The Church and Rectors in the 1800s
St. David’s has a long and rich history in Austin. St. David’s was formed when Christ Church Austin (founded in 1848) merged with Church of the Epiphany (founded in 1851). On April 4, 1853, the cornerstone of our current building (which was Church of the Epiphany at the time) was laid at Bois d’Arc (7th St.) and San Jacinto across the street from the two-story mansion where President Lamar had lived. The first service in the new church was held on October 8, 1854.
Unfortunately, the parish was not immune to the tensions building over the questions of states’ rights and slavery. In 1856, about 20 members with Northern sympathies withdrew and called the Rev. Charles Gillette to organize a new parish named Christ Church. The new church held its services in the court room of the new county courthouse.
In 1859, Edward Fontaine resigned as Rector of The Church of the Epiphany and moved to Jackson, Mississippi. At that point there existed two parishes: one with a rector but no church building, and one with a building and no rector. The vestry of the Church of the Epiphany therefore decided to begin negotiating with Christ Church to reunify the parish. They wisely decided on a new name for the combined parish, choosing Church of St. David as an honor to the newly elected Bishop of Texas, Alexander Gregg, who had previously served at St. David’s Church in Cheraw, South Carolina.
The Rev. Gillette resigned in January 1866. The Rev. Rogers received the call to be rector beginning April 1, 1866. He served until the end of 1874, a period during which major changes took place both in the political structure of the state as well as the architecture of St. David’s Church. It was during this period that the sanctuary was moved to the south end of the building and the familiar Gothic towers and parapets were added.
Rogers was replaced in 1875 by Thomas Booth Lee, who served until his death in 1912. This period saw a significant enlargement in both the size of the parish as well as the church building itself. In 1887 the original east wall was removed, columns were employed to support the extended roof and the side aisle was created. It was also during this period that most of the stained glass windows were installed.
The Church and Rectors in the 1900s
Milton Worsham became rector of St. David’s in December 1912. Three years later he was replaced by Lewis Harrison, who served until 1923. The Rev. Harrison was replaced in 1924 by Lenoir Valentine Lee, an ambitious rector who presided over the founding of St. David’s Hospital. He was replaced by Beverly Munford Boyd, who served until 1934. James Allen became rector on June 3, 1934, and served almost 5 years.
The Rev. Charles Abram Sumners was called to become rector June 5, 1939, and served almost 36 years. This was a period of explosive growth for the city and the parish. Austin’s wartime growth was such that Bishop Quinn requested that the vestries of St. David’s and of All Saints’ Church found a mission in West Austin, which later became The Church of the Good Shepherd. Rev. Sumners instituted healing services and founded a chapter of the Order of St. Luke. His interest in Christian education was reflected in his involvement in founding St. Stephen’s and St. Andrew’s Schools. He directed the establishment of the church library and bookshop. He was instrumental in acquiring the land surrounding St. David’s that is now the parking garage.
In 1966 the new parish hall was completed adjacent to the Church and was named Sumners Hall to honor the rector who remained steadfast in his determination to keep the church in the heart of Austin.
The Rev. Laurens Hall was called to become rector following the retirement of Charles Sumners in 1975. At that point the parish had grown to 2110 communicants. He was succeeded by the Rev. T. James Bethell.
Rev. Bethell expanded the role of women and of music in the life of the church by hiring the parish’s first female priest in 1986 and by instituting the additional Sunday service of Choral Compline. During his tenure as rector, the church dramatically expanded its physical presence in downtown Austin, completing St. David’s Parking Garage in 1988 and a major addition to the church, completed in 2001. The four-story addition provided much-needed office space, classrooms, day school space, choir and musicians’ facilities, meeting rooms, and a large and dramatic new worship space which was named Bethell Hall in honor of the rector.
The Church and Rectors Today
After Rev. Bethell’s retirement in 2001, the Rev. David A. Boyd was called as St. David’s 13th rector. During his time, the Rev. Boyd oversaw the creation of the St. David’s Columbarium and a significant environmental project that placed solar panels on top of the St. David’s garage, making it the largest solar panel project in downtown Austin at the time. During his time, St. David’s grew its use of the building’s facilities through the Hospitality Ministry, leading to the expansion of the parish kitchen in Sumners Hall and the use of St. David’s as a SXSW music venue. Rev. Boyd facilitated the processes of 14 seminarians by forming discernment committees, introducing them to the vestry, and attending their meetings with Commission for Ministry. Rev. Boyd retired from St. David’s on February 15, 2015.
St. David’s called The Rev. William Charles “Chuck” Treadwell III to serve as the 14th rector of the parish beginning March 1, 2016. Father Treadwell was previously the rector of St. Paul’s in Waco, TX.
Our old church, dating back to 1853, has much of interest to visitors, who are welcome to take a self-guided tour during our usual hours.
Guided tours are also available on request. Call 512-610-3500 to make your reservation.
There are 20 stained-glass windows in the church, dating from 1876 to 1969. Eleven are more than 100 years old. Many are simply magnificent. Be sure to visit while the sun is shining if you want to see them at their best. The Italian-marble altar dates from 1900 with many other chairs, credence, choir stalls, etc. dating from the 1880s. The pulpit dates from 1869.
The update and preservation of the Historic Church is supported by gifts to St. David’s and proceeds from our Next-To-New shop.