Parish Church of St. Helena rings in its tricentennial

astice@islandpacket.comJanuary 23, 2012 

Sporting a tri-cornered hat and britches, lifelong congregant Charley Webb joked Sunday that he has been a member of the Parish Church of St. Helena since its founding in 1712.

Webb and about a dozen others dressed in period garb for the tricentennial opening ceremony in honor of the church's original congregation.

They were sprinkled among hundreds of worshippers who gathered amid the gravestones in front of the Episcopal church to usher in its 300th year with bagpipes and brass fanfare, praise and prayer.

And a bell. Webb was in charge of ringing one gifted to the parish in 1746, buried during the American Revolution, lost and later returned to the church in 1949.

The bell usually sits in a glass case in one of the church's palladium windows. But on special occasions, like Sunday's celebration, it is brought out to call the parish to worship just as it did centuries ago.

In another nod to the church's origins, Sunday's sermon was delivered by the Lord Bishop of London Richard J.C. Chartres, who conducted last year's royal wedding and will lead services during this year's Diamond Jubilee in honor of Queen Elizabeth II and the London Olympic Games.

The church was originally established in 1712 under the spiritual guidance of the Bishop of London, according to the parish newsletter.

In a reception after the service, Chartres said he would bring a report of the tricentennial celebration personally to the queen.

State and local officials also attended the tricentennial reception to present proclamations to the parish, the second oldest in South Carolina, from the state House of Representatives and Beaufort City Council.

Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling proclaimed Jan. 22 to be Parish Church of St. Helena Day after reading a history of the church from the time when its vestry was a tax-collecting body of local governance before the founding of America.

"Would you like to take the government back?" he asked, and was answered with laughter.

The Rev. Jeffrey S. Miller urged his congregation, which numbers in the thousands, to remember their mission to bring the kingdom of Jesus Christ a little closer in the coming year.

In addition to tricentennial events this year, parishioners will participate in a mission trip to China this July.

Biblical passages read at the ceremony and service emphasized that God doesn't dwell within the four walls that were commemorated Sunday.

Rather, the 300-year-old church is the gathering place for his followers, Miller said.

"That's what makes the building holy," he said.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.

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