Published: Wednesday, 08 February 2017 16:19
Written by Super User
History of St. Alban's Episcopal Church
Harlingen was founded in 1904 by Mr. Lon C. Hill, but it was not until 1920 that there was enough interest to form an Episcopal church. The first services were held in various places, the Presbyterian Church, the grade school, the Rialto Theatre and Thompson Mortuary all served as temporary homes. Eventually on February 15, 1921 the first mission of the church in Harlingen was founded, lead by the Rev. Everett Johnson. At this time Harlingen's population was a robust 1,700. Evening services were scheduled in the high school. From June 1, 1922 until 1924, the Rev. R. O. Macintosh, who came from the Church of the Advent in Brownsville, served as Vicar of the mission church, a mission being a church subsidized by the diocese.
Under Macintosh's leadership, a brown frame church was built on East 6th Street, between Harrison and Tyler. It would accommodate a crowd of some 50 people. The Women's Guild raised $250.00 to buy the lot and $1,500 was secured from the American Church Building Fund for the construction of the church. Two small stained glass windows from that church now hang in our parish hall.
The Rev. Johnson returned to take up duties as Vicar in Nov. 1924 and served until 1937 when the Rev. Robert Brown appeared. Arriving as a deacon, the first step as an ordained minister in the church, Rev. Brown soon became the first person in the Valley to be ordained a priest, the second step, with his ordination held in All Saint's Church in San Benito. Later on the Rev. Brown became the Rt. Rev., the title for a bishop, a pastoral leader of a diocese, the very seldom obtained third step.
Mission membership grew from 65 to 141 and before long the little church was filled to capacity every Sunday. Members applied to become a parish, a self sustaining status, which was granted on January 21, 1939. It was then that our priests moved from being called a Vicar to being refereed to as a Rector.
In December 1939 we made the move to accommodate our growth. A new brick building was erected on the south side of the 1000 block of Van Buren and the original frame church was moved to the back of the lot to serve as the Parish Hall. In April 1940, Fr. Brown accepted a call to Houston and the parish was without a rector until October 1940 when the Rev. John J. Phillips emerged. St. Alban's went through an extremely trying period. Financial problems were acute and at one time the church was faced with losing its pews. Communicants united and were able to round up enough money to satisfy the creditors. Membership declined and declined and St. Alban's reached an all-time low.
In September 1941 the Rev. Herbert Morris made the move to St. Alban's. Under his direction there was a great turn-around and membership began to take off again. A rectory, a house that was home for the church's rector, was acquired with an H.O.L.C. loan. Fr. Morris left in November 1943, and the Rev. Fred Croft took his place in February 1944. In the 'first three months of his ministry the debt for the organ purchased in 1941, as well as all the other church debts, were paid off. Bishop Jones came and consecrated the church on St. Alban's Day, 1944. In October 1945, a Parish Hall that matched the brick of the church was erected across the street at a cost of $16,000. In 1948, during the polio epidemic, a time when parents were very reluctant to let their kids mix with other kids, a bold move was made; St. Alban's Day School was established. Mrs. Sally Woolridge was the instigator, using a $500.00 gift that turned out to be a loan, and with the help of her assistant Jane Taylor, the school was started with 28 three to five year olds. To this day the Day School continues to be St. Alban's main outreach project. To date it has been home for more than 10,000 kids, many using it as the foundation for a fantastic future. A new rectory was also acquired during Rev. Croft's tenure and membership more than doubled, moving from 152 to 312.
The church felt it needed to expand, but it was hemmed in by St. Anthony's Catholic Church. Under the leadership of Rev. D. Williams McClurken, who arrived in September 1952, a decision was made to purchase 5.44 acres for $10,000 near the outskirts of town. The decision was labeled ludicrous by some, saying people will never drive out of town to go to church. The goal was to raise $100,000.00. Another effort labeled ludicrous. But a group of determined men decided they could do it, and do it they did. Basically a year later on September 5, 1954 the first service was held at the new church on the corner of Austin and High Streets, on the outskirts of town. Everything was going great with the number of communicants reaching 600. Then 1960 came and the Harlingen Air Force Base closed. Another difficult time lay ahead. Sections of town were completely vacated. The day school scaled back and times were lean, but the members stuck with it and in the end their faith became stronger and so did St. Alban's.
The Rev. William B. Easter arrived on the scene in 1962 and served until 1965 when the Rev. "Father Ed" Haffner appeared to head up St. Alban's. A strong tie was established with the Marine Military Academy when Father Ed became the Chaplain for the MMA, and thus encouraged a number of cadets to become active in St. Alban's. In 1969 he was succeeded by the Rev. Starke S. Dillard Jr. who occupied the new rectory on Ella Street for the first time. From 1971 to July 1979 the Rev. Romilly "Cotton" Timmins served as Rector. During that time the church took down the small oscillating fans that hung from each of the wooden arches and installed what was referred to as central air conditioning. Stain glass was substituted for regular glass in the side windows and the big grass area behind the church became a parking lot. The Day School also continued to grow and was mainly responsible for the construction of the A.C.C. Dent educational facility in 1975. It was named in honor of the man who served the Sunday School during its first forty years as Superintendent.
In January 1980 the Rev. James P. Giddings took over the reins. The Day School further expanded to include elementary grade levels and in September 1980 a Day Care Center was added. After several tries the school got its new building called the Cocke Building. It housed eight new classrooms along with the school office and was completed in 1983. The open area under the roof, between the church and the parish hall, received its first pass at getting enclosed, with the hallway remaining open. The Rev. David Reed became the church's first assistant rector in July 1983 under Giddings. It is a position that has been filled ever since by several noble men and women. Reed would later return as rector from Nov. 1994 to June 2006, thus serving St. Alban's for some 16 years, longer than any priest to date. The Rev. Robert Certain headed up the church after Giddings retired in 1989.
Giddings took the rectory with him, since that time St. Alban's priests have provided their own housing with the aid of the church. During Certain's time here an "On Wings of Eagles Campaign" was conducted that added 6 rooms to the Cocke Building and allowed a remake of the parish hall enhancing the kitchen facilities and enclosing the open hallway in front of the offices with the offices also getting a makeover. After Reed's return in Nov. 1994 a choir loft was added to the back of the church in 1999 that also housed the new organ. It was made possible by Joy and Jimmy Cocke. In 2001 with the help of John and Martha Schwartz our long awaited chapel became a reality. The Christ our Redeemer Chapel was added onto the west side of the church. It is normally quite full for our weekly Wednesday noon service. In 2006 the Rev. Reed became the second priest that had served St. Alban's to become a Rt. Rev. and to be elected a Bishop. He was followed in July 2007 by the second Rev. Brown to serve St. Alban's. This time it was the Rev. Scott Brown, a young and energetic soul that is moving St. Alban's to even greater heights.
St. Alban's is a member of the Diocese of West Texas which comprises 92 congregations spread across 60 counties in South Central Texas. Headquartered out of San Antonio, it is currently being lead by Rt. Rev. Gary Lillibridge and assisted by Rt. Rev. David Reed. The Diocese of West Texas is part of the 2.85 million-member Episcopal Church, USA, which itself is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion with over 75 million communicants in all parts of the globe.