attractive building. 


Following Thomas Taylor’s rectorship came: Walter C. Pugh (1917 – 1921), William E. Warren (1922 – 1923), Charles E. Spaulding (1923 – 1926), John C. Runkle (1927 – 1928, the record for briefest tenure at Advent), W. Oliver Bellis (1928 – 1944), J. Wesley Rennie (1944 – 1952), and Elbert K. St. Claire (1952 – 1979). 


Under the leadership of Charles E. Spaulding, a Rectory was purchased adjacent to the church building. 


By the mid-1950s the congregation had increased to 211 families that, the record states, “placed a strain on the church facilities.” Under the leadership of Elbert St. Claire who came to Advent in 1952 and was commonly called “Saint,” plans were drawn up for a larger church building and new land was purchased at the upper end of town where North Union (Route 82) and Fairthorne meet and there was built a new and much larger building. The cornerstone was laid in 1956 and services were held in the new building in 1957. The new church, in addition to the sanctuary, held a sacristy, offices, Sunday School Rooms, and, downstairs, a large Parish Hall and kitchen. Adjacent to the sacristy was constructed a small Chapel and in it were installed furnishings from the old church: several choir pews, the Communion Rail, the altar table, the Cross, the Candlesticks, the Bishop’s Chair, the clergy chair, the font, and the Hadley and Bayard Taylor stained glass windows. Even the 1885 cornerstone was brought and placed in the exterior wall of the Chapel. Advent’s Chapel is a small replication of Advent’s First Church.  


Advent purchased the home next to the church, 201 Crestline Drive, to have it serve as a Rectory. Here Elbert St. Claire lived with his wife, as did the following Rector, Richard Kirk and his family. 


Six stained glass windows were also brought from the first church. They were kept in storage for some forty-five years until David Thomas had them taken out, refurbished, set in illuminated frames and hung as follows: two mounted above the landing in the stairwell leading downstairs from the lobby, two placed on the front wall of the church flanking the altar, and two placed in the rear of the nave.  


The church received a very welcomed gift at this time – an organ and console donated by Pierre Samuel du Pont of Longwood. 


In addition to that gift of an organ, many other donations were made at this time and in subsequent years. These gifts are listed in the Archives. Among many gifts were: a Sanctuary Lamp (from Jackie Givens in memory of her son, David) and crucifix (donated by Sheila and Richard Sanford) – both in the Chapel, brass altar candlesticks, missal stand, and altar service book (given by Knowles Bowen and his wife) in memory of their daughter, the silver cross that hangs above the center aisle’s exit to the narthex (made by Harold Prout and given to the church by him and his wife, Olive, who, after her husband’s death, remarried and became Olive Montaigne), and a Baptismal Font (donated by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Johnson and Dr. and Mrs. Spake) that is now located in the Memorial Garden outside of the Chapel. The church spire was given in memory of George W. Fassett by his family and friends. 


The kneeling cushions surrounding the altar were a result of a project of the churchwomen in the 1980’s. In the mid-1970’s a project headed up by Marshall Newton and Bill Steltzer replaced the kneeling cushions of the congregation with attached kneelers. The money for this project came from the proceeds of the 1978 May Fair, an annual project of Advent. 


A walnut table for the Visitors Book and located in the Narthex was designed by Ted Lawrence and given in memory of Joyce Kirk, the wife of the Rev. Richard Kirk. 


Elbert St. Claire ordered an original, four-foot tall mosaic cross from the studio of Gian Andrea in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The cross was designed to show both the Risen as well as the Crucified Christ. It hung above the fireplace in the library. After renovations took place in the 1990’s, this cross was moved to a smaller library. 


Under Elbert St. Claire’s leadership, all bills for the construction of the new church were paid off within the following four years. Also, the church had grown enough in size that an Assistant Rector was being employed. The Vestry purchased a house at 251 N. Broad Street in 1964 as a home for the Assistant. The house was sold in 1974. 


