St. Thomas Episcopal Church was founded in 1956 as a parochial mission of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, located in south Eugene. Several families from St. Mary’s who lived in the newer north end of town were asked by St. Mary’s Vicar, The Rev. Perry Smith, to form the core of this new mission. One young businessman, David Hoffman, at the time the youngest vestry member of St. Mary’s, was asked to find a suitable property for the church. He found a 5 acre filbert orchard on Coburg Road owned by an elderly couple who were willing to sell. The purchase of the property for $10,000 also included a provision for the owners to live rent free for a year in the farmhouse until they could find a new home. In 1957 plans were prepared for our present sanctuary. Originally it was designed to be the chapel of a much larger church and was called the Chapel of Transfiguration (after Fr. Perry’s first church in Wyoming). The first services in were held in 1958, was consecrated by Bishop James W.F.Carman, became a parish in 1972, and was consecrated as a church by Rt. Rev. Matthew Bigliardi, Bishop of Oregon in 1974.
In 1961 the first phase of the education building (now home of St. Thomas pre-school) was built and was enlarged in 1972 when St. Matthews merged with St. Thomas. St. Matthews had lost their property to Beltline Highway construction. In 1979, St. Matthews re-established themselves on River Road and the two churches became independent once more. The education building was also used extensively for church-wide activities and meetings.
In 1976, members of St. Thomas led by Jan Moursund created the Aslan House, a place where those with limited means could find counseling services. The center is located in the original farmhouse and is now known as the Center for Community Counseling. Thanks to help from the community, St. Thomas is able to maintain and improve this 60+ year old building.
In 1990, the back 2.5 acres of the property was leased at no cost to FOOD for Lane County, the area’s food bank. FOOD was looking for garden space to grow fresh produce and at the same time St. Thomas was looking for a charitable use for the property to remove it from the tax rolls. St Thomas agreed to provide the water for the garden. In the late 1990s, they partnered in digging a well which serves the garden to this day. The Garden continues, more than 20 years later, as a cooperative effort between St. Thomas, FOOD for Lane County, and the OSU Master Gardeners Program, growing more than 60,000 pounds (30 tons) of fresh organic produce each year for those in need. The Garden also provides classes in sustainable living and gardening practices, plant care and trimming, composting, and organic gardening methods for community members. Each year, more than 2,400 volunteers from around the community work more than 24,000 hours tending the garden!
In 2000, St. Thomas began fundraising to build a fellowship hall attached to the church. The congregation supplied much volunteer work and money and the building was completed in 2001. This 6,000 square foot addition includes two offices, a library, a kitchen, and restrooms. The new wing is handicap accessible and has seating for about 200 people. It has become a very popular place for diocesan meetings and many user groups (AA, Alanon, Narconon, Coda, Serenity, receptions, club meetings and others).
St. Thomas has been blessed with dedicated clergy leadership. Fr. Steen Whiteside served at the beginning until 1958 when he was called to St. Mary’s. Fr. Edgar (Ted) Tainton then served from 1958 until his retirement in 1982. Fr. Granville Waldron (Bend, Or.) served from 1982 to 1986. When he was called to Vacaville, CA, Fr. Ralph Haines joined us in July of 1987 and served until his retirement in September 1999. The search for a replacement took longer than expected, but in June of 2001 Fr. Jeremy Tyndall (from England) answered our call and served us until he returned to England in April 2008. After another search, Fr. Court Williams (Illinois) started his service in August 2009 until his return to Chicago in August of 2015.
From its inception, St. Thomas has experienced ebbs and flows in its size and financial stability. However, there have always been energetic and committed parishioners to guide us through successfully. We look forward to the future with our new rector’s leadership, with hope and faith that God is guiding us in our endeavors to share His message with all who seek to know Him in their lives.