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Saturday, January 10, 2015

The "Searching for a Read: Part IV" Story

Foreword:  Over the course of the stories on my church, I have taken close to 700 pages of text and photos written by Franklin & Marshall professor H.M. J. Klein and long time church and vestry member, William F. Diller, A.M. and have condensed the information into half a dozen stories which are more manageable to read.  I fear that I may have left out something important or may have misinterpreted the text and changed history somewhat, for which I am sorry, but my intent was to give you the historical importance of St. James Episcopal Church in Lancaster, PA and how it helped to shape our nation in a condensed form ….. so maybe you might read it!

Dads and sons of the St. James Mens and Boys Choir.
My dad and I are in the back row on the right.
It was an ordinary day.  Finally reached the part of my story on St. James Episcopal in Lancaster, PA where I became a part of it's history.  It was in 1952, as far as I can recall, that I joined the boy's choir and got to begin singing with my dad who was a member of the men's choir.  
This is a 1969 photo which shows the organ on
the center-left side of the photograph.
It was in 1948 that a new organ was installed, which was paid for by the Steinman family, to honor Caroline Morgan Hale Steinman.   On November 23 of that year Mr. Frank McConnell, organist and choirmaster, played a special recital of thanksgiving which was to show the versatility and tonal quality of the new organ.  Some of the many memorable experiences I had while a young boy singing in the choir were Christmas Eve services where exactly at midnight, the Rev. Robert C. Batchelder would stop the service, have the star at the top of the apse turned on and have Mr. McConnell play the bells on the organ.  
Mr. Frank McConnell, organist and  choir-
master of St. James.  The photo is from
a cassette tape he made.  I was lucky
enough to be able to take the photo.
Wow, still get the chills when I think of those times.  Also enjoyed the Lenten organ concerts when I got to be an usher for Mr. McConnell who would later treat the ushers to lunch at the Brunswick and a movie in downtown Lancaster.  Also remember the Easter Services which were at 7:00 am and 11:00 am as well as 4:00 pm.  Yep, three services for boys aged 8 to close to 13.  We did have a breakfast in the parish house between the two morning services.  In 1947 Mr. McConnell began a girl's and women's choir known as the St. Cecilia Choir.  In 1962 I found my date for my high school senior prom from the St. Cecilia Choir when Sally agreed to be my date.  Tragedy stuck St. James' Church's Camp Rodgers on Schelle Island in the Susquehanna River on May 4, 1956 when the 200-year-old beautiful wood and stone farm house burnt to the ground.  Needless to say, with the camp located on a remote island in the middle of the river, fire fighters couldn't reach the fire in time to save the building.  
Camp Rodgers on site in northern Lancaster County.  I'm
standing middle-center row (without camp shirt), next to one
of my best friends and fellow choir members, Barry Kline (on my right).
My camping career on Schelle Island ended with the fire.  I have many fond memories of Schelle Island and all the friends I made at the campsite.  Wasn't long before a new campsite was found in northern Lancaster County.  The new camp was dedicated on June 9, 1957.  It consisted of 18 acres with 3 of those wooded, a farm house and six cabins and a lake with a waterfall.  I spend many a day fishing in the pool of water that formed at the bottom of that waterfall.  
The Chapel of St. James Church.
Again, I have many fond memories of my couple of years at the new Camp Rodgers, but in 1969, with a dwindling camp enrollment, the church eventually closed the camp and sold the site.  My children never had the chance to experience summer camping at the great Camp Rodgers.  Then, in 1958, our organist and choirmaster, Mr. McConnell married the Rev. Beatrice Weaver who was a graduate of Lancaster Theological Seminary where Mr. McConnell taught church music.  In 1961 another major renovation took place in the church.  The old choir room that I called home for half a dozen years was torn down and a new Chapel was constructed with a covered cloister leading from the Chapel to the entrance of the church along Duke Street.  
My wife, Carol, posing after our marriage in 1967 in
the hallway outside the new St. James Chapel.
The choir room was placed under the Chapel.  I remember quite a few graves in the churchyard which were disturbed and had to be relocated, some being made part of the wall in the new Chapel.  The Chapel was dedicated in 1962.  The hallway in front of the new Chapel was the site of one of the best photos ever taken at St. James when Carol and I were married there in 1967.  In 1964, Francis Veri, a member of St. James, a piano pupil of Mr. McConnell's and a friend from Sunday School, graduated from Julliard School of Music in New York City.  
A painting of St. James Church by Margaret Dana Lestz showing
the church on the right and the Cloister and Chapel to it's left. 
She eventually became part of the world renowned piano duo known as Veri and Jamamis when she married Michael George Jamanis.  On August 31, 1969 Rev. Batchelder preached his second farewell sermon before he and his wife retired from St. James Episcopal.  On Sunday, October 5, 1969 the Rev. Lloyd E. Gressle became our new minister, but a year later was chosen to be a Bishop in the church.  Wasn't long before the Rev. Edward W. Jones was our new minister.  The 1970s saw our children being baptized in St. James and joining the ranks of Sunday School members as well as choir members.
This is one of my altered Polaroid photos of the
St. James Cloister which connects the church and the chapel.
 My wife became a Sunday School teacher as I rejoined the men's choir, singing next to my dad once again.  In 1978 the Rev. Stanley F. Imboden became our new minister.  Stan and I shared a love of baseball since his father had been a minor league umpire.  Carol and I were both elected members of the Vestry in the 1980s and my dad was elected a Church Warden as well as a life Vestryman.  In the 1990s our son Derek and daughter Brynn were both voted to the Vestry as youth observers.  
This is the west wall (rear) showing the baptismal font.
The Lancaster Town Fair, a city wide community program, began and eventually Carol and I became co-chairman of the Roast Beef Dinner held at St. James.  All three of our children had the unique experience of being part of the youth group of St. James.  They held yearly performances of plays written by our Associate minister Mary Lou Broucht and raised funds to travel abroad to places such as Japan, Italy and England.  Well, I began my stories based on a coupe of books written by H.M.J. Klein and William F. Diller titled The History of St. James' Church and the second of the two books has come to an end with the end of 1999.  My family has become part of the church's history with our involvement and will forever be part of the legacy known as St. James' Church.   It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

PS - Stay with me for a few more thrilling stories on St. James as I explore the churchyard filled with the bones of many famous people, the Mercer tiles that are part of our church and the famous artist who painted the Crucifixion that hangs in our Chapel. 


  1. Thanks for this wonderful piece. As a young teen I was a member of the St. Cecelia Choir from 1964-1969 and loved Frank McConnell so. Do you know his wife Reverend McConnel just passed this Saturday past? She was a great lady!

  2. Sharon, Thanks for spending time reading my stories. I did know that Beatrice had died. The Lancaster newspaper had her obit in it this morning. She was a special lady. She and Frank made a perfect pair. I also knew their son Mark. I'm sure he will miss his mom. LDub