152 years after the Civil War, we find it difficult to understand the effect of those dark times on any relatively small entity, but in the case of our church, we have a wonderful resource - the micro-filmed, hand-written minutes of the meetings of the Lewes Presbyterian Church Session. Preserved, hopefully for all time, are the joys and concerns of the saints who brought the church through a tumultuous decade.
Although there is little concise data that reflects the broader economic condition of Delaware, much less Lewes, around the time of the Civil War, there is the fact that Delaware, as a border state, must have felt the financial pain of both the blockaded South and the financially over-extended North. That pain appears from time to time in the minutes of the Session from that period. But mixed with that problem one can sense the concern of the church board as they dealt with that and the many “people” problems that occurred then.
Often the meetings were called for the routine handling of the acceptance of new members or approval of the “dismission” of an existing member who had moved from the church. However, the minutes of October 1859 are far from routine as they convey the lyrical, nearly poetic, expressions of their distress in accepting the resignation of their pastor, the Rev. William C. Handy. The following is an excerpt from that meeting. “The Session met and agreed to comply with our Pastor’s request feeling deep sorrow and regret that an overruling Providence should so order this calamity upon us and our Congregation,” this being hardly routine and probably unprecedented in the present day. This event led to a nearly two-year period without a full-time minister, ending when the Rev. G. H. Nimmo was installed by the congregation of the church in September 1861. The frustration of the Session’s members during this period must have been a fact of life as finances and the wishes of the congregation kept them from finding a replacement for the beloved Rev. Handy.
Financial problems persisted. In 1862 when Rev. Nimmo’s annual salary of $500 could not be raised by the congregation, he agreed to a $100 reduction. Appeals to the Presbytery for financial help from the Board of Domestic Missions in the amount of $100 were made annually from 1863 to 1867. These appeals were made when the total income from the congregation ranged from a high of $1,041 in 1865 to a low of $602 in 1868. The number of communicants was not regularly reported but, was just above 100 in the late 1860's.
Strangely, there was no reference of any kind to the war that raged through the middle of this time period. Perhaps their local problems precluded those of the nation, or perhaps their position as a border state with congregants loyal to both the North and the South kept the subject out of the life of the church.
Despite the struggle, the church survived. Men and women acting out their faith made it so.