How it all began
St. Thomas Episcopal Church was founded in 1956 as a parochial mission of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, located in downtown 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 five-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. The first services were held in 1958, and St. Thomas transitioned from being a mission to a parish in 1972.
In 1961 the first phase of the education building was built and was enlarged in 1972 when St. Matthew’s merged with St. Thomas. St. Matthew’s had lost its property to Beltline highway construction, but in 1979 St. Matthew’s was re-established 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 1963 St. Thomas created a preschool to help serve an important need for early childhood education in Eugene. The St. Thomas Preschool, owned and operated by St. Thomas church, fully utilized the education building for 57 years. In 2020 the school dissolved as a consequence of the Covid pandemic, but in 2021 St. Thomas entered into a partnership with Head Start of Lane County to become the full-time occupant of the education building. You will find more information at: https://www.hsolc.org/.
In 1976 members of St. Thomas 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 and is its own 501(c)3. For more information, please go to: https://www.ccceugene.org/.
In 1990 the back 2.5 acres of the property were leased at no cost to FOOD for Lane County, the area’s food bank. FFLC 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 that was consistent with its mission. Thus the Grassroots Garden was established and provides hundreds of pounds of food for the hungry each year. For more information about the Grassroots Garden, you may go to: https://www.foodforlanecounty.org/go-learn-more/other-programs/gardens/#grassroots.
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 wing is handicapped accessible, and the Parish Hall has seating for about 200 people. It has become a very popular place for diocesan meetings and many user groups. The new addition enabled the former offices to be converted to space for a nursery and two Sunday School classrooms, along with courtyard space for a beautiful Columbarium/Memorial Garden.
St. Thomas has been blessed with dedicated priests. The Rev. Steen Whiteside served at the beginning until 1958 when he was called to St. Mary’s. The Rev. Edgar (Ted) Tainton then served from 1958 until his retirement in 1982. The Rev. Granville Waldron served from 1982 to 1986. The Rev. 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 the Rev. Jeremy Tyndall (from England) answered our call and served us until he returned to England in April 2008. After another search, the Rev. Court Williams started his service in August 2009 until his return to Chicago in August of 2015. The Rev. Ann Gaillard joined St. Thomas as rector in 2017 from St. Luke the Beloved Physician in Saranac Lake, New York. St. Thomas has also been blessed with wonderful deacons: the Rev. Dcn Carter Hawley who served from 2011 until 2017, and the Rev. Dcn Mike Watkins who arrived in 2019.
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 as we continue to “give thanks and praise to God and share God’s love.”
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