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July 6, 2014

St. George's: Century of faith

From immigrant coal miners, 100 years of culture thrives

WEST TERRE HAUTE — From its formation in a sewing circle of European immigrant women, surviving a fire that destroyed its building, to expanding with a new parish hall, St. George’s Episcopal Church has endured to celebrate its 100th anniversary next Sunday.

The “friendly little church on the hill” in West Terre Haute next week will hold an open house from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. to invite people to join the church, which is at 3337 N. Smith Place, on Ferguson Hill, also known as Concannon Hill, in West Terre Haute.

“Because we are off the main road and not in town, people forgot that we are here. But we are hoping that people come to the open house, enjoy the day and come to know us better. Hopefully, people will see something that will spark their interest to come and join us on Sunday mornings and become members of the church,” said Sylvia A. Brockman, senior warden of the church congregation.

“Also, we seek to connect with people who might have ancestors in this area and come to know their ancestry,” Brockman said.

The church has English, Scottish and Irish roots from immigrants who migrated to West Terre Haute from 1900 to 1910 to work in nearby coal mines. Many came from Lancastershire, England.

The open house will feature “old world foods,” such as short bread cookies, English trifle, scones, tarts and tea.

Many church members are direct descendants of the original founders, with family names such as Silcock, Brimley, Vicars, Harrison and Fenton.

The church, while self-supporting financially, is still considered a missionary church, as it has fewer than 100 members, said the Rev. Debbie Veach, who serves as a deacon at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Terre Haute. St. George’s church, which currently has about 30 members, was formed as many residents thought the Episcopal church in Terre Haute was too far away to attend.

Veach was baptized at St. George’s, and her sister, Kay Baldomero, was married and her children baptized in the church.

“This church is all I know. I am a cradle Episcopalian,” said Baldomero, a fourth-generation member of the church. Veach and Baldomero’s mother, Wanetta (Brimley) Vicars, played the organ for 53 years for church services.

Though small in size, the church’s community outreach is large, through programs such as a pillow party for cancer, making small brightly patterned pillows for cancer patients at UAP Clinic; Halloween on the Hill; staging a firefighters dinner; and conducting Easter egg hunts.

Church member Roberta Silcock Stafford, 63, said she recalls, when as a young girl, the church celebrated “a harvest festival. Each family would take a [stained glass] window and decorate it with colorful fruits and vegetables.

“It was kind of a sign to prepare for the winter,” she said. “What also stands out in my mind was the elderly ladies who immigrated here wore big colorful hats and always wore gloves. They would sit in a particular spot, as each family seemed to have their own spot. I am not sure if that was tradition or what, but we still do that,” Silcock Stafford said.

St. George’s was built in 1914, then destroyed by fire in 1935 and rebuilt. The second church was smaller than the original, but by 1985, it was restored to its original size. It was expanded again in 1999 with the addition of space in the parish hall for Sunday school,  meetings and dinners. A new organ was donated in 2009, and a new parking lot was recently added.

“We hope to keep the church going for another 100 years,” Brockman said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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