Parish History

“Wyoming County, Pennsylvania, has been without any House of Worship of the historical Church hitherto although an organization, St. Peter’s Free Church, has existed for about twelve years in Tunkhannock, the County Seat. A lot was purchased and a quantity of stone bought about that time but services were only held occasionally for many years. The Rev. George D. Stroud is actively and usefully engaged at Tunkhannock … doing missionary work … hitherto the congregation has met in one and other hired hall. They are few in numbers and not rich in resources. They have an eligible lot paid for. They are encouraged by the generous zeal of their minister in making an effort to build a little chapel in which to worship God. And the Rev. Mr. Stroud is endeavoring to secure help for them. I pray to God to crown his effort with success.”

This 1882 article appeared in an early Diocesan publication, and describes the start of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. A charter was approved for the incorporation of St. Peter’s on August 20, 1870. One of the first recorded meeting places of the congregation was in October 1880 in the Platt’s Opera House, Tunkhannock. In January 1881, services moved to the third floor of the Billings establishment. The Rev. Mr. Stroud was indeed crowned with success in the spring of 1883. St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Second Street, Tunkhannock Borough, was completed, and on May 21, 1884 was consecrated, debt free, by the Rt. Rev. M.A. DeWolf Howe, Bishop of Central Pennsylvania. The Rev. George D. Stroud served St. Peter’s during these years of accomplishment, leaving in 1886.

Additional historical record of Saint Peter’s during the late 19th century is recorded in the History of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, 1871-1909: And the Diocese of Harrisburg, 1904-1909, Volume 1, By Jonathan Wesley Miller. This record is written from an apparent eye witness (“The Rev. Mr. Barker discontinued his work here…”)

“TUNKHANNOCK, St Peter’s Church: In 1872, St Peter’s was admitted into union with the Convention of the Diocese. During these years only occasional services were given by neighboring Clergymen. The Rev George H. Kirkland, Rector at Montrose, had charge of this work during part of the year 1872, the whole of 1874 and 1875, until June when he withdrew from the field. These services were at first held in the Court House and afterwards in a hall. After The Rev. Mr Kirkland’s withdrawal, there were no services held here until January 1st 1881, when The Rev. George D. Stroud took charge. The Mission at this time owned a lot, and on May 7th 1882, the Rector began soliciting subscriptions for the erection of a new Church. Ground was broken on the 7th day of the following September. This new Church was finished early in November 1883, and opened for service on the 11th. A beautiful window was placed in the chancel, in memory of Dr. Minor Kelley, and wife by their daughters.

St Peter’s Second Street location

From this time, Lay services were given by The Hon. R. R. Little, until June 1st 1890, when The Rev. T. B. Barker took charge as locum tenens. In 1890, this Mission had twenty eight Communicants, thirty one members in the Sunday School, a Church valued at $4,000 and free of debt. The Rev. Mr. Barker discontinued his work here on October 5th, 1890. St Peter’s thus became vacant again and continued so until the following month, November 30th, when The Rev. T.B. Barker settled here as Rector, but only continued in charge until some time during the year 1891, when he resigned. This Mission continued vacant from this time until July 19th 1894 when The Rev. William Coney became Minister in charge. About this time a new floor was put in the basement and a furnace in the Church. During part of the year 1895, Mr. Felix Ansart, Lay Reader, read the service on alternate Sunday mornings. The Rev. Mr. Coney resigned on February 21st, 1896. This work was then placed in charge of The Rev. John W. Burras, Rector of St. James Pittston, who gave services here during the year 1896. From this time, St. Peter’s was supplied with Lay services. In 1900, a brass book rest and Clergy stalls were presented to the Church, and a stone walk put down in front of the Church. After being vacant for a number of years, The Rev. Harvey P. Walter took up the work in the summer of 1902. For three months during the summer of 1904 Mr. George Groff, a Divinity Student, was in charge of the services. Having served this Mission until February 1st, 1906. The Rev. Mr. Walter resigned and was succeeded by The Rev. A.H. Wheeler. During the months of July, August and part of September 1907, Mr. Wallace Martin also a Divinity Student, was in charge of the work here. Since then no work has been reported. ”

During the ensuring seventy years, the church was without a resident clergyman more often than not, being largely dependent upon visiting clergy and lay readers to continue services. Notable exceptions include the ministry of the Rev. F. DeForrest Johnson from 1920 to 1926, the Rev. William Schmidgall from 1946 to 1951, and the Rev. Robert Schakles from 1954 to 1957.

In June of 1959, the Rev. Edward P. Townsend held his first service at St. Peter’s. During the next two years the congregation enjoyed a marked increase in participation and membership. The communicant status almost doubled, a church school was launched, a choir formed, and a youth group organized. These factors, along with a faithful attendance, made this present facility inadequate.

