History of St. Francis Episcopal Church

Our Beginning: St. Francis-in-the-Field

1960s Aerial of Church Property

Around 1960, a small group of Episcopalians who had "moved to the country," as Great Falls was then regarded, sought to worship in their own community. Among them were Collas and Ann Harris, who were members of St. John's Episcopal Church in nearby McLean. Colonel Harris was instrumental in urging the vestry and rector of St. John's to establish a mission in Great Falls.

The Rev. James Petty was the first vicar, and the first worship service was held in the Great Falls Elementary School cafeteria in August 1964. The land on Georgetown Pike, where the current church stands, was purchased from Richard and Kate Shands in 1964 and the former dairy farm became the bucolic site of St. Francis-in-the-Field. The farmhouse served as the vicarage; and the dog kennel, after much scrubbing and painting, was transformed into the worship and fellowship space. The first service was held in this new chapel on Palm Sunday, 1965. A silo stood on the property for some time, as well as other outbuildings that added interest to the setting.

1960s Fellowship DinnerThe mission was closed briefly in the early 1970s, although an earnest group continued to meet in private homes until 1975. The Rev. William F. Myers of St. John's filled the pulpit for some time, fostering the long-term bond of respect with St. Francis parishioners that still exists. St. Francis reopened in 1975 with the Rev. Edwin P. Bailey as the second vicar. In 1978, the Rev. John P. Millen, assistant rector of

1960s Blessing of the Animals

St. John's, was appointed vicar and was selected as the first rector of St. Francis in 1980. After three years of financial independence, the Diocese of Virginia granted full parish status to St. Francis Episcopal Church, a cause for great celebration.

By the early 1980s, St. Francis had become an active part of the community, hosting meetings and events and serving the needs of parishioners and many others in the region. Our lovely setting became the home of an annual Great Falls tradition--the St. Francis Country Fair, held each fall. The fair, with its renowned quilt show, bake sale, children's games, musical offerings, hay rides, book sale, silent auction, and other booths and activities, has served the region for more than 30 years.

Church Building in the 1980sA New Church Home

In September 1983, ground was broken for our new church home, and the building was dedicated in August 1984. Following John Millen's call to Ohio in 1985, the church appointed The Rev. Robert Friend from St. Anne's in Annapolis as our second rector in January 1987. Bob and his wife, Susan, were with us for 14 years, during which time a new parish hall and Christian Education building were constructed. Today, the parish hall is known as Millen Hall and hosts a wide range of fellowship and community events. The nursery and lower-level classrooms and offices are busy nearly every day--filled with activity and serving all ages just as our church leaders had envisioned decades ago.

Parish Hall Construction 1992Our parish continued to grow, and many young families made St. Francis their church home. As pastoral and worship needs expanded, additional clergy were called as assistant rectors - first the Rev. Robert Hooper and then the Rev. Hentzi Elek. In 1996, St. Francis extended its generous mission of outreach to the African continent, where we began to support families in Sudan. We formalized our commitment in 1998 with a Covenant with the Diocese of Ezo and our pledge to support the St. Francis Basic School in Juba. We continue to support the diocese and the school today with donations of funds and equipment, mission trips, and prayers.

In April 2000, St. Francis reached another milestone with the creation of the St. Francis Creche preschool. The vestry established a board of directors for the school, and Mrs. Anne Watts was hired as director. The doors opened to three- and four-year-olds in January 2001, with a robust curriculum in early childhood education, music, art, and creative movement. The program also included a weekly chapel service. The St. Francis Creche quickly grew and became a successful and respected preschool in the region, expanding its classes and staff, improving our playground, and, most recently, adding a beautiful outdoor classroom. Both phases of construction of the outdoor classroom were completed by talented Eagle scouts. Ms. Jane Ruppe has served as preschool director since 2002, working with a dedicated team of teachers and volunteers.

2004 AnniversaryA Special Place

In the spring of 2001, Bob Friend was called to serve All Saints Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, and in the fall of that year Hentzi Elek also left to serve a church in Pennsylvania. After a two-year interim period led by the Rev. Roy Benjamin, the Rev. Penelope Bridges was called in April 2003 as the third rector of St. Francis. The Rev. Earnest Graham soon joined St. Francis and served as assistant rector until 2007. The Rev. Allen Pruitt served as assistant rector from 2007 until September 2010, when he accepted a call to St. Mark's in La Grange, Georgia. The Rev. Benson Shelton arrived in December 2010 as assistant rector and departed as associate rector in 2014 when he accepted a call to St. Stephen's in Culpeper, Virgnia.

As we celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2014, we also began a journey for a new rector. KevinPennyAfter serving St. Francis lovingly and faithfully for 11 years, Penny Bridges departed in February, 2014 to serve as the dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in San Diego. The Rev. David Lucey was called to be our fourth rector in the Fall of 2015.

St. Francis continues to be blessed with the active participation and leadership of many members who have been with us for decades, fondly remembering our early days of gathering and worshiping in the "dog kennel." Then as now, we have fostered a pioneering spirit in which we embrace new ideas as well as tradition and respect for our past. Our energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to spiritual growth are reflected in the many growing ministries at St. Francis - including our lively preschool and Christian Education program, our ambitious music program with performances ranging from lovely Evensongs to "Godspell" and "Joseph & The Amazing Technical Dreamcoat," and our global efforts in serving the needs of others. Most importantly, we continue our tradition of weekly and special services of worship in our beautiful church home in Great Falls  - just as our founding members dreamed of 50 years ago.

St. Francis Clergy

The Rev. James S. Petty (Vicar) 1964 - 1971
The Rev. Edwin P. Bailey (Vicar) 1974 - 1979
The Rev. John Clyde Millen (1st Rector) 1979 - 1985
The Rev. Roy ("Rip") Coffin (Interim) 1985 - 1986
The Rev. Robert D. Friend (2nd Rector) 1987 - 2001
The Rev. Robert Hooper (Asst. Rector) 1996 - 1997
The Rev. Hentzi Elek (Assoc. Rector) 1997 - 2001
The Rev. Roy Benjamin (Interim) 2001 - 2003
The Rev. Penelope Bridges (3rd Rector) 2003 - 2014
The Rev. Earnest Graham (Asst. Rector) 2003 - 2007
The Rev. Allan Pruitt (Assoc. Rector) 2007 - 2010
The Rev. Benson E. Shelton (Assoc. Rector) 2010 - 2014
The Rev. Lyndon Shakespeare (Interim) 2014 - 2015
The Rev. David Lucey (4th Rector) 2015 - present
The Rev. Tracey Kelly (Associate Rector) 2015 - present

A list of Senior Wardens at St. Francis can be found here.