The Early Years
The Episcopal church was a late-comer to New London for the Church of England was not popular with the colonial English settlers of New England nor its successor, the Episcopal Church, with their Yankee descendants.
The first settlers in New London made do without minister or church, voting down support of a preacher at the first town meeting, in 1779. Only after four years, in 1783, was it voted “to do something toward the support of Mr. Ambrose”, the preacher New London shared with Sutton. The building of a meeting house, 30’ by 32’, was voted up, then down, and finally approved in October, 1786, to be built only as far as money from sale of pews would allow. Services were held in the unfinished meeting house, located at the south end of the present burying ground on Old Main Street, beginning in 1788, a stove was added in 1809, the interior finished in 1812, and the exterior in 1818. Finally, almost four decades after its first town meeting, the town had a meeting house with pulpit, sounding board, and square box pews as well as walls and roof.
As was customary in New England villages, the town-owned meeting house was shared by several denominations. In New London these were Baptists, Universalists, and Free-Will Baptists, each occupying the meeting-house in proportion to the money they contributed for the pleasure of hearing a minister of their own persuasion. The Baptists were the largest, organizing themselves as a society in 1801, and building their own church in 1826. By then the state legislature had freed the towns from the requirement to provide for public worship, a condition of importance in the original town grants, and the town meeting house was soon allowed to fall into disrepair. The Baptist Church became the only church building in New London until the end of the 19th century, functioning as the church for the whole village.
Not until railroads brought an influx of wealthy summer visitors from New York and Boston did the Episcopal Church make an appearance in this part of New Hampshire, resulting in the building of summer chapels, St. James’ at Burkehaven, Sunapee, completed in 1898 and what is now Old Saint Andrew’s, completed in 1906, located conveniently close to the summer colony of Soo-Nipi Park.
The first Episcopal services in New London were held in summer of 1884 in the west district schoolhouse (the intersection of King Hill and Tracy Roads) by Rev. Thomas Henry Sill, vicar of St. Chrysostom Chapel of Trinity Parish in New York City. Summer services continued in the school house for 22 years until the new chapel was opened in July, 1906, named St. Andrew's in honor of St. Andrew the Fisherman due to its proximity to Lake Sunapee, then considered a fisherman's paradise. The church building was consecrated on August 6, 1909. Sill presided over the services until his death in 1910. For the next 44 years services, with a variety of visiting clergy, were held only during the summer.
A Year-round Presence
In the late 1940s the small group of Episcopalians who wintered over had to look for places to worship after the summer chapel closed. At first they traveled to the Church of the Epiphany in Newport, and later met in the New London Grange Hall (now 468 Main Street). When membership increased with the growth of the town and with more summer people retiring in New London, the summer chapel was winterized as a temporary solution. A 1975 history of St. Andrew’s describes those days:
Early in the 1950’s the summer congregation continued to grow. Visitors came with camp stools; children came forward at my suggestion and sat on the Communion cushions. The ushers often spoke of using a shoehorn to squeeze in another chair. A public address system was employed to carry the service to the overflow congregations on the lawn. A microphone was set up in the chancel with speakers placed out of doors, and on pleasant Sundays some seventy-five people in addition to those in the church, reverently participated in the morning service. Ushers passed out hymnals, prayer books and leaflets, and at the offertory they did not fail to take up a collection. It was not unusual for “weekenders” on their way to the lake on a Sabbath morning, to be arrested by the sound of voices, stop by the roadside, join in the service, contribute a grateful offering, and with good conscience continued on to the fisherman’s paradise.
In 1955, St. Andrew's became an organized mission of the Diocese of New Hampshire, i.e., a parish with a vicar appointed by the Bishop and an advisory board. For the first years a lay reader conducted most services and a chaplain provided communion once a month. The first church school was opened. Transportation to and from church was provided for college students and others. Rev. David Cargill was called in 1957 to be first vicar, serving until 1961. A house was purchased on Seamans Road to serve as the parsonage and to do double duty in the absence of a parish hall, a role that soon left little room for family life. (The original parsonage was sold for a smaller one after the new church was built, and that one sold in the 1990’s.)
