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St Philip's Church

St Philip's Church Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information


The following history of St. Philip's Chapel was published in A History of Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Cumberland, Maryland, 1891-1991. It goes into detail surrounding the Smallwood Street site of St. Philip's. For instance, the initial chapel was originally a home, purchased in 1901 and remodeled to serve the needs of the congregation until the erection of a new, more adequate chapel in 1930. The final service is also precisely identified as being held on November 1, 1966. St. Philip's served as a center for worship, church, and community based activities until its closing:

St. Philip's Chapel - Early Records

Well before the Revolution, the first Christian prayers uttered here were almost certainly those of Anglicans. From the moment Anglican Church records appear, black people were included. The other fundamental point to be noted is that this history reflects the sad ambiguity of black/white relations throughout. Whether or not slaves were considered as full communicants is not clear. Records and confirmation lists do not mention status. The following are examples of some registration information: "Suthey Stevens and Eleanor Waugh, free Negroes and parishioners, were wed in November, 1803. Three slaves of the Bruce family were baptized in April, 1804."

We do know that history records the slave gallery that was included in the new Emmanuel Church built in 1848. It seems that Sam Semmes, a Roman Catholic, became angered that the pastor of St. Patrick's would not extend Communion to his slaves. Semmes offered to finance thirty percent of Emmanuel Church's construction cost, if special seating for his slaves was included. This proposition was accepted with two drawbacks. First, the Semmes slaves having been baptized Roman Catholic, refused to become Episcopalian. Second, black members of Emmanuel, who had been a part of the congregation from the outset, were made to sit apart. But, these people continued in faith and were part of an aggressive campaign to enfold both slave and free in the decades before the Civil War. Ironically, actual segregation would have to wait for the post-war Jim Crow era.

What happened with regard to black members of Emmanuel in the 1860's to 1880's is not clear. American church history records that many formers slaves abandoned churches of their slave baptisms when freedom came, and that they began forming congregations on their own authority. Baptist, Methodist, and African Methodist Episcopal churches sprang up at this time in the African-American community. However, the Episcopal Church was slow to consider either the possibility of segregation or full participation in an integrated church. But in the 1880s, a new enthusiasm began to appear in the person of Emmanuel's sexton, Mr. Samuel Denson. Records of the day show him leading a Sunday School Class in the old slave gallery for his family and children.

However, in 1890 when Emmanuel experienced extensive interior renovations, the choir and slave galleries were removed. The black congregation, which now was new and vital, had to be housed. As a solution, in September of 1891, Emmanuel purchased a building at Washington and Water [Greene] streets. This became the home of both parish Christian Education and the black church. On November 29 of that year, the first Eucharist was celebrated there.

The people of St. Philip's Mission claimed the name of the apostle who baptized an Ethiopian and brought the Gospel to Africans. We know that a powerful spirit was at work there, for within months, the church building on Smallwood Street was begun. The exact dates of corner-stone laying, etc., are missing, but records show that Maude Gates was baptized in St. Philip's Chapel on September 17, 1893.

A piece of ground with a frame structure on South Smallwood Street was purchased from Robert R. Henderson on June 17, 1901. After the interior of the building was remodeled, services were held there for more than twenty years.

In 1921 the Reverend Cornelius Dawson came to be priest-in-charge of the mission and found that possibilities of a parish house were being discussed. He and the men of the church constructed a temporary parish house behind the church. Two years later, sufficient money had been raised to begin work on a permanent parish house. The Diocese of Maryland paid for half the cost of the building and furnishings. The congregation raised the balance of the money within two years.

In the meantime, the building that had been used for services since 1901 was becoming unfit for worship. Plans were made for a new church, to cost approximately $6,000, of which the Diocese pledged $3,000 if the congregation raised a like amount. The brick building was completed in 1930, but the congregation had gathered only $2,000. The Advisory Board signed a promissory not for the balance, and the last payment was made on November 7, 1945.

In 1946 the chapel was consecrated by the Right Reverend Noble C. Powell, Bishop of Maryland, on the Sunday after Ascension Day, June 2.

St. Philip's was a parochial mission of Emmanuel. Clergy there, while maintaining a distinct ministry, were formally under the authority of the Rector of Emmanuel Parish. Sometimes the Vicar was a young deacon sent to Cumberland for training. At other times, the Vicar served for years and was father to the congregation.

The informal relationship with Emmanuel was to a degree paternalistic. The Vestry of Emmanuel, broadly responsible for St. Philip's affairs, appears not to have been regularly involved. The Vestry supported the chapel through gifts of church furniture, devotional articles, and the regular use of Emmanuel's facilities for festivals and fundraisers. Specific articles, like the Altar and Cross, were no longer needed in the Mother Church, but they were genuinely given, gratefully received, and lovingly cared for. When St. Philip's closed, many items were returned and still hold places of honor and devotion.

Over the years, the Chapel suffered several long vacancies in ministration. The number of persons in the congregation had become smaller. The final service held in St. Philip's Chapel was on All Saints Day, November 1, 1966. There were fifty-one dedicated members in attendance. This was truly a day of reflection on a spiritual endeavor that had bonded a family of God's children in a common cause. For six generations, faith had reigned supreme for communicants, not only from the City of Cumberland, but also from Ridgeley, West Virginia and from Meyersdale and Somerset, Pennsylvania.

In 1966 St. Philip's congregation decided to accept the invitation to join with Holy Cross. With the uniting of the two congregations came a gift of money from the sale of the properties and land of St. Philip's. Following this enlargement of the congregation, Holy Cross attained the status of an independent congregation in 1971.


Text from: A History of Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Cumberland, Maryland, 1891-1991, Courtesy Dolores Gates-Thomas

Top - A drawing of St. Philip's Chapel as it appeared in 1930 by David Miller

Bottom left - Before the Altar at St. Philip's Chapel, from left to right: Johnson Denson, the Right Reverend Noble Powell, The Reverend G. Stanley Schwind, and Charles Denson, circa 1946, from A History of Holy Cross Episcopal Church.

Bottom right - The 75th anniversary picture with Rev. David Streett, William Wood, Bishop Powell, William Stewart, Edward Gates. From the Cumberland News November 24, 1956.

Collection Location:
Allegany County, Maryland

African Americans, History; Allegany County (Md.), History.

Allegany County (Md.), 1890-2008

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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