St. Peter’s Episcopal Church has been at the heart of downtown Lewes since the early 18th century, a landmark at the corner of Second and Market streets since the 1850s.
At 170 years old, the church doesn’t look too bad, but church officials say it’s time for change.
Crews are working through the COVID-19 pandemic to renovate the church, adding space for a growing congregation while also transforming behind-the-scenes areas to make better use of limited space. The $1.2 million project is the first renovation and upgrade in 117 years.
“Steady growth in membership, inevitable structural issues and the lack of adequate facilities made these improvements imperative,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Ross, rector of St. Peter’s.
The expansion features two new alcoves off the chancel – the space around the altar – for choir seating, to balance the interior appearance. Space for pews for 40 more people, including people in wheelchairs, will be added in the sanctuary. The steeple will be redesigned, a third outside entrance will be added above a new alcove, and the front of the church will have a new, covered entrance.
Ross said construction of the new alcoves proved very fortuitous because demolition uncovered a large crack running across the width of the chancel.
“Our contractor estimates in 10 years, the entire chancel would have separated from the rest of the church,” he said.
The baptismal basin will be relocated to a central spot among the pews, the lower-level music room will be converted to a parlor, and the church will have two new restrooms, a new roof and an improved HVAC system.
A state-of-the-art audiovisual system highlights the upgrades, allowing professional weekly broadcasts of church services to members and others who wish to participate remotely.
“The pandemic is a challenge, as it is for everyone right now,” Ross said. “We have not been able to meet with our membership one-on-one to get pledges to our campaign, and the construction firm has had trouble sourcing some building materials. Nevertheless, the work has gone forward. RY Johnson hopes to complete the work by July 1.”
In 2021, a second phase to expand and improve St. Peter’s community hall will get underway.
“Parallel to our growth in church members, we are experiencing more and more requests for use of our program space by local nonprofit organizations,” Ross said.
St. Peter’s plans to designate up to one-third of its new facility for use by local nonprofit groups.
The first St. Peter’s Church, built of wood, measured 40-by-24-feet with a steeple and cypress-shingled roof. The original black walnut communion table from that church now serves as the altar.
A second wood structure was built in 1808, but decayed quickly and was replaced in the mid-1850s with the existing brick church. The church steeple was added in 1870 and other rooms were added at the rear of the church in 1903.
Contributions toward paying off a $500,000 loan are being accepted. Donations are being accepted on St. Peter’s website at www.stpeterslewes.org/online-giving. A drop-down menu allows donors to direct their donation to a specific project or fund.
To learn more about St. Peter’s, go to www.stpeterslewes.org or call 302-645-8479.