September 22, 2018


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Church HistoryThe first Episcopal worship service in Springdale, Arkansas was held in the Springdale Public Library (now the Shiloh Museum) on October 7, 1956, with 26 people present. St. Thomas was formally organized as a mission church in the Diocese of Arkansas on January 23, 1957.

St. Thomas Episcopal Church: The First Fifty YearsIn the beginning, St. Thomas was organized in a small town in the midst of the Ozark fruit belt. At the end of 50 years, it is situated in a sprawling suburban community in one of the fastest growing areas of the United States. In 1952, the few Episcopalians in Springdale attended St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, or other Protestant churches in town. Two ladies from St. Paul’s called on Maxine Bowman, who had recently moved to Springdale, and invited her to join the Episcopal Churchwomen (ECW) at St. Paul’s. At the time, only two other Episcopalians were known in Springdale: Imogene (Mrs. Louis) Heerwagen, and Katherine (Mrs. Earl) Heagler. Within six months there were more newcomers to Springdale who were Episcopalians—the Lawrence LeFevers, the Larry Chases, George Casavan, Rob and Myrtle Hughes, Peggy and Bob Cooper, and MaryJohn and Lewis Jones. With the guidance of the women of St. Paul’s, a guild was formed in Springdale as part of St. Paul’s ECW. It took the name of St. Monica’s and took part in the ECW at St. Paul’s.

The women of the ECW of St. Paul’s had previously organized a guild in Rogers which culminated in the establishment of the Church of the Redeemer (the name was later changed to St. Andrew’s) under the guidance of Bishop R. Bland Mitchell. When the Rev. Robert Hall was assigned to Rogers, Eureka Springs, and Mountain Home in 1952, the Springdale group was encouraged to attend church in Rogers. Bob Hall had a true missionary spirit, and it is notable that he visited the sick, the elderly, and those in need wherever they were, and held regular services in all three towns.

The group in Springdale, however, kept their desire for a church, even as they attended services at Redeemer or St. Paul’s. St. Monica’s Guild became more active in the Episcopal Churchwomen of St. Paul’s and took every opportunity to make their group known to any new residents of the Springdale area.

The Springdale Library Basement, Set Up for Sunday Services
In 1956 Dr. George Weiser was assigned as the vicar of Redeemer in Rogers. Dr. Weiser, a widower who had been a dentist prior to attending Seabury Seminary in Faribault, Minnesota, had been pastor of several parishes in Minnesota, Iowa, Virginia, and Kansas City. He hoped for a sort of semi-retirement in northwest Arkansas. Dr. Weiser and the laymen persuaded Bishop Brown, who had succeeded Bishop Mitchell, that there was enough interest to begin holding services in Springdale. The first services were begun on October 7, 1956 in the basement of the public library, which was located where the Shiloh Museum now stands. Fifteen adults and eleven children attended the first service.

The basement room was large, with an adjoining kitchen belonging to the Women’s Civic Club. It was furnished with a square table and ladder-back chairs, painted apple green. There was also a piano. On Saturday the room was rearranged for church—the chairs were set up in rows with a central aisle, and one of the tables was set up as the altar. A large sheet was arranged to serve as a fair linen. The altar cross came from Jerusalem and was provided by Jean Chase, who also played the piano. Mrs. Chase’s mother, Della West, crocheted a frontal which is still cherished by the Altar Guild, though it is no longer used as it doesn’t fit the present altar. A large dictionary stand served as a missal stand, and a bread basket from the LeFevre home was the alms basin. Dr. Weiser brought the communion vessels with him. “The only expense incurred in the beginning of the Altar Guild was the purchase of 2 small red glass vases costing 39 cents. (When the latter was reported to Bishop Brown, following the first Confirmation service at St. Thomas, he smiled and said, ‘Such extravagance is blessed.’)”
Heavy red drapery material was used to make kneelers filled with sawdust—long bolsters for the altar rail, and smaller ones for individuals. The latter were placed near the door, and worshipers picked up a kneeler and service books as they came in. (This practice was continued when services began to be held in the first little parish house that was built in 1960.)

