Bullet history of St. Thomas Reformed Church
Told in Milestones
- 1493 – Christopher Columbus laid claim to “Las Islas Virgines” (the Virgins) for Spain
- Mid-1600’s – St. Thomas and St. John few the Danish flag and St. Croix was settled by the English and Dutch
- St Thomas was a busy trading port, while St. Croix and St. John were agriculture hubs for the area, growing cotton and sugar cane
- Dutch traders, our congregational forefathers, traded in sugar and molasses and congregated in worship
- 1660 – The Dutch Reformed Church of St. Thomas was founded
- Early services were held in Fort Christian, an area shared with the Danish Lutheran church
- 1736 – The congregation built its first building, just east of Fort Christian. It was destroyed in 1743, either by fire or a hurricane
- 1744 – A new building was erected at Snegle Gade, Queen’s Quarter
- 1804 & 1806 The church building burned down in 1804 and its replacement was also lost to fire in 1806.
- Early 1800’s – An age of decline hit the Virgin Islands, due to fierce agricultural competition, successive droughts, hurricanes, fires and a tidal wave, a brief British occupation and the abolition of slavery.
- Due to the hard times and loss of the church building, the congregation was scattered and disheartened, but they did not disband.
- 1827 – The church transferred from the Church in the Netherlands to the Classis of New York, where they remain a member of this body today.
- Application was made for a new pastor, as the church had been without one for several years.
- 1828 – The first American minister, Abraham Labagh, came to St. Thomas and held services in English, for the first time. He also started the first Sunday School and improved the finances of the church.
- 1846 – Due to membership growth and improved finances, a new building was built. This is the same building at the corner of Nye and Crystal Gades where the congregation worships today.
- 1854 – the congregation had grown to 711 members
- Second half of 1800’s – Industrial Revolution, end of slavery, and natural disasters brought decline to the economy of the Virgin Islands. Many Dutch settlers left St. Thomas.
- 1900’s – Business decline and uncertainty impacted the congregation, but they didn’t give in to proposals to close the church, despite a sporadically filled pulpit.
- February 18, 1917 – the church held a farewell service for the Danish governor, as the islands were sold to the United States. The transfer occurred on March 31, 1917.
- St. Thomas saw an influx of US Navy and Marine personnel. The church reached out to the new members of the community, as they were without a chaplain.
- 1950’s – Surge in travel and the duty free status of the territory brought more fortunes to the island.
- 1958 – The church had the first pastor in over 15 years, Reverend Donald Lam. The church has not been without a pastor since that time.
- 1971 – The church governing board was expanded to include four “councilwomen” and in 1972, it was “legal” for women to be elected to the Consistory, the local church’s governing body.
- 1972 – The Caribbean Summer House Program began. This program was the beginning of a popular summer camp which continues today.
- 1989 – Hurricane Hugo brought destruction to the island, during Rev. Martin Weits’s pastorate.
- 1995 – Hurricane Marilyn devastated St. Thomas, less than two months after the new pastor, Jeffrey Gargano, and his family had arrived.
- Although the church lost its roof, and the parsonage was destroyed, the new pastor and his flock persevered. With help from volunteers and resources from other places, the church and parsonage were repaired. In the meantime, the congregation worshiped in the Synagogue. The rebuilding took 18 months.
- 2009 – The church welcomes Pastor Jeffrey Neevel to the pulpit.
- 2017 – Once again St. Thomas and its neighbors were impacted by hurricane force winds and rain. This time it was two cat 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, just less than 2 weeks apart. Unlike last time, the church and parsonage survived and the congregation was able to continue to worship and also to serve the community with needed food and supplies for many weeks following the storms. An after school program for the neighborhood children grew out of a program started while the schools were closed during the period after the hurricanes. This continues through the present day.
- 2018 - 2019 – The church continues to host teams who come to help the island rebuild. And a program to help with hurricane preparedness was started in 2018.
- 2021 - The church welcomed Pastor Ben Rowe as the first Co-pastor of Congregational Formation with Pastor Neevel who assumed the role of Co-Pastor of Congregational Engagement.
The congregation is most grateful to those who have supported them and continue to support them and the community during this long period of restoration. Their presence provides the congregation with not only physical labor in rebuilding, but also a spiritual restoration of their battered lives and renewed hope.
Pastors of St. Thomas Reformed Church
1712 Christian Strumphias
1718 Isaac Gronewald
1733-1736 Arnoldus Van Drumen
1737-1744 Johannes Borm
1744-1752 John Paldamus
1752-1763 John Monteneag
1763-1784 B.J. Scheers
1784-1812 Francis Verboom
1827 Church transferred to American jurisdiction
1828-1841 Abraham Labagh
1842-1845 Philip M. Brett
1845-1854 John P. Knox
1854-1855 Elisha Whittlesey
1855-1874 W.O. Allen
1874-1878 William Anderson
1882-1886 Anson Du Bois
1887-1890 Andrew J. Hageman
1890 John C. Lowe (died shortly after arrival)
1890-1893 Engelbert C. Oggel
1894-1897 James Foster
1897-1899 James C. Hume
1899-1901 Andrew M. Arcularius
1902-1911 Clarence M. Perlee
1916-1918 A.H. Leslie
1918-1923 Bradley J. Folensbee
1924-1925 Philip Jonker
1925-1928 Albert Phaus
1941-1943 Bruno Bruns
1958-1963 Donald A. Lam
1963-1966 Donald Pangburn
1967-1970 Ronald D. Lockhorst
1970-1974 Herman E. Luben
1974-1979 Jack White
1981-1984 William Hoffman
1986-1994 Martin Weitz
1995-2009 Jeffrey Gargano
2010-2021 Jeffrey Neevel
2021 - present CoPastors Jeffrey Neevel and Ben Rowe