Pastor aims to tell All Hallows' history

South River church's past goes back to the 17th century

May 14, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When the Rev. John Miles Evans arrived at All Hallows Parish in June 1999, he was surprised to find it was the only one of 30 Episcopal parishes that existed in Maryland in 1692 without a historical marker.

"It would have been easy to get one because the other churches all had one, so I wonder if the omission was deliberate," said Evans, 66, who became a priest in 1995. "The church was run for the longest time by a few old families. I think it's a well-kept secret for having such a big place in history."

Evans got the marker and began delving further into the background of the 200-member parish, which he found was filled with history. It was established as a religious and political entity in 1692; it contains a bell dated 1727, which was purchased through a fund established by Queen Anne and is still in use; it was presided over at one point by the inventor of the George Washington cherry tree legend and is the burial place of William Burgess, who served on the third Lord Baltimore's Council of Deputy Governors from 1684 until his death.

The more Evans learned about the parish, the more fascinated he became. He decided to document its story by researching and writing a scholarly history of the church. He took a sabbatical but quickly discovered the book would take years to complete.

Although he will retire from the church in June, he won't be leaving it behind. Instead, he will travel from New Hampshire, where he has his retirement home, to the Maryland state archives and the historical society to work on a history of the church.

With degrees in English literature, law and divinity, he felt he was the perfect candidate for the job.

"As a lawyer and a priest, by nature I have always been somewhat skeptical," said Evans, who left a position as senior tax counsel for what was then Mobil Oil Corp. to become a priest. "There are so many things that people have passed down over the years, I want to sift through all of what's out there, and whatever I come up with will be factual."

In the meantime, church member Gail Enright of Davidsonville, who has attended the church for the past 40 years, has compiled an informal history.

Her A History of All Hallows Parish outlines 17th-century parishes that included a political unit as well as the geographical area of the church community.

"All Hallows Parish comprised about 80 square miles between South River, West River and the Patuxent, lying in a north-south travel route through Maryland, an area served by a somewhat adequate road system, with ferries at the numerous river crossings and inns at the landings," she wrote.

All Hallows is said to be one of the oldest churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

The first Anglican priest in the area was the Rev. Deuel Pead, who ministered and baptized several persons in the area in the 1680s.

In 1692, the Church of England was officially established in Maryland. Since the passage of the Act of Establishment under William and Mary, all Colonial parishes created then bear the date 1692 to denote that they are the first established parishes in America.

All Hallows was established as the church for the people of London Town; it was believed to have been located at a site predating the brick church, though that site has never been found, Enright said.

Queen Anne, who reigned over England from 1702 to 1714, took a strong interest in Church of England parishes and established a fund called Queen Anne's bounty. Through the fund, she gave silver Communion services to many of the churches, including All Hallows.

The church still has the items, which are kept in an Edgewater bank vault, Enright said.

Also, the church received a bell paid for by the fund, inscribed "Belonging to St. All Hallows Church, 1727," which hangs in a recently reconstructed bell tower beside the church.

"Our bell is one of the oldest in the state, and it may be one of the oldest in the country," Evans said.

But the church's history goes well beyond its structures. It extends to past pastors, including William Brogden, who owned Roedown, the farm where the Marlborough Hunt races started, and the Rev. Mason Locke Weems, who was the first Maryland priest ordained in England after the American Revolution.

Weems wanted to be ordained without taking the oath of allegiance to the crown of Great Britain. "Eventually it was decided that any American candidate of proper qualifications and good moral character should at any time receive ordination ... without taking any oath or professing any other faith, but merely subscribing to the articles of the Church of England," Enright wrote.

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