St. Stephen’s Reformed Episcopal Church – Summerville, South Carolina
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Home to an historic African-American congregation, St. Stephen’s Reformed Episcopal Church in Summerville was founded in 1885 by the Reverend Peter Stevens.
Having purchased land on Palmetto Street from the Southern Railway Company, Stevens then hired local carpenters to build the church, which was completed in 1885. St. Stephen’s was renovated in 2002 and retains an active congregation which serves its community through a variety of efforts, including working with the Dorchester County Solicitor’s Office in the Youth Mentor Program.
In 2010, St. Stephen’s merged with nearby St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church. At first, Sunday services were held at St. Stephens, but in 2011 services moved to St. Paul’s – less than two miles away.
The Reverend Peter Stevens
Ironically, Stevens served as an officer in Confederacy and ordered what many consider the first shot of the Civil War. The superintendent of his alma mater, The Citadel, Stevens commanded the battery at Morris Island and on January 9, 1861, fired upon an unarmed Union supply ship, the Star of the West, moored in Charleston Harbor.
Later that year, Stevens was ordained as a minister in the the Protestant Episcopal Church (now known simply as the Episcopal Church). He continued to serve in the war, rising to the rank of colonel. Wounded at Sharpsburg, he was offered a commission as brigadier general, but he chose instead to resign and devote himself to his religious duties.
Stevens, who had been a professor of astronomy and civil engineering at The Citadel, temporarily resigned from teaching to pursue ministry. After he was ordained, he served as pastor of two Lowcountry churches, including Black Oak Church in Berkeley County.
During his travels to and from Charleston, where he lived on Judith Street, the Reverend Stevens noticed that black families in rural areas no longer had places to worship. Prior to the war, services had primarily been held on individual plantations. With the demise of the plantation system, these famillies were spiritually stranded. Working with the freedman, he spent the rest of his life creating sanctuaries within walking distance of black parishioners. In all, he built 27 churches, many of which are still in use today.
In December 1874, several local black congregations met in nearby Pinopolis, where they decided to leave the Protestant Episcopal Church’s Diocese of South Carolina because it had refused to ordain four black men who had applied for its ministry. The Reverend Stevens was living in the Upstate at the time, but these members selected him to be their leader should they be allowed into the newly-formed Reformed Episcopal Church. Begun just a year earlier by a Bishop from Kentucky, the inclusive new denomination sent a letter of consent the following June. The Missionary Jurisdiction of the South – now called the Diocese of the Southeast – was born. Reverend Stevens resigned from the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1876, and in 1879 became a Bishop of the new black diocese.
While acting as a Bishop, Stevens – who was always a strong believer in education – also reentered the realm of academia. He worked alongside Governor Johnson Hagood to reopen The Citadel in 1877 and later served as a professor of mathematics at Clafin University (then Claflin College) and South Carolina State University, two historically black colleges located in Orangeburg.
After his death in 1910, Bishop Stevens was buried in Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery, where members of the African-American clergy he supported served as pallbearers and led his funeral service.
St. Stephen’s Reformed Episcopal Church Info
Address: 104 North Palmetto Street, Summerville, SC 29483
St. Stephen’s Reformed Episcopal Church Map
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