St. Peter's Church celebrates 250th anniversary

The parish of St. Peter’s Church will celebrate its 250th anniversary Saturday, Oct. 4, from noon to 4 p.m.

There will be an open house, church history presentation, stained glass window tours and activities for children. At 4 p.m. there will be a blessing of the animals.

A celebration service will take place Sunday, Oct. 5, at 10 a.m., with the Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas presiding.

Luncheon will follow: People should RSVP for the lunch, 203-874-8562.

St. Peter's Episcopal Church traces its roots back to the Puritan Colony of Milford, when religious freedom and tolerance were evolving concepts in the colonies. In September 1764, Milford's first Church of England communion service was conducted. A year later, the Milford Episcopal Society attracted the attention of St. George Talbot of Westchester County, who had pledged his money and time to promoting the Church of England beyond New York City.

“With Talbot's backing, the Society secured a deed from the town of Milford on January 2, 1765 for land on which to construct a church,” according to the church website.

Construction of the church did not begin on the site of the present St. Peter's Church until 1769.

“Named St. George's in honor of Talbot, the building's exterior was completed in 1772, the floor was put in place in 1774, and pews were added in 1775,” the website states. “Because there was no Colonial Bishop, the church could not be consecrated, but it was ‘set apart’ and dedicated for Divine Service with solemn ceremonies in March 1775.”

When the colonies began their struggle for independence from England, the church entered a period of uncertainty and dormancy. Parish records state: “From 1776 until 1786 there was seldom an assembling in the Church either for Prayers or Preaching; nor any new choice of Church Officers.”

St. George's remained in a state of uncertainty, with financial problems for the half-century following the end of the Revolutionary War.

“It wasn't until the years of James Dixon Carder as rector from 1848 to 1861 that a transformation began,” the church website states. “In 1849 the original wooden church was demolished and work began on the brownstone church that stands today. When the work was completed, an octave of services was scheduled beginning with the Feast of St. Peter on June 29, 1851. The festivities climaxed on July 2 with Thomas Church Brownell, Bishop of Connecticut, consecrating it ‘by the name of St. Peter's Church.’

The name change was formally adopted by the parish at its annual meeting in April, 1852 and authorized by the state's General Assembly in its May, 1852 session.

The 20th century at St. Peter's has been marked by the lengthy tenure of three rectors who have guided the church and its congregation: The Rev. George Everett Knollmeyer from 1912 to 1950; the Rev. Edward Rowland Taft from 1951 to 1974; and the Rev. Kenneth E. Hulme from 1975 to 1997.

Father Knollmeyer's tenure as rector was a time of parish growth and development. During the 24 years of Father Taft's rectorship, the old rectory adjacent to the church was razed to make way for a school classroom building which was built in 1956 but never utilized as a school.

Father Hulme began his ministry in Milford on June 29, 1975. Under his direction, church members undertook building improvements, from the slate roof to the carpeting in the nave and sanctuary, the addition of a number of stained glass windows, installation of new pews, relocation of the altar and a new kitchen for the parish hall.

In June of 1982 the Wepawaug River behind the church overflowed during a 100-year storm that caused extensive damage throughout downtown Milford, including the church, parish hall and school building.

“The organ was a total loss,” the website states. “It was a tragedy that tested the mettle of Milford as a city and the parish family at St. Peter's. Thankfully and with God's help, parishioners and the community responded, and St. Peter's was again revitalized. The pipe organ was rebuilt as well as many parts of the church and parish hall.”

During his rector ship, Father Hulme also introduced the congregation to the major changes taking place in the Episcopal Church, including the new Book of Common Prayer with its revised liturgies and greater involvement of women in the operation of the church.

The Rev. Andrew G. Osmun began his ministry on Nov. 1, 1999. Under Osmun's leadership the church expanded its Mission Outreach Programs through many venues. Rev. Osmun retired on Sept. 30, 2012.

The Rev. Cynthia Knapp is the minister today at St. Peter’s Church.