In January, 1957 the Diocesan Convention met in Ft. Smith. By that date, St. Thomas had met all canonical requirements and was admitted as an organized mission. “Charter members were Roy J. and Maxine Bowman, Ida Bess and Lawrence I.

LaFevre, MaryJohn and Lewis D. Jones, Katherine M. Heagler, Jean Ann Chase, Beatrice Carroll, Margaret Aguier McGaugh, Michael Edward McGaugh, Donna Hendricks, George E. and Velma Casavan and Lynn Casavan, Bruce Casavan, Robert Emmett Cooper, Jr., Virginia McPherson, and Barbara May O’Dell.”2 Roy Bowman was named Warden by Bishop Brown and was St. Thomas’ first delegate, with George Casavan as alternate. A further blessing was Bishop Brown’s designating the offering at the convention’s evening prayer service to St. Thomas. Lewis Jones and Lawrence LeFevre “passed the plates.” St. Thomas’ first confirmation service was held on February 29, 1957. Dr. Weiser presented three to be confirmed: Peggy Cooper, Mary McGaugh, and Michael McGaugh.

In 1958 Bishop Brown approved the purchase of nine and a half acres at 1800 Sisco Avenue as the site for a future church and vicarage. The year ended with 36 members, a budget of $5,500, and debt. In August, 1959 Dr. Weiser accepted a call to Catlett, Virginia; he held his last service at St. Thomas on August 30.4 For a time St. Thomas had no vicar, and the Rev. George Small, Chaplain at the University of Arkansas, came for Holy Communion once a month. In June of 1960 the Rev. Ed Salmon was assigned as deacon in charge of the three missions in Springdale, Rogers, and Eureka Springs under the direction of the Rev. Christoph Keller at Harrison.
St. Thomas’ first parish house was built in 1960. When the Bowmans left Springdale, Bob Cooper had been assigned as warden in Roy Bowman’s place, and he saw the mission through its first building program. (The round stained-glass window over the altar in the present church was given in memory of Bob and Peggy Cooper.)
Bishop Brown had provided plans for a small parish house. A member of the congregation, Bill McCartney, was an architecture student at the University of Arkansas, and he designed an altar set in an alcove with screens that could be closed, and an altar rail, pulpit, and lectern that could be removed. With this arrangement, it was possible to have church on Sunday, and then close the screen and remove the altar rail to have a parish house also. The parish house was dedicated on December 15, 1960 by Bishop Brown, as was an organ given by Dr. and Mrs. George R. Branscom of Little Rock and Mr. Gilbert Sisco in memory of their son and nephew William Harrison Branscom, who had been killed March 1, 1959.

St. Thomas had 57 members and was flourishing under Ed Salmon’s leadership. He held services in all three missions every Sunday from 1960-61. (Salmon later served as assistant pastor at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville and became pastor when Father Lindloff retired. He went on to serve as pastor of St. Michel & St. George in St. Louis, Missouri. Later, he became Bishop of South Carolina.)

In 1961, during the interim between Ed Salmon and Edgar Shippey, G.B. Smith was assigned to St. Thomas. He was a Methodist minister who had attended the Seminary of the Southwest and was studying to take the canonical exam and become an Episcopalian. He held Morning Prayer services, and the chaplain at the university came over once a month to administer Communion. Smith left at the end of the year, however, and did not take the exam. The Rev. Edgar Shippey was sent as vicar in 1962 and served until named as assistant to the Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Little Rock. He was a deacon when assigned and was priested at St. Andrews in Rogers on June 21, 1962. During their time in Springdale, Mrs. Shippey was a special education teacher in Fayetteville.
In June, 1965 Lawson M. Anderson was assigned as vicar of St. Thomas, his first pastorate. Father Anderson had previously received a degree in forestry from Louisiana State University after service in the Army Corps of Engineers in the South Pacific during World War II. He held the position of State Forester of Arkansas in 1951. He had returned to his hometown, Helena, where he worked for the president of the Helena National Bank, when he decided to enter the ministry. During his three years at the Seminary of the Southwest, his wife Dorothy had worked as a secretary at the University of Texas. (Dorothy Storey Anderson was the daughter of a Methodist minister, the Rev. A. N. Storey, who retired as Superintendent of the Jonesboro Methodist District.) While in Springdale, Dorothy Anderson worked as an assistant at the public library, and later as secretary at Central Junior High School. The family was a real part of the community during his tenure.

