HARRODSBURG — The Rev. Peter Doddema visited a lot of towns when it was time to leave his native Kansas, but it wasn’t until he found Harrodsburg and St. Philip’s Episcopal Church that he knew he was home.
He said it was just a feeling of “rightness” that has continued to grow in the four months he has been leading a dedicated flock of about 50 souls.
“The people are authentic,” he said.
Makes sense. So is their church, which will be on Harrodsburg Historical Society’s Holiday Homes Tour on Dec. 3.
When the Right Rev. Benjamin Bosworth Smith held the first service at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in 1861, could he have possibly imagined the church he proposed and designed and pretty much hand-built would still be pristine 150 years later?
Smith, the first bishop of Kentucky, was nothing if not meticulous and thoughtful. It is recorded that he carved a wooden model, right down to the furnishings, of the church in England he grew up in as a lad. It was the model he used as the pattern for St. Philip’s. He further employed his carving skills to create the altar, the communion rail and even three ecclesiastical chairs.
All of Bishop Smith’s handiwork stands today and is still in service, along with the fine china baptismal font and the imported Italian leaded-glass windows with etchings, which were the first stained glass windows in Harrodsburg.
The windows in and of themselves are noteworthy, as the glass is laced in place with intricately cut and shaped wood (as opposed to lead) and because of the history behind their survival.
The story goes that the church was called into service as an ad-hoc operating room during the Civil War and that a young soldier was stopped just in time from breaking the windows to allow more light. His superior officer was so impressed by the beauty of the windows he could not be a party to their destruction. He even ordered the windows guarded then by soldiers.
Now, exterior covers have been installed, according to Star Kephart, the Altar Guild chairwoman of the church, for just such a purpose.
“We work on the church all the time,” she says. “We have to maintain the plaster — the boiler is under repair today. Just getting the lights changed is a project.”
Kephart has been with the church for 40 years.
Built in the Gothic Revival style, the church is an architectural icon in Harrodsburg and, according to Kephart, the only church in town with a cross on its spire.
Besides the obvious attention to upkeep, the church has undergone major restorations both in 1983 and 1999. The National Register of Historic Sites added St. Philips in 1978, and the designation carries a directive to keep the historical features intact. This is simply not a problem for a congregation devoted to the same goal.
“Nothing here is a reproduction,” Kephart says. “Everything is all original.”
Not everything about the church is unchanging. The Rev. Doddema is pleased with the community response he has received to adding bluegrass music to two services each month. It only made sense, he says, considering the region. “We are bluegrass country here, and there is a lot of talent in our community.”
Did the Right Rev. Benjamin Bosworth Smith imagine a fiddle echoing off the walnut-beamed, vaulted ceiling when he held the first service at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in 1861? Probably not. But he likely would be pleased by anything that brings worship to the building he so lovingly designed for just such a purpose.
IF YOU GO
Holiday Homes Tour
1-8 p.m. Dec. 3
Advance tickets, $15 or $11 for seniors and groups of 20 or more, are available at Harrodsburg Historical Society or Diamond Point Welcome Center or by calling the historical society at (859) 734-5985.
Properties on the tour are:
St. Philip’s Episcopal Church
131 Short St.
338 N. College St.
Bobby Parsons and Darrell Dickerson, owners
566 E. Lexington St.
Christy and Brett Cheek, owners