The feeling among the membership was that the church could better serve its forward-looking community with a better-situated and more attractive building. The members, therefore, voted at their annual meeting to allow the vestry to determine the need and act accordingly. Plans got underway to build a new church on a three-acre plot off Route 6 in the Shadowbrook area. This “Venture in Faith” was completed one year later and dedicated on May 13, 1962, by the Rt. Rev. Frederick J. Warnecke, Bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem. The new church was built to include adequate kitchen space and room for group meetings, thus enabling the parish to carry on a well-rounded, 7 day-a-week program of activities for all ages.

The Meneely bell

The Meneely bell was moved from the belfry of the Second Street location to the site near Tunkhannock Creek. It was ground mounted on a frame. In March 1964, the building was flooded by waters from the adjacent Tunkhannock Creek.

Ruth Harding’s 1985 watercolor snow scape of St Peter’s second campus on Tunkhannock Creek

During the next few years the church grew in many ways under the leadership of the Rev. Bruce M. Shortell. In May 1972 a special Service of the Holy Eucharist and Mortgage Burning was held. A few weeks’ later hurricane Agnes arrived and flood waters just missed the Sanctuary. Unfortunately, the undercroft was under water for several days. It was not until two years later that the undercroft was restored under the leadership of a new rector, The Rev. Richard Risser.

Hurricane Eloise came in September of 1975, the third disastrous flood the church experienced, and again the undercroft was devastated. With the financial support of Bishop Gressle, a dike was built around the church grounds and concerned members of the parish were finally able to sleep on rainy nights. At their annual meetings in January 1976, St. Peters’ Church, Tunkhannock, and St. John’s Church, Lacyville, officially declared themselves joined as “The Wyoming County Ministry of the Episcopal Church”. This action recognized the fact that the two parishes encompass all of Wyoming County, Pennsylvania. Parishioners came not only from Tunkhannock and Laceyville but also from Nicholson and Factoryville to the east, Springville and Lake Carey to the north and Center Moreland to the south. During this period the church school grew, the attendance at worship increased, and lay readers from St. Peter’s took on the responsibility of St. John’s services.

In the fall of 1977 the parishioners were again looking for a new priest. They were looking for one that could not only “… turn back the floods” but also a capable man who was willing to give his time, talents and concern to a devoted group of Christian people. The Rev. Raymond J. Howe was called in the fall of 1978. In the fall of 1982, a Christian Education Wing was added to the church. With support from the federal and state government, St. Peter’s reinforced its dike system, affording even greater protection from future flooding. During his tenure Fr. Howe was assisted by Deacons Maureen Hipple, Estelle Webb and Vivian Bennett. Rev. Vivian Bennett later served as associate priest during the interim period. In May 2003, Rev. Cynthia Guthkelch was installed as rector of St. Peter’s.

In the fall of 2004, the remnants of Hurricane Ivan brought final devastation to St. Peter’s Church as the building was completely surrounded by water and flooded beyond repair. The church took up residence in Tioga West Plaza Route 6, Tunkhannock. The Rev Guthkelch accepted a position as Rector of. St. James Episcopal Church, Dexter Michigan in late 2006 . The Rev. Vivian Bennett was installed as Priest-In-Charge in 2007. St. Peter’s continued to celebrate God’s love in our “storefront” church.

Detail of inscription on the resurrection cross

The parishioners approved rebuilding at a higher location, close to the old flooded campus. Parishioner George Wilkinson volunteered his services to design and plan the structure, and proceed through the complex permitting process. Construction of the modular structure was completed at Simplex Homes in Scranton in the fall of 2009, but delays prevented completion of the foundation until the spring of 2010, when the move from Tioga Plaza was completed with the help of many volunteers and a moving company. Wes Spencer, serving as Senior Warden, acted in the capacity of construction overseer during this process, working in conjunction with parishioner George Wilkinson, who donated his services in the design of the new facility. The last service at the Tioga Plaza location took place Sunday October 31, 2010. On Sunday November 7,the Rev. Estelle Webb served as supply priest, but because of the lack of an occupancy permit, the parish met at the Methodist Manor. On November 14, 2010, the first service was held at the new campus (3832 sr 6, Tunkhannock, PA), just two weeks after the retirement of Rev. Vivian Bennett. The Rev. Estelle Webb served as supply priest for the remainder of 2010, and the Rev. Dan Jones filled in when she was not available. The Rev. Lou Divis was appointed Deacon by Bishop Paul, and served during the winter and spring of 2010-2011. After an absence for an summer assignment with St James in Dundaff, she returned to St. Peter ‘s in the fall of 2011. The Rt. Rev. Paul Marshall, Bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem presided over a service of dedication for the new facility on June 19, 2011. In the summer, fall and winter of 2011-2012, the Rev Joseph Rafferty served as supply priest, and a search committee was appointed by Wes Spencer, Senior Warden, and approved by the vestry. In the spring of 2012, the Rev. Lou Divis was selected by the vestry as first to serve as rector of the parish at the new campus. She was installed in a ceremony at the new facility by the Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow of the Diocese of Bethlehem on June 23, 2013.

2018 campus on high ground above Tunkhannock Creek