The landscape in downtown Germanton looks quite different these days to anyone who passes through the quaint little town. A vital part of the viewing pleasure is no more. St. Philip’s, a fixture on the main street, has been totally removed.
The dismantling of the historic Episcopal church began in October, and on Thursday, Nov. 29, Blake Moving Company loaded what was left and headed southeast to Chapel Hill where the church will find its new home. It will serve as the base for The Church of the Advocate, a growing Episcopal congregation.
The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck, vicar of The Episcopal Church of the Advocate, stated on Tuesday: “The move of the church building is still in progress. Mike Blake has done a careful and comprehensive job of preparing the building for moving and of getting it to Orange County already.”
The church building is slated to arrive in Chapel Hill on Saturday, Dec. 8, at which time the reconstruction will begin.
“There have been logistical challenges involved in this move,” explains Catherine Hendren, president of Preserve Historic Forsyth, a nonprofit organization which works to protect historic resources, “getting permits, coordinating with DOT, the Highway Patrol, figuring out how to move it on the road, when to move it into Chapel Hill at a time when there was no home football game with terrible traffic.”
Hendren notes that the new congregation will be adapting it to their use, adding power and plumbing, among other things. “It won’t be as pristine as it was,” she says, “but they plan to leave it as intact as they can.”
Hendren wears a few different hats in this saga of relocating St. Philip’s. Through the organization she heads, she worked to help save the church which was one of the rare buildings located in two counties — Stokes and Forsyth. And as a practicing Episcopalian, she is the lay leader of an Episcopal Ecumenical congregation that meets weekly in Germanton.
“We are Christian people who came together because we were concerned that the Bishop was moving the church because there was no active congregation,” Hendren details the origin of the group which began meeting in May 2012 at Germanton United Methodist Church. “We have loved being a worshiping congregation. There’s hardly been a Wednesday night that we haven’t been together to worship or to do some good thing. That’s one of the successes of this circumstance — the way we have gotten to know each other.”
Hendren admits that there is some sadness as to the loss of the building, but she declares optimistically that the church is not a building. “The church is more than that,” she stresses. “The stories of the history of the church and the people are very important, and we need to continue with that.”
The congregation plans to continue meeting through 2012 before making a decision about what they need to do for the future. According to Hendren, things have not gone well in the Episcopal realm of Stokes County in the past year. St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in King was closed due to small membership, Christ Episcopal Church in Walnut Cove has suffered the resignation of their rector, and now St. Philip’s has been removed from Germanton.
“It’s been challenging for all of us Episcopalians who also have appreciated what this church has meant as an icon to the people of Stokes County,” Hendren confesses.
Sarah Woodard David grew up a few houses down from St. Philip’s and was married in the church. She was vital in the fight to save St. Philip’s and says that she wishes for two things in the future.
“I hope the Diocese and other institutions will look at how this situation played out and consider ways to listen to local communities, even if the local input has no chance of changing the institution’s mind,” she declares.
David continues: “Second, but most importantly, I hope this will light a fire under the people of Stokes County and Germanton. We have a rich history, but we need to protect it, document it and celebrate it, with ‘we’ being the most important word in that sentence. The St. Philip’s situation demonstrates that no one else will protect it, document it or celebrate it for us.”
But all is not lost, as far as preserving some of what was St. Philip’s in Germanton. A few days after the building was removed, members of the new Episcopal Ecumenical congregation took the boxwoods from the now-empty church lot and moved them to the Watts farm nearby. They also made wreaths from the boxwoods, for use in their homes during the Advent season.
There are five palettes of bricks from the church’s footing in storage and 10 pews being kept at the historic Petree house in downtown Germanton. Eighteen books of common prayer will be put to use in future services of the Germanton congregation, while two historic hymnbooks, an old cane chair and a few other things will also be preserved locally from the old church. All of this was given by the Chapel Hill congregation.
“There are other things that the congregation in Chapel Hill will share with us as they sort out what they will be using,” Hendren explains. “I’m very happy that Lisa [Fischbeck] and some members of the congregation know that their history now incorporates the history of St. Philip’s and incorporates the sadness and the loss that was caused by the move of the church to Chapel Hill.”
Fischbeck says that she is unsure as to when her church will be able to worship in the St. Philip’s building. “It depends on the winter weather and how it will impact the site work that we need to do before we can get a Certificate of Occupancy,” she stated. “It is unlikely that we will be able to worship in the building before summer. We are very much looking forward to that day.”
The formal dedication of the building is scheduled for Sept. 28, 2013.