Church History

Durham follows the pattern of most New England villages in that its first (and a continuing) faith presence is the Congregational Church, which has worshipped here since the town’s origin in the 17th century. Although Episcopalians began gathering for home worship in the 1880’s, it was not until 1948 that Bishop John Dallas organized St. George’s Mission. The University of New Hampshire provided Ballard Hall for worship space while the congregation gathered resources for their own church. Land that had been the formal gardens for the Smith Estate (the mansion survives across the street from the church) was purchased, along with the gardener’s residence, now the rectory. Ground was broken in 1953 and the church was dedicated on September 26, 1954. Funds were provided by the congregation, the diocese and a generous grant from the United Thank Offering. Early clergy leadership included Clinton Morrill, Randall Giddings, Jonathan Mitchell and Charles Webb, along with the support of Bishops Dallas, Charles Hall and Philip Smith. Albert Snow was vicar and, upon the mission attaining parish status, rector, from 1959 to 1995. Thomas Vanderslice was interim rector until 1997 when Michael Bradley was called as second rector.

The unique design of the church is a result of the inevitable compromise between unlimited desire and limited resource. When a stone, neo-gothic English-style church proved too expensive, architect John Carter proposed a gothic church in the modern style. The low ceiling of the foyer and the off-center entrance to the nave betray the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright. Exterior fascia stone covers cement block construction. The laminated wood arches (no steel) spring toward the roof from the window level, creating the classic Episcopal nave and a greater sense of height. Thick roof decking permits wide bays, twelve feet between arches, with no need for a ceiling. The recessed and shallow sanctuary adds to the effect of a processional church while maintaining a connection with the worshippers in the nave. Pew benches, rather than solid pews, provide a greater sense of floor space. The result is a church that is both grand and intimate, that welcomes a small group at prayer as well as a maximum capacity of 150 at worship. The combined efforts of the congregation and the vision of the architect were recognized by the Church Architectural Guild of America “Best Small Church” design award in 1955.

The Great Window over the altar crowns the building and is the work of Robert Sowers of New York. It was the largest mosaic colored glass window in the United States at the time of its installation in 1953. Blues dominate, followed by highlights of yellow, green and red. The window faces southeast and provides steady illumination throughout the year. Late December, with the sun low on the horizon, presents a challenge, and seasoned parishioners bring sunglasses to church on bright Sunday mornings! The altar is teak and constructed so that the mensa (or top), supported by concealed blocks, appears to be suspended over its base. It is easily moved and was designed to be used by Celebrants either in Eastward facing position (against the wall) or, our present practice, of Basilican position, with celebrant facing the people. At the rear corner of the nave (actually covering the original entrance to the church) is a fresco, rich with Christian and Jewish iconography, by John Hatch, Professor of Art at the University of New Hampshire. The choir loft is unusually deep and provides ample space for singers and instrumentalists.

Dedicated September 26, 1954

The Great Window