Church of the Holy Comforter marks 125th anniversary

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The Church of the Holy Comforter celebrated its 125th anniversary in May, as it welcomed a new rector. The church that began with a meeting in the Printup Hotel in 1888 marked this auspicious milestone with the a series of events and with reflection on the church’s history.

The anniversary celebration began on May 4 with an organ recital including vocals.  The artists performing were Frederick Teardo, director of music and organist at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham; Leslie C.S. Teardo, CAGO, associate organist at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham; and  Julia Ferrée Jackson, a vocal artist from Birmingham and the daughter of Deacon David and Gemma Barfield, members of Holy Comforter.

The celebration continued on May 17 with evening prayer, conducted by Bishop Sloan, and a festive supper sponsored by the ECW, honoring Holy Comforter’s new Rector, The Reverend Dennis Nichols and his wife Linda. In attendance were former Rectors The Reverend John Cruse and The Reverend James Elliott with his wife Jane; our postulant The Reverend Van Foreman, the now retired Rector of Resurrection Church, Rainbow City, and our most recent Supply Priest at Holy Comforter, The Reverend Grady Richardson.  

On May 19 there was an anniversary luncheon following the Holy Eucharist Service. A power point slide show ran continuously at the luncheon, showing photos of the evolution of church buildings, history of the church with photos of rectors, assistant Rectors, Curates, Interim rectors and supply priests. Postulants coming from Holy Comforter were also featured, the first of whom was Hugh Wilmer Agricola, Jr. who became rector of The Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham.

The first meeting to organize an Episcopal Church in Gadsden was held in the parlor of the Printup Hotel in 1888.  There have been three church buildings in our history.  The first was constructed in 1889, three blocks to the west of the present building.  A second building at Sixth Street and Chestnut was constructed around 1900.  It was destroyed by fire on Christmas 1919.  In 1921 the present church and a rectory were constructed.  The first rector of the new Holy Comforter was the Rev. Eugene C. Seaman. The Rev. C. Morton Murray was the rector from 1925 to 1937.  The Rev. John C. Turner was the rector from 1937 to 1939.  The Rev. R.Y. Marlowe was the rector from 1939 until 1951.The Rev. John T. Speaks was the rector from 1951 to 1977. During this time, the Episcopal Day School was begun (in 1952) and Holy Comforter House, a 200-unit retirement home, was constructed.

The Rev. William Spencer Holcomb was rector from 1978 to 1986, during which time; the Episcopal Kyle Home was established.  It presently houses 18 cognitively and emotionally handicapped adults. Along with Bishop Stough, Father Holcomb was instrumental in bringing the Cursillo movement to the Diocese of Alabama.

The Rev. John W. Cruse was rector of Holy Comforter from 1987 to 1995.  During his tenure, the old rectory was sold and moved. In its place the present library and great hall were constructed. A big outdoor pavilion was erected at the Hugh W. Agricola Day Camp, which had been established in 1958.

The Rev. James E. Elliott, Jr., was rector from 1996 to 2008. New stained glass windows were constructed and installed in the great hall and in the church.  Restoration work was done to preserve the buildings.  The memorial garden was replanted and restructured with a fish pond. The columbarium was expanded and original art created by Lila Graves representing the Stations of the Cross, all creating a nice meditative space for reflection.

The Rev. Joan Miller Henrick was rector from 2009 to 2012.  Mother Joan made it a priority to grow the youth and young adult ministries.

The Reverend Nichols and his wife Linda began their ministry at Holy Comforter on May 1. Nichols comes from a first family of Virginia and has served St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Clarksboro, N.J. for the past 18-years.

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