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History

"O God, Our Help in Ages Past"

st-helenas-sm.jpgWe are delighted you are here, and we bid you peace and welcome in the name of the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

Established in 1712 as a colonial parish of the Church of England, St. Helena’s is one of the oldest churches in America. The original church was built on the present site in 1724 and appears today as it did in 1842 following its final enlargement.

St. Helena’s early development was interrupted by the Yemassee Indian War, which began suddenly and without mercy in the spring of 1715. The Yemassee were driven from South Carolina, and the settlers gradually returned to the parish. In 1734, Captain John Bull gave the church a silver Communion service in memory of his wife who disappeared during the attack. This Communion service is still used today on special occasions.           

A signer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Heyward Jr. (1746-1809) was St. Helena’s most noted parishioner of this period. He was a member of the Second Continental Congress and a signer of the Articles of Confederation. Like his father before him, he was a member of St. Helena’s Vestry and owned pew number 16. He is buried in the Heyward family cemetery near Beaufort.   

The American Revolution severed St. Helena’s colonial ties to the Church of England. Following the American Revolution, St. Helena’s and 11 other former Anglican parishes founded the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina.

St. Helena’s Rector, Rev. Dr. Joseph R. Walker, inspired a spiritual revival that became known as the Great Beaufort Revival of 1831. Ordinary life in Beaufort came to a standstill as the revival spirit swept through the town. This resulted in 39 men from this parish entering the Episcopal ministry. Of this number, six became bishops in the Church including the first Episcopal missionary bishop to China.

During the Civil War, Federal forces invaded and occupied Beaufort and the Sea Islands in November 1861. Federal chaplains conducted services in St. Helena’s until 1864 when the church was converted to a convalescent hospital for “colored troops.” All that remained of the prewar furnishings was the small baptismal font found in a rubbish pile in the churchyard at war’s end.

The present altar was carved by the sailors of the U.S.S. New Hampshire, which was stationed in Port Royal Sound during Reconstruction, and presented by the ship’s officers to St. Helena’s as a gift of reconciliation.

St. Helena’s made a slow recovery during Reconstruction and survived two of the most destructive hurricanes in the 1890s. However, St. Helena’s faced its greatest crisis in nearly a century during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Forced to consider closing the church for lack of funds, St. Helena’s nevertheless struggled through the Depression to emerge in the latter half of the 20th century with a growing congregation committed to rebuilding St. Helena’s physical and spiritual foundations.

St. Helena’s is an Anglican congregation and traces its heritage through the history of the Church of England back to the earliest days of Christianity. We are committed to the faith that God has revealed in Holy Scripture, which we understand to be the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. We ascribe to the apostolic statement of faith: A belief in God the Father, creator of mankind and all the world; a belief in God the Son, who redeemed us by His death on the cross for our sins; and a belief in God the Holy Spirit, who sustains us and conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ our Lord.

While we are thankful for our deep and rich historic roots, St. Helena’s is not a museum. We are a vibrant, worshipping community with more than 2,000 members. In 2012, this parish celebrated its 300th anniversary. During the past 300 years, St. Helena’s has experienced ebbs and flows in the vitality of its church life. Thankfully, today the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is being faithfully preached by the clergy. Ever mindful of the Great Beaufort Revival of 1831, our congregation is praying for a “Second Spring,” another great outpouring of the Holy Spirit that will bear much fruit for the Kingdom of God.  

For more information about preserving our historic church buildings and grounds, click HERE.