Father Anderson, Dorothy, and their four children (Betty, Virginia, Lawson Jr., and Kay) were the first occupants of the vicarage, for which plans had been approved by the Diocese Architectural Commission in 1965. The vicarage was built in 1966 on the north corner of the church property. It served the clergy of St. Thomas until 1981, when Episcopal church policy had begun to encourage vestries to grant clergymen a housing allowance so they could buy their own homes rather than live in church-owned property. “Steed” Joyce was the last to live in the vicarage. It was then used for
Sunday school for a while, and later it was rented out.
St. Thomas flourished under Father Anderson. The membership grew from 110 to 170, and the budget from $4,883.01 to $13,720.82 under his leadership. The congregation outgrew the parish house, and plans were made for a church building. A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new building on November 5, 1967. Bishop Coadjutor Keller held Evening Prayer and Confirmation, and then ground was broken. The new church was completed within a year and dedicated by Bishop Brown on September 20, 1968. Vestryman Charles Lindsey superintended the building process.

On June 15, 1969 Father Anderson announced he had accepted a call to St. Paul’s in Newport, Arkansas. For the rest of the year, St. Thomas continued services without a resident priest. Guest priests during the interim were Father Salmon (who at the time was at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville); Bishop Brown; Bishop Keller; Dr. Lindloff; Father Frank B. Maugeen of St. Andrew’s, Rogers; and Father David R. Johnson, chaplain of the University Center in Fayetteville.

On November 5, 1969 Father Paul Gray, at that time curate of St. Mark’s, Little Rock, accepted the Bishop’s appointment as Vicar of St. Thomas. Father Gray was from Ft. Smith and had been in business before he sought ordination. He served as vicar at St. Thomas until June, 1973, when he accepted a call to be associate pastor of Grace Church, Monroe, Louisiana.

In October 1973 Bishop Keller assigned John Ross Wellwood as vicar of St. Thomas, but in June 1976 he was forced to retire because of ill health. During this time the membership list fell to 120 active members due to poor business conditions in the community and revision of the membership lists, which were pruned to remove the names of inactive members that had accumulated over the years.
The Rev. Aristide (“Steed”) Joyce was appointed Vicar of St. Thomas and held his first service here on All Saints Day, 1976. He pulled the church together, and St. Thomas set the goal of attaining parish status. The congregation achieved independence from Diocesan financial assistance, and on February 27, 1981, after 25 years as a mission, St. Thomas was rededicated as a parish. Bishop Herbert A. Donovan, Jr. presided at an impressive ceremony at Trinity Cathedral, attended by a large group from Springdale. A joyous celebration was held in Springdale to mark this occasion. There was an outdoor “pig roast” and a service in the church attended by Bishop Brown, Bishop Donovan, and many others.
When the Rev. Steed Joyce was assigned elsewhere, the Rev. David Jeffery was sent as vicar from 1982 to 1986. The parish room connecting the church sanctuary with the church offices was built during Father Jeffrey’s tenure. It was called Hughes Hall after a long-time member. This addition made possible room for church school. A decline in membership, however, and a steady dependence on visiting priests, caused St. Thomas to revert to mission status in May, 1987.

The Rev. Kevin Robinson, a truly wonderful teacher, was installed as vicar on January 9, 1988. He was in charge of both St. Thomas and Grace Church in Siloam Springs. During his pastorate, the shock of returning to mission status and an influx of new people in the community sparked a renewed interest in St. Thomas. Father Robinson served at St. Thomas until December of 1990, when he was reassigned to Van Buren.
The husband-and-wife team of Joe and Kay Ashby, both priests, were persuaded in May 1991 to begin a cluster ministry of the three “Springs” churches: Springdale, Eureka Springs, and Siloam Springs. They moved to Springdale and began their joint ministry with both holding services at all three locations, though each also had the services of a lay reader once a month. In a short time it became evident that St. Thomas was ready for full-time clergy, and Joe became vicar of St. Thomas while Kay
continued with the other two missions. The congregation grew under Father Joe, and it soon was apparent that more room was needed. There were some among the congregation who wanted to add on to the existing church, which would have been possible. The Diocese, however, felt that St. Thomas was not visible enough within the community, and land was purchased on 48th Street, conspicuously backing up to the Interstate. Plans were drawn for a new and larger church, and help was promised from the Diocese. The actual construction was supervised by vestry member Peggy Lindsey. The new church was dedicated May 17, 1997, and the old property on Sisco Street was sold.

