The church was founded in 1894, the same year that coal mining became the dominant industry of the area. The local coal company was Barnes and Tucker Coal, and the town in which St. Thomas was located was called Barnesboro, after Thomas Barnes. Barnesboro, Pennsylvania, and the adjacent Spangler, Pennsylvania, merged to form Northern Cambria in 2000. (The name was adopted from the local school district.)
The present building that houses the church was built in 1920. By 2004, both St. Thomas and the nearby St. Luke Episcopal Church in Patton, Pennsylvania, were in decline. The Northern Cambria building was shuttered and the congregations were combined as Sts. Thomas and Luke, Patton, since the physical plant in Patton was, overall, a better facility. When the diocese split in 2008, the Patton congregation chose to follow Bob Duncan, leaving the area without an Episcopal Church.
This summer, the decision was made to reopen St. Thomas. (See the story from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh here.) Episcopal services resumed there last month. Making the building that had been closed for seven years habitable required a herculean effort, that, is ongoing. Volunteers from St. Mark’s, Johnstown, provided much of the necessary labor.
The ministry team that is making St. Thomas work consists of Deacon Ann Staples and deacon candidate Chris Baumann. According to the diocesan story referred to above,
Baumann had sought ordination unsuccessfully under Bishop Duncan. Now that Bishop Price is leading the diocese, his eventual ordination seems assured.
The Rev. Staples has been a driving force in re-establishing St. Thomas as an active Episcopal parish. She was a leader in both the original parish and in Patton, and has maintained an Episcopal ministry in Northern Cambria as director of the Coal Country Hang-out Youth Center, which provides programs and services otherwise unavailable to nearly 6,000 youth in a three-county area. She will be the liturgist for the new congregation.
Chris Baumann will serve as parish administrator and preacher. He is currently in the process of becoming a deacon in the Episcopal Church.
Lacking a priest, last Sunday’s Rite II Eucharist made use of pre-consecrated elements, which made the service a bit shorter than it might have been otherwise. We had an organist, however, and about 15 worshipers, including three children, a hopeful sign. There was, however, no bulletin.
The service was followed by a “non-coffee hour.” The closest thing to a parish hall is the church basement, which cannot be reached from inside the first-floor church. The basement is still a work in progress, so after-church fellowship was held outdoors. Cold drinks were provided in a cooler and donuts of various kinds were available. The discussion was friendly and was largely about increasing membership and accounting for parishioners who were absent. (Rain was threatened, and so older folks apparently stayed home because of it.)
Northern Cambria residents that had been attending the Patton church are mostly returning to St. Thomas. The reopening of St. Thomas and the migration back to it make the name of the ACNA church in Patton, Sts. Thomas and Luke, seem somewhat inappropriate. This is a matter for the “Anglicans” to deal with, however.
I took advantage of the fellowship time to discuss St. Thomas with Ann and Chris, as well to take a few photographs (see below). Besides learning about how things were going, I was looking for a contribution that Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh might make to St. Thomas. (PEP is donating a copy of the two-volume accompaniment version of the hymnal to make life a bit easier for the organist.)
St. Thomas seems to have a promising future. Its congregation is growing, and the area around it, which had been depressed because of the decline of coal mining, is anticipating a boom driven by gas drilling.
I should say a word about Ann Staples. I have known Ann for a while and mostly thought of her as the woman who fought fiercely for funds for the Coal Country Hangout Youth Center. She was also someone trying to find a way to put Chris Baumann on the road to ordination. Officially, Ann is retired, but that is hard to believe from observing her. Before last Sunday, I had not seen what she had done in coal country and imagined that her ministry was a small one in a needy corner of the world. After the service at St. Thomas, Ann gave me a brief tour of what had been a Roman Catholic church. It now has a play area in front, an impressive daycare center on the first floor, and a large area for youth activities on the second floor and balcony. I was very impressed by what she has cobbled together, by how she has attracted funding, and by the programs that have been held in the former church building.
PhotosBelow are photos I took on my visit to Northern Cambria. Click on any photo for a larger image.
The date of the church’s founding can be found on the front of the church.
The building date is found on a stone set on the lawn.
This view of the church was taken after the service. All the windows are glazed with stained glass.
Altar and east windows. St. Thomas is represented in the center panel.
Window on South Wall. The glass at St. Thomas is of very high quality.
Church basement. The basement cannot be reached from the church proper. It is entered through a door at the front of the building.
Coal Country Hangout and daycare center. The building is a former Roman Catholic church located a few blocks from St. Thomas.