The First 300

The Church Of Saint Asaph

St. Asaph’s Church, Bala Cynwyd. Founded by six men, including George P. Roberts; designed by Theophilus P. Chandler.

On November 16, 1887, six gentlemen met at Pencoyd, home of George B. Roberts, and became the founding vestry of St. Asaph’s Church. They chose Theophilus P. Chandler as architect, and he designed a building that resembles St. Asaph Cathedral in Wales, reflecting the origin of the Bala-Cynwyd area’s first settlers. The Robertses donated land for the church; ground was broken the following spring, interrupted by the “Blizzard of ’88.” The cornerstone was laid that May, and the Victorian Gothic building rose amid the fields, close to the still unpaved City Line Avenue and the Schuylkill Valley spur of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The first service in the completed church took place on March 24, 1889. When the first rector, the Rev. Frederick Burgess, arrived in June, the money collected at his first service was sent to the victims of the recent Johnstown flood, beginning a history of outreach that continues to the present day.

The congregation worshipped in this temporary frame building while the stone church was being built. T. Williams Roberts wrote of his childhood memories of parishioners dodging raindrops from the leaky roof, and of mischievous boys banging the lid of the coalbox during sermons.

St. Asaph’s parish has had an active ministry in the 111 plus years since its founding. It has survived the Depression and two world wars, and weathered the liturgical changes in the Episcopal Church at large.

It has reached out to its community, including its close neighbors, Inglis House and Kearsley Home. It shares its facilities with a Montessori school, a day care nursery and a boy scout troop, and has been home to two Korean congregations in past years. It celebrated its centennial in 1988, with the Dean of St. Asaph Cathedral and the Archdeacon of Wrexham visiting from Wales for the occasion.

It has had seven rectors, two of whom have gone on to become bishops, and two others each of whom have served for 33 years. St. Asaph’s seventh and present rector, Ann Broomell, is the first woman to hold that permanent position in the Merion Deanery of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.

The rectory, was designed by Chandler, built during the summer of 1888, and funded by George B. Roberts in thanksgiving for the birth of his daughter, Miriam. The latter (future Mrs. Spencer Ervin) gave the funds for much of the Gothic embellishment of the church’s interior in 1911, and celebrated her 100th birthday the year of the church’s centennial.
St. Asaph’s in 1893.
Chancel with Gothic carving and rood screen, 1943 photo.
George B. Roberts, first rector’s warden, played the leading role in the founding of the church.
David Evans Williams, Roberts’ brother-in-law, was involved with the church vestry for its first 50 years. Known fondly as “Uncle Dave.”
The parish house was completed and dedicated on October 6, 1891. To provide electric lighting for the evening’s celebration, Mr. Albert Stadelman contributed a steam generator.