As the congregation grew the need for a building in the village, a place for all parish activities, became obvious. Land was purchased on Gould Road in 1960 and plans made to bring church and parish hall into one building. Plans were interrupted by the departure of Cargill in 1961 to study in Europe, and the interim service of Rev. Lester Kinsolving. With the arrival of Rev. Theodore Yardley as vicar in the fall of 1962 fundraising resumed; construction began with the cornerstone laid in August 1964 and the building was consecrated on May 16, 1965. For the first time everything was joined under one roof, including the church, the parish hall, the kitchen, the classrooms, and quarters for the Thrift Shop which had been housed in a small building on Main Street. (See Architecture for details of the building, and Art for details of furnishings.)
In May 1966 St. Andrew’s became a self-sustaining congregation with Yardley becoming its first rector. A parish council and the Episcopal Church Women were organized. The annual summer and St. Nicholas fairs started. Yardley left in 1971 for a position on the faculty at St. Paul's School in Concord and the Rev. Francis Creamer took his place in the fall of that year. According to an undated parish history “activities and programs flourished and parish membership and Sunday School increased. The middle and high school youth formed an ecumenical group with the First Baptist Church and Our Lady of Fatima Roman Catholic Church.” In 1978, Creamer left to become rector of a parish in East Hampton, NY.
Not Always Smooth
Like all churches, St. Andrew’s has had good days and others not so good, rectors with varying abilities to lead and to nurture, financial ups and downs, members happy and loving, and sometimes less so.
Rev. Frederick Stecker was called to be rector in the spring of 1979 and served until October 2001. During his long tenure several activities were started: supervised Sunday nursery care, a children's choir, a welcoming committee, an outreach program, and progressive dinners. Some programs grew, others did not. Several curates, all bright, capable women, enriched the life of the parish in these years but none chose to remain for long.
It is difficult to construct an accurate picture of the church over its many decades because the parish records were not kept accurately. In 2004 it was reported that Sunday attendance had averaged 150-180 since 1988. In 1997 the average was reported at 165-175. Financial difficulties were frequent, with operational deficits reported from 1988 through 1992, covered by relying on the endowment and deferring maintenance. Pledges varied in number in the 1990’s from 195 to a high of 218. Rev. Geoffrey Hahneman, who served as interim rector 2001 to 2003, wrote, “I believe that the people of St. Andrew’s have begun to come to terms with their history, have begun to encourage each other’s perspectives, and to listen not only to the positive sound but also to those perpetual ‘whiners’ amongst us who also have a legitimate voice and viewpoint in the life to the parish.”
Early in 2003, Rev. Cricket Cooper became rector. The election of an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003, had caused some members of the congregation to leave for other denominations. The choice of a woman as rector was unacceptable to still others, but Cooper was well received by those remaining: they reaffirmed their commitment to being a church where all, without exceptions, are welcome to worship and to serve. Membership slowly recovered, especially with the addition of young families with school-aged children. Pastoral care was revitalized; there was new life in love and service. A start was made on bringing the buildings into good repair with new roofs, drainage, furniture, and landscaping. Several adult education programs were initiated including an EFM group well led by Rev. Janet Lombardo who joined as a part-time assistant rector in 2007. Nevertheless, according to the financial reports, pledges in 2008 to 2010 averaged only 155. In June 2011 Cooper resigned very unexpectedly to pursue a new career.
The Rev. Celeste Hemingson served as interim rector 2011 to 2013, providing stability during a transition and bringing some order to parish records. Her reports particularly note that many members were discovering new abilities to take responsibility for the life of the church.
In 2013, after an extensive search and fortuitous walk by Charles Tirrell, the parish welcomed the Rev. Jay MacLeod returning home after many years in England, training for the priesthood there and then for twenty years serving several parishes, most recently the culturally diverse All Saints’, Bedford, now bringing to St. Andrew’s new life and a renewed sense of mission.
List of Vicars and Rectors
The Rev. David Cargill 1957-1961
The Rev. Lester Kinsolving 1961-1962 (interim)
The Rev. Theodore Yardley 1962 - 1971
The Rev. Francis Creamer 1971-1978
The Rev. Frederick Stecker 1979-2001
The Rev. Geoffrey Hahneman 2001-2003 (interim)
The Rev. Cricket Cooper 2003-2011
The Rev. Celeste Hemingson 2011- 2013 (interim)
The Rev. Jay MacLeod 2013-