BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MEMORIAL CHURCH OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD
The Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd was built under the care and guidance of the first bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia, the Rt. Rev. George W. Peterkin and his wife Marion, as a living memorial to their two sons, John Stewart, who died just short of his fourth birthday, and Marion Macintosh, who lived only three days. The Peterkin’s wanted a memorial that would be a living, joyful, jubilant expression of God’s love for all children.
The Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd began as The Memorial Chapel of the Good Shepherd, a Sunday School for children of the area. The original structure, which was to become known as the Parish Hall, was built in 1891. In 1892, the Rev. W.K. Marshall was the first priest to serve at Good Shepherd, followed in 1898 by the Rev. J.A. Hiatt and the Rev. A. B. Mitchell in 1903. The Parish Hall came to house a multitude of activities and groups in addition to Sunday School, so many that it was decided that a “churchly edifice, worthy of the worship of the Almighty God,” was needed. In 1905 ground was broken for a structure commissioned by Bishop Peterkin to reflect the Spanish-style architecture which he had come to admire while attending the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in California. The first service was held February 4, 1906 with Bishop Peterkin preaching from the text “Hitherto Hath the Lord Helped Us.”
Three weeks later, February 22, 1906, The Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd was consecrated by Bishop Peterkin and Bishop Gravatt with several other clergy in attendance. Rev. Mitchell served until 1913. The original status of Good Shepherd was that of Parochial Mission of Trinity Parish, Parkersburg and later as a Diocesan Mission. The diligent efforts of Rev. I. Del. Brayshaw, who served from 1919 until 1922, are credited for the recognition in 1921 of Good Shepherd as a self-supporting parish by the 44th Annual Council of the Diocese of West Virginia. In 1922, Rev. Brayshaw accepted another call and Good Shepherd was without clergy for almost a year. Many times in Good Shepherd’s history the absence of ordained clergy has encouraged the laity to step forward and take an active role in leading worship. During one such absence, the congregation was kept together through the unflagging efforts of Bishop Peterkin’s son, Will, and Good Shepherd’s Parish Visitor, Miss Pratt. Bishop Peterkin has written that the Parish Visitor was the person charged with the religious education of the children of the parish.
1923 brought the Rev. O. C. Fox and his wife who became the organist and choir director, organizing the first boy’s choir. Records reflect Rev. Fox’s ill health preceded his departure in 1926. After the sudden heart attack and death of the Rev. Warren A. Segar in 1932, after only six weeks at Good Shepherd, layeaders, C. Howard Pflug and Fred C. Renner Jr. faithfully stepped forward.
Much of the history of Good Shepherd between 1939 and 1953 has been lost but during that period there were good times and bad. In 1953 morale was low and times were tough. Bishop Campbell sent the Rev. Hewes “Doc” Phillips to close the parish. Instead he initiated a canvas for pledges that resulted in a complete remodeling of the sanctuary and the first annex and new building since 1906.
In 1975, we were privileged to have Bishop Peterkin’s granddaughter, Julia Peterkin, move back to Parkersburg upon her retirement and become part of our parish family. For many to whom the Peterkin name was nothing more than a distant piece of church history, it was an honor and blessing to become acquainted with this wonderful woman who proudly carried on her family’s tradition of service to God.
A second stage of building was begun with the Good Samaritan Wing Complex, which was dedicated in the fall of 1977 and attended by not only the current rector, the Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade, but two former rectors, Rev. Douglass M. Bailey and Rev. Hewes Phillips, and Bishop Robert Atkinson, Bishop of WV.
In 1979, the original structure, the Parish Hall, now referred to as “Peterkin Hall:” was destroyed by an arsonist. The pain was devastating but drew the congregation closer than ever before. Thirteen months after the fire, a new Peterkin Hall is dedicated.
In 1984, under the direction of most recent rector, Rev. Dr. Arthur L. Bennett III, the sanctuary was updated and remodeled.
Space restrictions and the absence of many records prevent a painstaking examination of activities that occurred between 1932 and 1969. The inability to do so does nothing to diminish the struggles and achievements of priests and laity who have worked tirelessly to assure that The Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd is a place which God will send those He loves. The fruits of their labor are evident as we gather to celebrate 100 years of God’s call to us.
Since Bishop Peterkin purchased land in Hutchinson’s Grove with the vision of a Sunday School, The Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd has welcomed eighteen priests and at least eight deacons or priests as assistant clergy, to lead us on our way. The nurturing of this garden has also produced, at last count, sixteen members of Good Shepherd’s family who have gone on to choose a life of ordained ministry. As for lay ministry, rarely is a service conducted at Good Shepherd that there is not at least one layreader or service assistant participating.
In Parkersburg, Good Shepherd, or “The Pink Church” as it is more commonly known, has a reputation of being the place that someone in need can turn for help. The presence every weekday of laughing voices and the sounds of little footsteps echo in the halls as Headstart called Good Shepherd home as it did for more than forty years. Programs like the Adopted Families Christmas Project, Manna, and The Gabriel Project, reflect the same emphasis on children and outreach that were the concerns of Bishop and Mrs. Peterkin so many years ago as they prayed for guidance in channeling their sadness and energy into endeavors that would honor the memories of those two little boys. It is safe to say that their legacy lives on.