The beginnings of Christ Church can be traced to Christmas Day, 1864, when three Phillips Academy students walked eight miles to the Episcopal Church in Epping to receive communion. The following spring the students met with The Rev. Frederic Huntington of Boston’s Emmanuel Church, asking him to help establish an Episcopal Church in Exeter. Huntington preached at Exeter’s Town Hall on May 14, 1865, and helped the boys find a place for regular worship in the building that would later become the Robinson Female Seminary.
The parish was officially organized on September 20, 1865, without a building of its own.
At the request of the Bishop of New Hampshire, a missionary named Caroline Harris came from Portsmouth in 1866 to help the infant parish, and she immediately began fundraising for a permanent building. In August of that year, a lot on Elliot Street was purchased for $650 and the cornerstone of the new church was laid June 27, 1867. Designed by A. E. Swasey, Jr. of Boston, the Carpenter Gothic style church cost $10,500 to build, not including furnishings. The first service was held on a snowy Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 22, 1867.
Caroline Harris died in 1893 at the age of 87, having served as treasurer of the parish for 23 years. Upon her death she bequeathed her house to the church for use as a rectory. Our present parish hall and education building is named Harris House in her honor.
In the mid 1950s, parishioners raised money for an addition to the parish house on Elliot Street, which became the education building. By 1959, the parish was forced to take a hard look at itself. The 1867 church was becoming a museum piece – lovely to look at, but inadequate for changing times. Heating was a constant problem – the builders had left the bark on the floorboards and when it dropped off the basement was visible through the cracks.
In 1961 a Church Building Committee was appointed. With the help of architects Smith, Sellew, & Doherty of Boston, plans for a proposed new church building were presented to the parish. Phillips Academy was looking to expand, and offered to buy the Elliot Street Church. In May 1963 a 6-acre parcel on Pine Street was purchased for $25,000 and the church was ready for services on November 13, 1965, when the congregation marched in solemn procession two blocks from the old church to the new.
Although the architecture received mixed views, many of the furnishings from the Elliot Street church were brought to our current building, including the 1867 large cross, a processional cross from the same era, the 1888 marble baptismal font, two 1890s stained glass windows, the altar and reredos, a 1909 Henry Vaughan pulpit, and more.
The interior of the church was embellished in the late 1970s with the addition of the needlepoint altar rail kneelers designed by parishioner Betty Terry, and wall hangings designed by artist Kathie Krause.
In 2001, an Organ Task Force was formed to take a serious look at the future of the deteriorating pipe organ. After eighteen months of research, travel, and demonstrations, the committee recommended a brand-new pipe organ by Lively-Fulcher of Alexandria, Virginia. Because the organ would require renovations and acoustical improvements to the interior of the church, a comprehensive Mission & Ministry Team was developed to plan for the new organ and a completely renovated worship space.
Solomon & Bauer Associates of Massachusetts were chosen as architects, and church services were held in Harris Hall from June 2005 through August 2006 while the renovations took place and the organ was built. In September 2006 the parish moved back into the new worship space, where we continue to enjoy the wonderful organ and amazing acoustics, furnishings, and surroundings.
On September 18-20, 2015, Christ Church celebrated 150 years of ministry. To celebrate we had a weekend full of concerts, outreach activities, children’s events, a parish BBQ, and a Festive Eucharist. We invite you to take a look at the slide show below and visit the 150th Anniversary Webpage for more information.