Treasures from the old church were moved to the new. The hanging cross over the old altar (visible in the photo on page 10), given in memory of Katherine Heagler, and the old altar itself are in the new St. Michael’s chapel. The round stained-glass window given in memory of Bob and Peggy Cooper is centered again over the altar. The Bishop’s chair with its needlepoint rendering of the stained-glass window came, as did the aumbry and other altar furnishings. Since it was the newest church building in
the Diocese, and said to be beautiful, the Diocesan convention was held at St. Thomas March 5-7, 1998, and the delegates and visiting clergy were royally entertained. Some sessions (such as the convention Communion) were also held at the chapel in the Jones Center.

As is often the case when new buildings are acquired, the clergy moves on, and Father Joe accepted a call in May 1999 to a church in Michigan. St. Thomas was again without a priest. In October of 1999, Bishop Maze sent Father Julian Eiben to St. Thomas. Father Julian had been a Roman Catholic priest but had left the priesthood, married, and become an Episcopalian. He was separated from his wife and was raising their three daughters by himself. He was a marvelous preacher, but he resigned quite precipitously in February, 2002.

For a time, St. Thomas was served by several visiting clergy, among whom was Father Edwin Sisk, a retired priest living in Bella Vista. Though in bad health, Father Ed was persuaded to take on St. Thomas as a part-time ministry, which was all the church could afford at the time. He continued to live in Bella Vista, but spent several days a week in Springdale. He proved to be what St. Thomas needed. The number of communicants picked up and the finances stabilized. He stayed until September 2004, overlapping a few months with Father Steve Thomason. Father Steve was just finishing at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, and came to Springdale in June 2004 with his wife Kathy and daughters Jill and Jane. He was already a Deacon and was advanced to the priesthood on June 26, 2004. It was the first ordination held at St. Thomas, and the congregation went “all out.” The church women organized and prepared a dinner following the service that was attended by both the congregation and all the visiting clergy in attendance. Father Ed stayed in the parish to help with Father Steve’s transition, and then in September he once again retired.

In 2004, Judith Lund was assigned by Bishop Maze to St. Thomas for her year as deacon. She was on the staff of St. Mary’s Hospital in Rogers, but was required to have parish experience before being ordained. She too was ordained at St. Thomas—on June 11, 2005. Again the church women arranged a lovely reception after the ceremony.

At the 135th Diocesan Convention held at St. Mark's, Little Rock, on February 11, 2007, having 254 baptized members, the Rev. Dr. Steve Thomason and members of the Vestry of St. Thomas presented a resolution that St. Thomas, Springdale be entered as a parish in the Diocese of Arkansas.  The resolution passed with great joy.  In April, 2008, Father Steve resigned as Rector of St. Thomas to accept a position as Medical Director for Circle of Life Hospice. In January of 2009, the Rev. Pam Morgan accepted an appointment by Bishop Larry Benfield as priest-in-charge.  A year later the Vestry called Mother Pam as Rector.  Prior to St. Thomas, Mother Pam served as Vicar of St. Andrew's, Mountain Home for five years, and as Associate Rector at St. Mark's, Little Rock for two years.  

