All for the glory of God and Learning and Doing the Work of Jesus.
St. Gabriel’s Church was founded in 1720 by a group of Swedish Lutherans who had earlier moved to Berks County from the area in and around Philadelphia. We are the oldest congregation in Berks County with services first being held in 1708 by the Reverend Andrew Sandel.
The congregation originally met in homes, and in 1735-36 a log cabin was constructed from logs hewn from the neighboring woods to serve as worship space. The log cabin, which was located near the east center of the cemetery, continued in use until 1801 when a new stone edifice was erected. After which, the log cabin was used as a school until it was destroyed by fire in the winter of 1831-1832.
Our parish began as a Swedish Lutheran congregation; however, they were not able to secure regular sustained ministry from their own clergy. In 1760, St. Gabriel’s formally joined the Church of England, ending our relationship with the Swedish Lutheran Church organization and was provided with Anglican ministers.
The relations between the Church of England and the Swedish Lutheran Churches in this country had been most cordial and intimate. The ministers preached interchangeably in many of the churches and the same liturgy eventually came to be used in both.
St. Gabriel’s Church was one of eight parishes that formed the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania after the Revolutionary War. Deputies from St. Gabriel’s were at the General Convention, which elected the Rt. Rev. William White to be the first Bishop of Pennsylvania. We also helped to form the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
The 1801 stone building, affectionately known as the “1801 Chapel”, served as our church until 1884, when the current church building was completed. The cornerstone of this new building was laid on October 19, 1881. It was first occupied for worship in January 1884, and on December 8, 1887, was consecrated to the service of God by the First Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, the Rt. Rev. M.A. DeWolfe, D.D.
The 1801 Chapel was “remodeled” around 1890. The Chapel was originally built as a two (2)-story structure with balconies encompassing the second floor. Theses balconies were enclosed creating a separate second floor, which was used as a small theatre and also served as the home of the Douglassville Library, and Reading room.
The pulpit and pews of the first floor were removed and the spaces used as a meeting room for the church, Sunday school as well as for community activities. The Chapel was restored to its original state between 1960 and 1975, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1978.
The “1801 Chapel” still plays a large part in our worship life as we hold our Saturday service in the Chapel as well as Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving Eve and Memorial Day services. The Chapel has been home to non-denominational congregations – New Horizons Church and Heart’s Ablaze Fellowship.
The 1884 Church building followed the architecture of the time, with the roof designed like an inverted ship with bell towers. The worship space of the 1884 Church was renovated in 2003 with it being rededicated to God’s service on September 14 of that year.
In anticipation of growth in the area in the late 1950’s, plans were made to add an addition to the 1884 Church, which would provide room for a new parish hall, office and Sunday school space. The addition was completed in 1959 and was immediately used by the local public school district for classroom space. With the completion of the 1959 building, the 1801 Chapel was able to be refurbished.
A visionary of the parish, Raymond Elliott, saw the empty hay field adjacent to the west side of the 1884 Church as a place where God could provide for the elderly. St. Gabriel’s was able to purchase the land in 1990. It took over a decade but; Mr. Elliott’s vision was finally achieved in 2005 when the Villa at Morlatton, renamed to the Keystone Villa, opened its doors as an independent living center. Since 2005, The Villa has expanded its facility and added additional services for the elderly to include assisted living and memory care and have plans to expand further.
By 1995, we once again started to feel the need to expand our facilities and the Architectural Task Force was formed, which later became the Campus Master Plan Committee.
In 2000, a modular building was utilized as temporary classrooms while plans were developed, and funds were raised for our needed Sunday school space. Also, that year, the Good Shepherd Learning Center opened, a Christian-based daycare center providing a much-needed outreach to the community in the region.
The 1884 Church was remodeled in 2003. On December 31, 2005, the new Parish Life Center was dedicated. The new expansion has provided us with new office space, classroom space, a new kitchen and a large multi-purpose room.
Over the years St. Gabriel’s has been the home of Boy Scout Troops, Girl Scout Troops, AA groups, other Community groups, Hope Methodist Church, New Horizons Church, Heart’s Ablaze Fellowship Church, and Hopewell Love in the Name of Christ to name a few. St. Gabriel’s has also served as a “way” station for people in the discernment process on their way to ordained ministry.
In preparation for the 300th Anniversary celebration, the Property Committee has worked to address the condition of the various buildings.
The 1801 Chapel has received needed repairs, new paint inside and out, and a new HVAC system. The new system controls the interior environment, helping to keep the chapel in better condition, while providing a more comfortable experience for worshipers.
The Rectory has received similar attention, getting needed internal and external repairs, new interior paint, a new furnace, a remodeled bathroom, and a new refrigerator.
The Church Campus consists of the 1801 Chapel surrounded by the cemetery, the 1884 Church, the 1959 School building, the 2005 Expansion, and the rectory.