St. Thomas' is a member of the
Diocese of North Carolina
Rev. Michael B. Curry, Bishop
The Rt. Rev. Alfred Clark Marble, Jr., Assisting Bishop
The Rt. Rev. William O.
Gregg, Assisting Bishop
Rector, The Rev. Melanie Mudge
Beth Wood, Administrative Secretary
Katie Yuskevich, Nursery Care Provider
Dr. Jo Ann C.
Bowman, Choir Director
Dr. Karen Parthun, Organist
History of St. Thomas'
Although the first service of St. Thomas’ Church was held on
October 11, 1896, activity of the Episcopal Church had been
going on in the area for a number of years. In the minutes
of the Vestry of St. Bartholomew’s parish in Pittsboro, NC,
dated November 3, 1879, it was resolved that the the
parish, the Rev. E. N.
then being Rector, “do establish Missions at Gum Springs and
Haywood in Chatham County and at Sanford in Moore County.”
(Sanford is now in Lee County, which was formed in 1907
from parts of Chatham and Moore Counties.)
The Rev. R. B. Sutton held services in private homes in
Sanford occasionally, and he baptized Hester Gilmore as the
first Episcopalian baptized in Sanford. During that period,
Bishop Atkinson officiated in Sanford in a private home and
confirmed two persons. The Rev. William Walker, another
Rector at Pittsboro, performed a marriage in Sanford in
1887. The Rev. F. L. Bush, an assistant to Mr. Walker,
officiated in Sanford several times, and the Rev. C.T. Bland
(1892-1930 at Pittsboro) preached regularly once a month at
Sanford, holding his first service on April 16, 1893.
On October 9th the corner stone was laid for the first
church building, on a lot where the Carolina Hotel once
stood (at the corner of Moore and Carthage streets.) On
October 11, 1896, the first service was held in the new
church, the building of which was unfinished. The name
chosen for the new church was that of the doubting apostle,
St. Thomas, because the builders were so beset with
difficulty that they really doubted that the structure could
On May 15, 1916, twelve members of the unorganized mission
petitioned Bishop Cheshire to request that St. Thomas’ be
made into an organized mission. This was approved by the
Bishop on May 16, 1916.
Church leadership secured an 80 foot lot on North Steele
Street. Bishop Cheshire gave very substantial help towards
buying an additional 50 foot lot. The Rev. R. G.
Shannonhouse began his pastorate in 1923, and, in 1927,
plans were drawn for the new church building. April 1,
1928, found the church with resources of $7,500.00 (liberal
estimate) of the $15,000.00 required to begin the building
of a new church. On April 10, 1828, work began on the new
church, with the stipulation that “when funds give out, work
will stop.” Bishop Penick laid the corner stone on October
4, 1928, and work was stopped until April 15, 1929.
The first service at the new St. Thomas’ was held on
September 14, 1930. The large stained glass window fronting
North Steele Street was a gift from St. Paul’s in
Winston-Salem. The Bishop’s chair in the Sanctuary of the
church is about 175 years old. It was presented to St.
Thomas’ by Christ Church in Raleigh. Although the use of
the church was begun, it was not completed until October
In March, 1931, the Rev. Mr. Shannonhouse resigned and was
succeeded by the Rev. F. Craighill Brown who also was Rector
of Emmanuel Church in Southern Pines. The period from 1931
to 1940 must have been discouraging to the parishioners of
St. Thomas’ as the depression was in full force, and money
was still owed on the church. The new Vicar had a workshop
in his home in Southern Pines and made the reredos and
altar. The following indicates the status of St. Thomas’
during this period.
Pledges & Plate Offerings
Nevertheless, St. Thomas’ did survive and flourish.
In February, 1943, the Rev. Mr. Brown retired as Vicar of
St. Thomas’ to devote his full time to Emmanuel. James
Daniel Gilliam was ordained to the diaconate the following
week and became resident deacon/priest of St. Thomas’ . And
so, St. Thomas’ had its first resident Vicar. There were no
arrangements for housing so Mr. Gilliam lived in the local
hotel and ate most of his meals at restaurants. Although
this was during World War II, St. Thomas’ grew from 41 to 51
communicants during the two years that the Rev. Mr. Gilliam
was in Sanford. He left in 1945, and the church was without
a priest until R. C. Baird, Jr. came to Sanford in 1946. In
January, 1949, the Rev. Mr. Baird left, and the mission was
once again without a local priest.
A lot on Spring Lane was donated to the church in November,
1949, by Mr. and Mrs. W. C. Harward, and , in December,
1949, a letter was sent to all church members by the
directors of a campaign fund to raise $7,000.00 to build a
rectory. Sufficient funds were raised by the directors,
Mrs. R. D. Bracken and R. P. Rosser, to start the rectory.
In June 1951, the Mission Committee approved a bank loan of
$3,000.00 to pay the balance due on the approximate cost of
The first resident priest to live in the rectory was Peter
C. Robinson who arrived in June, 1951. He resigned in June,
1954. There were 61 communicants.
The Rev. Joseph A. Hayworth arrived in July, 1954. The
Mission Committee consisted of Senior Warden Fred Von Canon,
Robert Mason, Barry Beard, Stanley Winborne, Jr., and T.C.