Episcopal Women

The women of St. Thomas have been active since the very beginning of the parish. Originally called the “Women’s Auxiliary,” they have carried on regular meetings with programs and devotionals, and usually a big community fund raiser—the cliché being, “The women’s group is not a money-raising organization, but we need money for . . . .” During the first couple of years, they hosted community dinners and sold tickets all over town. The first year (about 1958), the First Methodist Church allowed them to use its kitchen and dining room in the basement of their old church, but subsequently the Methodists felt they could not continue their hospitality because it might be seen as setting a precedent for all the other groups who might want to use their facilities. After that, St. Thomas’ women rented space from the Rebekahs (the ladies’ auxiliary of the Odd Fellows) in the old lodge on Huntsville Avenue above Spring Creek. Ham was the featured entrée as it could be cooked in the bakery ovens ahead of time. Dr. Weiser himself weighed out each serving and added a dollop of sauce.

There were not enough women in St. Thomas to prepare a sufficient quantity of things for their own bazaar, so for a few years they rented a booth in a community bazaar. St. Thomas’ women also were active in the United Church Women. They manned a station at the community dinner the UCW hosted as a fundraiser for a summer day camp for the children of immigrant workers. St. Thomas’ women also took their share of weeks staffing the camp. For a number of years, the Spring Fling was the women’s main fundraiser. Plants and other things were sold, and pie and coffee were served. Then the Cookie Sampler became the main event, with the first one held in 1978 with Edie O’Brien and Jo Armstrong as co-chairs. It was always held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and many people in town planned on buying their holiday baked goods there. This was very successful until after the move to the new church in 1997. The change in location and the loss of a couple of the most prolific cookie bakers caused a drop in attendance, and the Cookie Sampler was discontinued. Following this, Breakfast with Santa was held for several years, but it too was discontinued. At present (2006), a Scholastic book sale is being held twice a year. This both provides a venue for the sale of really good children’s books—a real asset to the community—and earns some revenue.

The men of St. Thomas have always been active in making the church both viable and visible. They started the “Trash and Treasure” sale in the mid 1980s. It proved a good way to get rid of the unwanted objects that turn up during spring cleaning. It has now become a project for the whole church, as has the Shrimp Boil, which began in 1999. The men make a trip to the Gulf coast and bring back the shrimp on ice. The shrimp are then immediately cooked and served. This has become a large and very successful undertaking for the whole community.
Music, as always, is a part of services at St. Thomas. Several different organs have been used, from the first little spinet at the first parish house to the present organ. Initially, members of the congregation served as volunteer organists—among them Jean Chase and Maxine Bowman. A Springdale teenager, Fred Barbee, was church organist in the late 1960s. He was confirmed on September 5, 1970, and later became the first member of St. Thomas to go on to seminary and be ordained a deacon and priest in the Episcopal church. More recently, David White began as organist and choir director in April, 1998. On Sunday, April 10, 2005, the congregation hosted a reception honoring David for his 40 years of service as a church organist.

Kids Day Out, a self-supporting pre-kindergarten program for young children (nursery to 4 years old) was begun in the fall of 2000 under the direction of Diane Villigan. Now under the direction of Kristina Smith, it operates three days a week and will progress to four days a week beginning in the fall of 2006.
At the end of its first half century, St. Thomas is a church of 215 members (with an annual budget of $382,681) and stands poised and ready for its next fifty years.

The Clergy of St. Thomas Episcopal Church

  • The Rev. Dr. George C. Weiser – October 7, 1956 to August 30, 1959

  • The Rev. Edward L. Salmon – June 1960 to 1961

  • The Rev. Edgar E. Shippey – June 17, 1962 to September 6, 1964
The Rev. Lawson M. Anderson – June 20, 1965 to June 15, 1969

  • The Rev. Paul Gray – January 1, 1970 to June 1973

  • The Rev. John Ross Wellwood – October 7, 1973 to June 1976
The Rev. Aristide (“Steed”) J. Joyce, Jr. – November 1, 1976 to 1981
The Rev. David Jeffery – 1982 to 1986
VACANT – 1987

  • The Rev. Kevin Robinson – January 9, 1988 to December 1990
The Reverends Joe and Kay Ashby – May 1991 to May 1999

  • The Rev. Julian Eiben – October 1999 to February 2002

  • The Rev. Edwin Sisk – March 2002 to September 2004

  • The Rev. Dr. Steve Thomason – June 2004 to 2008
  • The Rev. Pam Morgan – January 18, 2009 to present