After 25 years, All Saints celebrates humble origins

Members of All Saints Episcopal Church on Hilton Head Island recently gathered for a special dinner commemorating the church's 25th anniversary. They took time to reflect upon the former mission church's inception on Dec. 8, 1985, in the bar of William F. Pelican's Restaurant.

Prior to the first service, which celebrated the Holy Eucharist, the 59 founders of the fledgling church gathered at St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Pope Avenue for the blessing of a new congregation. Everyone then drove to William F. Pelican's Restaurant at the other end of the island and entered the basement bar area. According to Ann Gibson, one of the founding members of the new All Saints mission church, most of her fellow founders were in tears as they walked down the aisle of St. Luke's, were presented a prayer book and a hymnal, and departed on the journey to the first temporary site of the mission church.

The restaurant, which no longer exists, was at the site of the Hilton Head Visitors Center (until recently the location of the Coastal Discovery Museum). Some say that providentially, a previous owner of the restaurant had installed several stained glass windows with appropriate religious motifs. There also was a wooden sign engraved with an image of a whale, with the words "Have a Whale of a Day" painted on it.

A partial vestry for the new mission church was elected later that month. The leadership included: Charles Richman, senior warden; John Dixon, treasurer; and Gibson, secretary.

The mission had been in the planning stages over the previous two years with many of the organizers located in Hilton Head Plantation. The majority of the founding members supported naming the new mission church All Saints. The late Rev. John McKee III, former canon of St. Phillip's Cathedral in Atlanta and a previous acting rector of St. Helena's Beaufort, served as vicar. He conducted the mission church's services until he passed away in 1987.

After outgrowing the space available at the restaurant, the mission church moved to the Hilton Head Island High School library in 1987.

The young mission church acquired a strategic 3.2-acre tract of land which fronted on Main Street (not yet built), with a side entrance road eventually named Church Street. The founding members raised about $250,000 for land and $600,000 for buildings. There was considerable tangible support from both St. Luke's Church, as well as the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. On Nov. 1, 1987, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new church site at 3001 Meeting St. There was much excitement among parishioners when on Nov. 12, 1989, the steeple was placed onto the roof of the church.

The first service at the yet-to-be-consecrated All Saints Episcopal Church was conducted by the late Rev. Dr. Gordon H. Mann on Thanksgiving Day in 1990. On Dec. 8, 1990, the dedication and consecration of All Saints Episcopal Church was conducted by Bishop Edward L. Salmon Jr., then Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. This date was one year after the groundbreaking ceremony and exactly five years after the first mission church service at Pelican's restaurant.

Early in 1994, the parish started All Saints Preschool. Continuing church growth prompted the construction of a new parish hall and church school buildings, which were completed in 1994. Further expansion of both the church and the Christian education facilities were completed in late summer 2001. This expansion increased the capacity of the church by more than 50 percent to accommodate new members and a constant stream of visitors, as well as a new pipe organ.

The Rev. Richard Lindsey, who has served as rector since 2003, reflected: "Over the past 25 years, there have been seven capital campaigns, 1,300 Sundays, more than 15,000 people, 300 vestry meetings, 3,700 choir rehearsals, a small flock of clergy and 25 hurricane seasons (none which touched Hilton Head). ... We now begin the work of the next 25 years."