About St. Thomas' Episcopal Church of Sanford, NC





St. Thomas' is a member of the

Diocese of North Carolina

The Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, Bishop
The Rt. Rev. Alfred Clark Marble, Jr., Assisting Bishop
The Rt. Rev. William O. Gregg, Assisting Bishop
Interim Rector, The Rev. Melanie Mudge




Parish Staff  

Beth Wood, Administrative Secretary

Katie Yuskevich, Nursery Care Provider
Dr. Jo Ann Bowman
Dr. Jo Ann C. Bowman, Choir Director

Dr. Karen Parthun, Organist


History of St. Thomas' Episcopal Church

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. History of St. Thomas'Joyner 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 be completed.

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 1930.

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



1933 30 $170.00
1935 32 $516.13
1937 34 $752.01
1940 36 $704.42

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 $9,000.00

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 resignation.

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 to Raleigh.

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 included:

        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
        Samarkand Manor
        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 provided.

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 populations.

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 communicants.

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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