The Rev. Robert Wetherington
Administrative Assistant/Executive Secretary:
Parish Minister of Music
(Organist, Adult Choir, and Adult Handbell Director)
Senior Warden: Scott Simpson (2020)
Class of 2019
Class of 2020
Class of 2021
A Brief History of St. Mary’s Parish, El Dorado, Arkansas
El Dorado, Arkansas, was first visited on 5 April 1849, by Bishop George Washington Freeman, second Missionary Bishop of the Southwest, who served from 1844-1858. To quote from his report to the Board of Missions, “The next day (6 April) the service of the Church was performed for the first time in this part of the state.” During his 10 or 11 day stay he performed Divine service, preached 10 times, baptized 2 adults, 3 children, confirmed 4 and administered Holy Communion.”
When the Bishop left, there were 14 communicants in El Dorado. In the winter of 1849, the Reverend William Cummins Stout did follow-up work in Union County, nurtured the spark struck by Bishop Freeman, and raised $600 toward a church building. St. Mary’s was first announced in the “Ouachita Herald” dated 26 April 1850. In September of that year, a lot was deeded in perpetual trust for the Episcopal Church. In the early years, St. Mary’s and St. John’s, Camden, were often cared for by the same clergy.
During the War between the States, Arkansas left the Union and Bishop Lay resigned as Missionary Bishop. In November 1862, action was taken seeking union with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States. When this was confirmed, Arkansas became a Diocese with a Diocesan Bishop.
At the end of the conflict Arkansas was reduced to a Missionary District with Bishop Lay once again her Missionary Bishop. When the Bishop next visited El Dorado he wrote, “…there were few communicants and a small church building, falling into ruins.” Sometime in the 1880’s, as a result of a severe storm, the church building collapsed. The prostrate condition of a postwar community made rebuilding impossible. No records were kept at St. Mary’s for 40 years. However, there were mentions of the congregation in the journals and records of the various bishops and the records of St. John’s, Camden. There was a faithful remnant, but little is known of their number or their actions.
In 1906, there are recorded stirrings in the Body of Christ in El Dorado. By 1907, St. Mary’s was reorganized and admitted to union with the diocese. The first service in the new Church was held on the Epiphany 1917. When oil was discovered in Union County in 1921, St. Mary’s became more prosperous. She became a Parish on 6 July 1922. During the seven year rectorate of the Reverend Mr. Bradner James Moore, he stated, “With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Parish was transformed from one in name to one in fact.”
In 1942, property was acquired for a new, larger church. At first the parish house was moved to the new site to serve as a temporary Church. Ground was broken for the new Church on 5 June 1949. The corner stone was laid on 21 November 1949. St. Mary’s was dedicated on 2 April 1950. Since the building of the new Church, the congregation has continued to grow and to add both to its campus and its facilities.
Presently, the church owns all but three lots on the block. In addition to the Church, Educational Building, and Parish Hall, there are gracious homes for both the Curate and the Rector on the Campus. In recent years, the Parish has greatly improved its financial condition through a broader understanding and practice of stewardship. Since 1993, the St. Mary’s has developed an endowment in excess of three and a quarter million dollars. A goodly portion of the income from this fund supports the Parish’s Service/Outreach efforts.
In October of 2002 St. Mary’s dedicated a renovation and expansion of the northern third of its facility. This project was in the planning stage for over five years and was designed to increase the size of the Parish Hall and to reconfigure some areas for a more efficient and effective use of space. The end result provided a porte-cochère to allow entrance in inclement weather, a large, gracious welcoming space (the Cloister), a Parish Hall that can be divided into three sections (each with its own heating/cooling) and providing for seating of 250, a very large completely equipped “commercial” kitchen, pantry and sexton’s room. The reconfigured area resulted in a new adult class/ bookshop, larger restrooms, a nursery divided for infants and toddlers with its own bathroom, and finally a redesigned Chapel of the Holy Angels for the children.
St. Mary’s has been the prime mover in the development of two important local Service/Outreach ministries: the Interfaith Health Clinic, which began its life in St. Mary’s Library, and IHS (Interfaith Help Services) presently housed at St. Mary’s. Both of these were granted Jubilee Center Status in 1999. St. Mary’s makes an annual grant to a Diocesan Mission congregation to fund the development of a Service/Outreach ministry in that community beyond the local church. It is important at St. Mary’s that its buildings are put to good use. Hardly a day passes that these facilities are not used by non-parish groups. St. Mary’s has come to be known as a place of hospitality, and “a Church that helps people.”