A longtime tradition at St. Thomas Episcopal Church Whitemarsh is set to return after a more than 20-year absence, just in time to mark the congregation’s 325th anniversary.
The St. Thomas Country Fair, an event that was last held in 2002, will be revived on June 10, filling the grounds of the Fort Washington church with family-friendly activities, good food, live music and booths featuring unique items to buy.
The return comes after more than two decades of not having enough volunteers to organize and carry out the event, which started in 1955.
“The Country Fair involves a huge amount of work requiring a whole year of preparation by a committee and usually two couples heading up the committee,” Fair spokesperson Anne Anspach said last week. “It was discontinued in 2002 because we were having a hard time then recruiting volunteers to head up the effort.
But times have changed.
“We now have over 100 volunteers, both church members and non-church members,” Anspach continued. “And even though the Country Fair wasn’t held all these years, the donations from the community continued, and so the Fair morphed into the Second Saturday sales, which have been very successful.”
The “Second Saturday” barn sales are held on the second Saturday of the spring and summer months. They are mammoth operations that have become even more immense because many individuals who used to contribute and purchase items at the St. Paul's Episcopal Church annual rummage sale in Chestnut Hill now do so at St. Thomas since the St. Paul's rummage sales have been discontinued.
The returning Country Fair will feature dog agility demonstrations, quilts from a quilting guild in Valley Forge, a large baked goods booth (many of the baked goods are made by church members), live music from The Old Ford Band as well as the usual “Second Saturday” department sales, which include bric a brac, women’s and men’s clothing, toys, sporting equipment, furniture, books, artwork, hardware, jewelry and a cafe that serves breakfast and lunch.
All proceeds will be donated to local, regional and global charities.
According to Anspach, the most popular aspects of the Fair up to 2002 were the Raw Bar headed up by John and Sandy Drinker, the French Shop of women’s clothing, the Midway of games for children, the Country Store and the departments that will be there again on June 10.
On the first week in May, the church held a sold-out Barn Preview Party and dinner which drew over 200 people (a record).
“Thousands of people come for our Second Saturday barn sales, and all proceeds go to serve the neighborhood. All the money, $150,000 last year, leaves the campus,” said the Rev. Emily Richards, current rector of the church, which has 1,000 members. “It's in our DNA, to serve the local community, no matter what their religious tradition. We have a labyrinth, a solar farm, a summer camp for kids from Philly that is free for them, in other words, not just for Whitpain Township. We are very proud of our history and are carrying on our legacy.”
St. Thomas Whitemarsh is the 17th oldest continuously worshiping church in the country. One important feature of the vast acreage of St. Thomas' Church is its graveyard, which takes up about 15 acres and is often visited by those who want to read the inscriptions on the tombstones.
Church founder Edward Farmar, who died in 1745, and his son, Thomas, who died in 1731, are among those buried there. The oldest gravestone is for James Allison, whose tombstone says he died at age 45 and was buried in October 1727. Many hundreds of people are buried in the graveyard, including 12 veterans of the Revolutionary War
St. Thomas was “a place where people of all denominations came to have fellowship and to serve for all those years,” Richards said. “All are welcome to come to this holy hill. I want to keep this tradition alive to renew, refresh and restore. As much as things have changed, this has stayed the same. Fellowship, worship and service.”
For more information about the Country Fair or any other upcoming events, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.