Elbert St. Claire retired as Rector in 1979, after twenty-seven years leading Advent. In 1986 a patio and garden dedicated to his memory were designed and placed to the right of the church’s entrance. Added later were two urns, given by the two church secretaries, Joan Bolton and Kathy Gebhart, in memory of Joyce Kirk who died in 1992, the wife of Rector Richard Kirk. 


Richard Kirk succeeded Elbert St. Claire in 1979. He was to remain at Advent until 1996, a period of seventeen years. His tenure as Rector saw Advent celebrate its 100th Anniversary and in 1990 undergo another major renovation. 


1982 marked the celebration of the Church’s Centennial. As part of the celebration, the congregation gathered on a Sunday in May at the entrance to the old church on South Broad Street. It then walked through town to its present site where it held its celebratory service. The parade was led by Bishop Lyman Ogilby, Rector Richard Kirk, Assistant Rector Barbara Kelley, and Parade-Master Bill Steltzer. There is an interesting anecdote about the parade. We walked along State Street from Broad to Union and passed three teenaged boys standing in front of a store entrance. They stared at us and the tallest said, in a voice loud and clear, “Oh, my God.” Without missing a step, the Bishop swept up his arm and pointed his staff at the boy and boomed out, “You got it right, son.” 


In connection with the Centennial celebrations, the church renovated its steeple. It planted a Centennial Oak on the lawn directly opposite the main entrance to the church. Twenty-five years later that small tree is now a mature oak. The bronze Centennial plaque placed at the base of the tree has vanished. 


To help celebrate, a model of the old church was built by Nathaniel Wyeth, a former Vestry member. It was painted by Andrew Wyeth, his brother. The model is still housed in the church. 


The 1990 renovations, thirty-plus years after the building was constructed, involved erecting a large Sunday School wing that paralleled the original office/Sunday School wing and created a U-shaped courtyard. 


Advent also replaced its organ at that time. A new Möller organ was presented to the church by an anonymous donor. Its installation brought the organ pipes out into full view and they now form a wonderful focal point for the sanctuary.  


The Rev. Richard Kirk retired in 1996. We were then led by an Interim Rector, the Rev. Dean Evans until, in 1997, the Rev. Canon David P. Thomas was named Rector. He began his service in 1998.  


David Thomas was the first Rector at Advent not to live in the Rectory. Because of an ever-increasing value in the housing market, it was felt that it was better for a Rector to buy a home and then later reap the benefits of its increased value. In 2003 the Rectory was converted into a Pastoral Care & Office Center and the staff moved its offices into it.  


The year 2005 saw another major renovation. The original need for this was a water problem on the west side of the church; rainwater was reaching the inside of the downstairs Parish Hall. While the immediate project was to rebuild and waterproof the walls, it was decided to redo the entire Parish Hall and add on a few additional projects:  air condition the sanctuary, install an elevator, again redo the steeple, and lower the main altar so that there was a better sight line to the Choir behind the altar.  


On the grounds, outside the Chapel, a Memorial Garden was created, a personal project of David Thomas. He imagined it as a place for meditation and eternal rest. Trees and shrubs were planted and a circular pool added. The growth and maintenance of the Garden came under the leadership of Phyllis Wenner and her volunteer “Lay Weeders.” 


On the grounds between the church and the parish office, a labyrinth was built in 2010, later removed in 2018.   And in 2011, two “new” hymn panels were obtained by Deacon Nancy Hauser from the storehouse of the Diocese. The panels had belonged to St. Augustine of the Covenant, an historic black church in North Philadelphia that had been closed. The panels went mounted on the walls of the church behind the altar facing the congregation. 


The offices of the Church of Advent were relocated into the main Advent Campus in May 2018 and the old Rectory that had housed the offices for many years was refurbished and was rented out as a residential home for the foreseeable future to generate additional income for Church of the Advent.  Also in 2018, two old memorial stained glass windows were refurbished and installed in the back of the sanctuary. 


This history has presented just the major peaks happening in Advent’s story. But this is just one history among so many: long histories of prayer and worship, a history that tells of the support for one another in times of trouble, a history of listening to and answering the needs of our community, a history of joyous good fellowship and a history of a congregation just trying to lead good Christian lives.