St. Francis Parish: An Episcopal Vision of Faith
St. Francis Episcopal Church Denham Springs, Louisiana 1952 - 2018
An Episcopal Vision of Faith In the summer of 1952 the Lord shone His blessing on our home region inspiring eleven faithful and devoted Episcopalians to introduce an Episcopal church to Denham Springs. Little more than a small country town itself in the early 1950's.
Denham Springs served as the focal point for the new Episcopal Church movement. Edwin C. Coleman, a theological student on staff at Trinity Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge, first suggested the creation of an Episcopal parish in Livingston. Armed with a vision to further the Lord's work in her new home, Mrs. Nicholas Pugh hosted a meeting where sixteen people signed a document filing for status as a mission. Within weeks, the first service was held on August 31, 1952, in the First Methodist Church of Denham Springs - where services continued through early 1953. Lay readers and clergy from Trinity and St. James in Baton Range conducted the services.
On January 21, 1953, the fledgling mission was admitted into union with the Diocese of Louisiana. By mid-1953, the congregation had rented a small house on the corner of Railroad Avenue and Main Street that was later purchased for $4,700. An altar was constructed on the north end of the structure while the two bedrooms were converted into a Sunday school room and a nursery. Virtually all the renovations were completed by members themselves- while the men worked clearing debris and making repairs, the women cleaned and cooked. Donated brown paint suited the men who quickly applied it, only to surrender to the women who recoiled at the appearance of a brown church, demanding and receiving a more appropriately “churchly” shade of white.
As the building took form, the growing congregation chose St. Francis as their patron saint and the name of the mission. Under the direction of several vicars, the membership continued to grow - necessitating the enlargement of the chapel to accommodate 105 people in 1959.
Under the effective leadership of Reverend Albertus DeLoach, the church's growth inspired Mrs. Monita Jackson Lard to donate four and one-half acres of property in the spring of 1966, which continues to serve as the spiritual homestead of St. Francis. A more visible presence, complemented by ever growing numbers of dedicated parishioners, furthered the growth of the Episcopal presence in Livingston Parish.
In April 1967, Reverened Richard Walkley assumed direction at St. Francis after Rev. DeLoach moved to St. Augustine’s in New Orleans. Under his leadership the church building was moved to the property donated by Mrs. Lard and a home on Popular Street was purchased to serve as a rectory. Mrs. Eleanor Magee, one of the charter members, generously bequeathed $51,000 which served as the core of a fund to construct the church building. Supplemented by pledges from members, the new building (originally designed as a parish hall) was completed in 1974.
The new building and grounds encouraged the sustained growth necessary to allow St. Francis to achieve parish status by 1976. Under the leadership of Reverend David Cameron, the fledgling parish saw improved stability and a functioning organizational structure, including a well-organized Sunday school program and a committed vestry. In 1979, a church office with classrooms, later named Cameron Hall, was constructed.
By the early I980s, the Sunday School Annex building was added to the church grounds and a developing lay readership program occurred under the leadership of Reverend Elliot Marshall, III. In 1990, direction of St. Francis fell to Reverend Donald R. Brown, who oversaw the emergence of a daycare program that facilitated increasing membership and an expanding budget. By the early 1990s the operating budget of St. Francis increased to more than $75,000 while membership approached nearly two hundred. Continued parish growth advanced such projects as the annual Pumpkin Patch and other church programs that served as central components of church fellowship and community outreach.
On May 5, 2002, St. Francis celebrated Founders’ Day delineating the fiftieth anniversary of our church.Over the next ten years our church saw an increased presence in our diocese and additional outreach ministries.
In the fall of 2012, under the leadership of Reverend Dan Krutz, St. Francis celebrated our sixtieth anniversary by parading from the church's original site at River Road (then Main Street) and North Railroad to our current site at 726 Maple Street. Parishioners stopped at sites along the way, including the First United Methodist Church and the Train Station Park in the Antique District, and recited scripture, historical facts of our church, and Psalm 126. A joint service was also held at the First United Methodist Church on August 26, 2012 to commemorate St. Francis' first service which was held in that location.During the short sixty-five-year span that has witnessed St. Francis' advance from an "idea of faith” to the spiritual community it represents today, many priests and key interim ministers have overseen development.
By 2014 many old traditions had come to an end, but new ones had taken their place. After nineteen years our Pumpkin Patch ministry came to a close but other ministries, such as Vacation Bible School, Hannah’s Hands, Education for Ministry, and the Food Pantry were alive and well.
Like most churches, St. Francis has witnessed our fair share of challenges. As we were preparing to celebrate our sixty-fifth anniversary in 2017, many activities were being planned. Unfortunately, these plans did not come to fruition as we faced our biggest challenge yet. All the buildings on our campus sustained between eighteen to twenty-four inches of water in the August flood of 2016. However, our strength has remained unwavering in the devotion of our parishioners to continuing the vision that brought the Episcopal church to Livingston Parish. Whether in the form of collecting S&H Green Stamps to secure the first organ, confronting the demands of escalating costs with limited resources, or holding services on the lawn in the August heat immediately following the flood, the love of Christ and a commitment to His worship has continued to guide the vision of St. Francis Church. As we did in 1952, St. Francis held services at the First United Methodist Church in Denham Springs following the flood. Our parishioners were blessed by the generosity of not only the clergy, staff, and members of FUMC, but also many dioceses, parishes, and individuals throughout the country in our time of need.
After many months of deliberation and planning the rebuilding of St. Francis' campus was underway in the summer of 2017. Restoration of Cameron Hall, which houses the church offices and Sunday school rooms, was completed in September 2017. Forty-four years after its construction, the church was remodeled with the intent of becoming our parish hall. January 21, 2018 was a day of joyous celebration as parishioners returned to our campus for our annual meeting and resumption of services in the newly renovated Parish Hall.
We are excited to break ground on this day, April 22, 2018 on our new church, which is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2018. We will continue to hold services in our parish hall as we anxiously await the long-anticipated completion of our new church.
Much like our patron saint, St. Francis Church has overcome many obstacles in our path ensuring that the Episcopal vision of Christ-like commitment will burn brightly in Livingston Parish for generations to come.
Author: Dr. Sam Hyde as compiled by church history and member interviews with edits over the years by the late Charles Abbott and Alana Mack Bishop