Tucked away on Church Street in downtown Milford is the beautiful Christ Episcopal Church, its history dating back to the early 1700’s. Hidden away on a one way street and not visible from any main crossroad in downtown, this structure conjures visions of the old world, built by an organization originating in The British Empire.
In 1704 Christ Church, Mispillion was founded by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts as a part of the Kent County Mission. Between the years of 1704 and 1720 a church building was erected at present Church Hill on Route 14, about three miles west of Milford. Fifty years later on December 24, 1774 the Reverend Sydenham Thorne arrived here to take charge of Christ Church, Mispillion, and of St. Paul’s Church in Kent County, near the Maryland line.
As the American Revolution evolved the Church was forced to find a new identity as showing any allegiance to the British Crown was considered treason. In 1777 the Treason Act was amended by the General Assembly of Delaware including among treasonable acts the affirmation of the authority of the King or Parliament. To protect the church, a lay reader was engaged to read the services instead of Parson Thorne, omitting the prayers for the King and Royal Family, required by Thorne’s oath of ordination. Parson Thorne officiated at services of baptism, marriage and burial, in which no such prayers were included in the Book of Common Prayer.
“After the Revolution, apostolic succession became a focal point for continuity as the church was forced to remove their ties with the British Crown and the Church of England,” stated the current interim rector, the Rev. Thomas P. Davis. “The establishment of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States was accomplished with consecration of bishops through the Church of Scotland, as it was very important that through this transition apostolic succession be maintained.” Apostolic succession is the belief that the original twelve apostles passed their authority to their successors who then passed authority to their successors, maintaining that the authority of the church leaders today carry on their authority directly from the twelve apostles.
Construction on the present church began in 1791 on land donated by Joseph Oliver, the man who laid out the streets and lots of Milford. The style of the church is described by church officials as a “typical country church—a plain rectangular building having galleries on three sides and a double row of clear glass windows.” In 1793 Parson Thorne died and construction was halted. Services continued to be held at Church Hill.
F. Brooke Clendaniel, Milford historian and member of Christ Church stated, “There were difficult times in the parish after the death of Parson Thorne, including some years without local clergy. Finally, the mission society sent the Reverend Corry Chambers, who is credited with completing construction of the present church in 1835. The new Christ Church was consecrated on January 26, 1836.”
In the last half of the 19th century, the church building was enlarged and renovated to its present Gothic style of architecture, which included the installation of new windows, the addition of the tower and chancel and removal of the galleries. A bell was purchased and installed in the new tower.
In the 20th Century, Rev. Joseph S. Hinks is attributed with giving stability to the church as he served the church for 32 years. In 1963, under the direction of Rev. E. John Dyer, the new Parish House and Educational Building was constructed. Modern history has seen many changes to the Episcopal Church, including modernization of the prayer book and the ordination of women.
In 2004, three hundred years after the parish was founded, Christ Church Mispillion Milford celebrated the tercentenary. The parish is today an active and vibrant part of Milford.
Rev. Davis, as interim rector, leads a congregation of over 80 families and believes that the church itself is a critical part of any individual’s religious faith.
“Attending church is a public statement of faith,” he stated. “It is a place to come and interact with other Christians but more importantly it is to share a common meal, the Holy Eucharist, and reaffirm our faith to ourselves and the community.”
Christ Church, located at North Church Street and Second Street in Milford, holds service during the summer every Sunday morning at 9 am. Beginning in September, the church will return to its normal schedule with two Sunday services at 7:30 am and 10:00 am. To find out more about Christ church in Milford visit http://www.christchurchmilford.org or call 302-422-8466.