Griffin, all new to the committee except Beard. Fred Von
Canon and his wife, Elizabeth, who moved to Sanford to
manage their furniture factory, had been, and were to be,
leaders who gave freely of their time and money to St.
Thomas’ Church. Plans were underway for a Parish House
which would cost almost $50,000.00 and would have almost
5,000 square feet of space. On April 7, 1957, the corner
stone was laid by Bishop Penick, and, on June 2, 1957,
Bishop Penick dedicated the new Parish House.
The Rev. Joseph Hayworth submitted his resignation as of
August 15, 1958, and the Rev. R. Hampton Price was called
and accepted his call, effective December 15, 1958. There
were 95 communicants at the time of Mr. Hayworth’s
Since St. Thomas’ was self-supporting for the first time in
its history, and had reduced its debt to a manageable level,
it was decided to apply to the Bishop for Parish status
after almost 70 years as a mission. This application was
filed and approved by Bishop Thomas Fraser. Frank J. Abbott
was elected Senior Warden for the coming year, and he led
the delegation to the Diocesan Convention in February, 1966,
where St. Thomas’ was officially accepted as a parish.
Mr. Price resigned as of April, 1966, to accept a call to
Lincolnton, N.C. At the time of his resignation, there were
130 communicants. A call was issued to Sidney S. Holt, a
WWII naval officer and pilot, and a former vice-president of
Canon Mills. The Rev. Mr. Holt assumed the duties of the
first Parish Rector of St. Thomas’. He resigned effective
November 5, 1968, to join the staff of the Diocese of North
Carolina. There were 181 communicants when Mr. Holt moved
Under the direction of Douglas Wilkinson a fund-raising
drive to pay off the note to the diocese was successful, and
the parish was debt-free. A search committee was appointed
to look for a new rector, and, on November 5, 1968, the Rev.
Donald W. Frazier was called and accepted the position. In
November, 1983, the Rev. Donald W. Frazier resigned for
health reasons, after having suffered a stroke and a heart
attack. Mr. Frazier served St. Thomas’ for 15 years. He
presided over the parish during the difficult days of
controversial grants by the National Church, and the change
to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. There were 249
communicants when he resigned.
In August of 1984, the Vestry, under the leadership of
Senior Warden L. M. Tice, voted to call the Rev. Craig J.
Lister as the third Rector of St. Thomas’ Father Lister
accepted the call and began his ministry at St. Thomas’ on
November 11, 1984. The Parish continued to grow under the
leadership of Father Lister, with the Vestry and other
laypersons taking an increased part in various Parish
functions and activities.
In December, 1987, an agreement was signed with SanLee Care,
Inc., to lease a new AA building, which was built on church
property. It was understood that the building was the
property of St. Thomas’ and would be available for the
church school to use as needed. There was discussion in
April, 1988, about acquiring properties surrounding St.
Thomas’ to ensure that the church could expand on its
original site. Under the leadership of Douglas Wilkinson,
Jr., more than $150,000.00 was pledged, and several adjacent
properties were purchased during the early 1990’s.
St. Thomas’ always has been a mission outreach Parish.
During this time the MAJI project was established in order
to provide for local charities and organizations that were
serving the poor, he handicapped, the sick, and those in
need of other kinds of help. The spectrum was broad and
A School for Special Needs Children
The Migrant Worker Ministry
The Tender Loving Care Home
The Center for Independent Living
Hospice of Lee County
The True Apostolic Outreach Mission
St. Thomas’ Clothes Closet
and the Joy Tree, for the benefit of Lee County’s
poor at Christmas time
In 1987 more than $10,000.00 was given to these projects,
and, in 1988, it is estimated that more than $11,000.00 was
In 1990, a soup kitchen known as “The Bread Basket,” was
established at the church, with the purpose of supplying a
hot meal, Monday – Friday, to the hungry of Lee County. It
received its start-up support from the Diocese’s Parish
Grant Program, as well as gifts from St. Thomas’. The Bread
Basket, established at St. Thomas’, became an ecumenical
endeavor, relocating to a donated site and underwritten
building. St. Thomas’ has a long history of identifying
community needs and answering them with specially designed
programs, underwritten by church funds. As the programs
have developed, they have moved to larger, community-located
and community-supported sites to continue serving increased
On July 31, 1990, the Rev. Craig J. Lister, third Rector of
St. Thomas’, announced his resignation, effective at the end
of the year. At his departure there were over 300
The Rev. Douglas Hodsdon served the the fourth Rector of St.
Thomas’ from 1991 to the end of 2007. With the addition of
the Rev. Mary Page Curtis as Associate Rector, this period
of time saw profound spiritual growth within the Parish as
individuals freely opened their hearts to the Word.
This history of the Parish is one that includes adversity
and prosperity, but St. Thomas’ has remained a consistent
and visible witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the
community of Sanford and the Diocese of North Carolina.
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