The history of Church of the Messiah is a story of growth. That story continues today. The meaningful worship, active social ministries, and welcoming nature of the parish continue to attract and incorporate a diverse gathering of individuals and families into a faith-filled and faithful Christian community at the Church of the Messiah.
One of the oldest photographs we have of the Church taken in 1905 showing the original belfry. The first service was held on Christmas Day 1871 and the Church was consecrated May 2, 1878 after the original mortgage of $5000 was paid.
The original seating capacity was 100.
In 1855, the Pennsylvania Railroad expanded service into the sparsely settled, agricultural areas north of Philadelphia as far as Gwynedd Valley Station. Philadelphians seeking escape from the city’s summer heat discovered the pastoral and tranquil countryside, and farmers began to take in summer boarders. Soon, inns to accommodate visitors and summer homes for wealthy families, were built in the area.
In 1861, with no Episcopal church located this far from the city, services for summer visitors were held in the local home of Rodolphus Kent. Growth of these services prompted a group of summer residents to hold an organizational meeting in December of 1866; the name ‘Church of the Messiah’ reflects the fact that the parish was born in the same month as the Church celebrates Christ’s birth. Within two years, attendance had grown too large for private homes and Sunday services were moved to the Gwynedd School, opposite the intersection of Plymouth Road and State Road (now Rte. 202).
In 1870, two acres located between the school and William Penn Inn were purchased. The church women hosted a fair to raise funds for the builder’s first payment, and, in recognition of their contribution, the women were given the honor of turning the first sod at the official ground-breaking. In the weeks following, the men of the parish labored to excavate the site and dig the cellar by hand. Stone from a local quarry was then brought to the site along State Road (now Rte. 202, as previously mentioned), then a toll road, but the road’s private owners waived the tolls in order to spare the congregation the expensive transport. On August 10, 1871, the cornerstone was laid; and only four months later, the congregation gathered on Christmas Day to celebrate Messiah’s first service. In the summer of 1877, after a fundraising junket to Long Branch raised enough money to pay off the mortgage, the building was consecrated and the parish welcomed into the Diocese of Pennsylvania.
In the early years Church of the Messiah served only as a summer chapel, but as the surrounding area developed, the congregation grew steadily until year-round services could be supported. A full-time rector was hired, requiring the building of the rectory, the Patterson House, which is still in use as Belfry Bargains Thrift Shop. Later the school building was acquired and expanded for use as the Parish Hall. Growth of the Gwynedd-area suburbs prompted the parish to establish three missions, now the independent parishes of Holy Trinity in Lansdale, St. Dunstan’s in Blue Bell, and St. Matthew’s, Maple Glen. While continued parish growth necessitated expanding the Parish Hall and 100-seat sanctuary and purchasing ‘the Cottage’, the historic flavor of the original buildings has been faithfully maintained.