History of St. Bede’s

Imagine the Menlo Park of 1884:  “a dreamy hamlet set amid ancient oaks”, and with a population of 250! Surrounding this small enclave of cottages and shops were the large and glorious estates of the era’s wealthy, known affectionately as “Gold Plated Nabobs”, and appreciated for their largesse.

Growth was slow in Menlo Park.  The Leland Stanford Junior University was completed in 1891, but with the depression and two world wars, things took a while to get going. It wasn’t until after WW2 when the population suddenly exploded.  Large numbers of servicemen with their wives and families came to take advantage of the G.I. education program and study at Stanford while living in Menlo Park. Additionally, new employment opportunities, particularly in electronics and other scientific fields, were rapidly developing. The large estates were sold and divided up into small parcels for housing to accommodate the new arrivals.   With burgeoning opportunities, the natural beauty of the area, and the pleasing climate, the rest of the world noticed and began arriving!

By the late fifties, Trinity Parish, located in the downtown area had grown from a tiny church, seating 88 in the 1886 to the current building on Ravenswood Avenue that was bursting at the seams, despite having a capacity of 300!  It was time to think about establishing a second congregation.  After considering three sites, it was decided in 1959 that Trinity would purchase five acres of the Sharon Estate in the rolling hills of West Menlo Park. The land had originally been part of the huge cattle ranch, the Rancho de las Pulgas originally granted by the Spanish Governor of California Jose Dario Arguello in the late eighteenth century.  At the time of Trinity’s purchase of this parcel, it was assumed that the entire area would be zoned for residential use. This turned out not to be.  Instead Sand Hill Road became the venture capital, research and development corridor that we know today.

The chosen architect of the new church was John Hill, and the design, in line with liturgical developments of the 1960s, was of a modified round sanctuary with the raised altar surrounded by pews, where “worshippers would gather as at the Last Supper”. Additionally there would be classrooms for an elementary Episcopal School, a library and an office around three sides of the patio.

It was apparent that church would create a fine acoustical space, and that much care should be given to the commissioning of an excellent pipe organ.  The company of Rudolf Beckerath of Hamburg, Germany, was selected, and work on the design and construction was begun.  The instrument, a lovely neo-classical tracker organ, was installed in 1970. Incidentally, forty years later, the organ has now just undergone a complete overhaul by one of the craftsmen who was part of the team that originally built it, Hans-Uhlrich Erbslöh, and is now one rank away from being as good as it was when first installed! We are most grateful to our generous contributors to the Organ Donor 2012 campaign that have made this possible.

It was decided by the vestry of Trinity Parish that their new mission would be dedicated to the academically inclined Anglo-Saxon saint, the Venerable Bede, and the groundbreaking took place on St. Bede’s Day, May 27, 1962.  It was almost completed by Christmas Day of that year, and, undaunted by the mud and the lack of heat, pews, carpeting, organ, or even an altar, a congregation of 210 celebrated together!

St. Bede’s was dedicated by the Bishop Pike on January 27, 1963, complete with its hanging cross, altar, candlesticks and font made by a noted Carmel craftsman, Emile Norman. An appealing detail of Norman’s work was that he was able to incorporate fragments of the olive trees that had been removed during the site clearance, into the decorative leaves on the altar and font.  We have, incidentally, been glad to continue the olive tree imagery in our website’s icon.

St. Bede’s remained a mission of Trinity Parish until 1982, when it became a parish in its own right, continuing to host Trinity School, a fully accredited Episcopal elementary school, and jointly sponsored by both St. Bede’s and Trinity.  The first rector was the Rev. Joseph Frazier who served from 1982 to 1990; the second, the Rev. Dr. Katherine Lehman, served from 1991 to 2012. The third, the Rev. Gia Hayes-Martin, has recently taken up a call at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington, Ohio.

There have been two successful capital campaigns over the last twenty years.  It was apparent by the early 90s that the congregation was suffocating due to lack of space for hospitality and education for all ages.  The Vision 2000 campaign saw the construction of a spacious and beautiful parish hall, recently renamed Lehman Hall, the building of the Trinity School center, the remodeling of both the parish offices and the Sunday School classrooms.  The second, recently completed capital campaign allowed for upgrades on the site, indoors and outdoors, and was intentionally ‘green’ in its choices.  A new HVAC system was installed, as were much needed upgrades in lighting and sound in the sanctuary. The central patio has also been greatly improved and made more welcoming with the creation of a large labyrinth surrounded by raised planted beds.

St. Bede’s is now fifty years old. Our site is beautiful and well maintained.  Our buildings are ‘green’ and attractive.  Our congregation is lively. We are looking forward to the years ahead under the leadership of a newly called Rector.

This history is indebted to “Lift up your hearts: a history of Trinity Parish, Menlo Park,” by Stanley Pearce, published by Trinity Parish in 1974.