St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Purcellville will celebrate its 150th birthday this year, but that is far from what makes it most notable.
For one, its rector, Fr. Tom Simmons, is as much responsible for the beauty within the church building as he is for the biblical knowledge he imparts to his congregants each Sunday. On a recent tour, Simmons showed off his woodworking skills that are on display throughout the church building, from its lectern, to the panels on the altar, to the doors that lead into the chapel. He has a mental to-do list of more projects that could use his skills in the building; all he needs is some spare trees and, what is most elusive, time.
Simmons is far from the only talented member among the church’s typical 200 attendees at its weekend services. Much of the labor needed for the church’s renovation projects over the years, as well as metalwork and windows, has come from the hands of its faithful and skilled congregants. The in-house talent even helped install a camera system when the church, like others globally, began to stream online services last year at the height of the pandemic.
In its 150th year, Simmons, who has served as rector since 2002 and has raised his own family in Purcellville, looks back on how the church came to fruition. There was enough “critical mass” in the community to begin an Episcopal church in western Loudoun back in the 1870s, with the arrival of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Hamilton, now the Hamilton Baptist Church. The Round Hill community would soon find support to save themselves the long ride to Hamilton and founded Mount Calvary Episcopal Church in 1892. St. Paul’s established its own presence in the early 1900s, and was formerly located on Main Street before moving to its current location in 1962. The nave, chapel and sanctuary were added in the late 1980s to accommodate the growing congregation. Potential land acquisition is eyed in the church’s strategic plan to allow for further growth of the church.
All these years later, it appears the welcoming attitude that brought the community together to build the church still persists. St. Peter’s even leases out space to a Baptist church for its own services, and a Catholic school. Those decisions may seem surprising to some, but not anyone that knows Simmons, whose good neighbor attitude spreads throughout his flock. Simmons describes his church as “a via media,” a settlement between Catholicism and Protestantism.
“We’re Catholic in how we worship, but we preach the Bible like Baptists,” he said.
Not unlike its leader, the congregation at St. Peter’s is known to be a welcoming one.
“To me [the congregation is] remarkably cohesive and loving and faithful,” Simmons said. “We are good at welcoming strangers and turning strangers into friends and into followers of Jesus.”
“This is a place where Jesus is proclaimed,” he continued. “People here are worshiping together and opening the doors for others to join, and having a lot of fun doing it.”
While the official 150th birthday celebration is not until September, anyone looking for a church home, or just some free homegrown community fun, is encouraged to come spend July 4 with St. Peter’s. The Independence Day celebration will be vintage Victorian era, with several costumed participants coming in period dress. Fun games, live Bluegrass music and free Monks BBQ will be available from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. There will be a reading of The Declaration of Independence and prayer service from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. All activities will be held outdoors, rain or shine, and will wrap up in time for attendees to get in line for the fireworks at nearby Franklin Park. Donations will be accepted to offset the cost of food and performers.
“After a year of isolation, we offer this chance for our friends and neighbors to get out and get together for a block party celebration of our nation’s independence. If you are new to the area, this is a great way to get to know your neighbors, turning strangers into friends,” Simmons said.
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church is located at 37018 Glendale Street in Purcellville. For more information, go to stpetes.net.