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Downingtown church draws on history, diverse community

Name of congregation: St. James' Episcopal Church Location: Downingtown Affiliation or denomination: Episcopal Size of congregation: A growing congregation of 585 active members.

Name of congregation:

St. James' Episcopal Church

Location: Downingtown

Affiliation or denomination: Episcopal

Size of congregation: A growing congregation of 585 active members.

What is the history of your congregation?: In the fall of 1842, the Rev. Gregory Bedell, then rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity in West Chester, conducted a service of worship in the home of Dr. Andrew Wills for a group of Episcopalians living in Downingtown. That was the beginning of St. James' Church. That same year, a group of Downingtown Episcopalians invited the Rev. William Augustus White of Boston to come to Downingtown as the new rector of a church to be named after the Apostle James.

On June 20, 1843, the cornerstone for a new church building was laid on a plot of land next to the Masonic Hall on East Lancaster Avenue. That 164-year-old building has been the home of St. James' Downingtown ever since. In 1863, the building was enlarged and the distinctive steeple was added. The church building today appears nearly the same as it did in 1863.

In 1962, the Rev. Richard Lee Bartholomew became the rector of St. James', and faithfully served the parish for 30 years, retiring in 1992. His son, John Andrew Bartholomew, was two years old when his father became the rector, and he remains a member of St. James' today.

What makes you proud of your church? St. James' is a growing, diverse and friendly community. Centered on the gospel and a strong desire to live out the good news of the gospel, St. James' is proud of its commitment to various outreach and service programs, and its strengthening involvement in Christian education and youth ministry. St. James' is the home of a preschool that, under the direction of Johanna Uggla and Suzanne Diodato, has experienced growth, not only in numbers, but in the depth of the learning experience. The St. James' Thrift Shop, managed by Shirley Tompkin and Anna Filoromo, is a landmark service provider for Downingtown. The Food Pantry, another well-known source of outreach for the community, had its beginnings at St. James', and is still highly involved in its support. The annual St. James' Auction, headed by Terri Silvester, is fast becoming a staple of Downingtown community life. This year, a record number of people attended, making this a very successful year.

Staff: The current rector of St. James' is the Rev. Timothy Steeves, a Massachusetts native and incurable Red Sox fan. Steeves, a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary, served parishes in Massachusetts and Virginia before coming to Pennsylvania. Before coming to St. James', he was the associate rector for pastoral care at St. Thomas', Whitemarsh. He also holds a master's degree in social work from Columbia University, and worked as a clinical social worker in New York.

The parish administrator is Luann McIlvaine, who oversees the many programs and ministries offered by the parish. Jill Lewis, the parish organist, directs an ever-growing volunteer choir. There is also a contemporary music group called Forever Endeavour, which leads the music at the 9 a.m. service, a family-friendly service that encourages the participation of the children of the parish. This group is led by Tom and Diane Umile.

Days and hours of services: Services are held on Sundays at 7:45 a.m. (said Holy Communion, a service without hymns or organ music); 9 a.m. (contemporary family service with the Forever Endeavour musical group); and 11 a.m. (traditional Holy Communion with choir).

Street address: 409 E. Lancaster Ave. in Downingtown, right under the beautiful steeple.

For more information: Our phone is 610-269-1774; on the Web at

To Area Religious Congregations

The Inquirer is publishing profiles of Chester County churches, synagogues, and other religious congregations on a regular basis. These profiles are created by filling out an e-mail questionnaire that we will send you.

For more information, call Bill Raftery at 610-701-7615. EndText