In 1940 the Rt. Rev. Arthur P. McKinstry, 5th Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Delaware, saw the need for a summer chapel for vacationing Episcopalians and their friends. Under his guidance, the diocese bought six lots on the south side of Bethany Beach. Noted Delaware architect William H. Thompson was engaged to draw plans for a small chapel with attached living quarters. Services were held during summer only, and clergy were sent from Wilmington by the Bishop. Among them was John E. Hines of Texas, later a presiding bishop.
In the early 1950s the Rev. Richard S. Bailey, then rector of All Saints in Rehoboth, was asked to take charge of the chapel. The shell font and baptistery date from this period.
By the late 1960’s the beach community was growing and with this came strong demands from local Episcopalians for year-round services. In response Rev. Bailey added a service for a few weeks before the summer clergy arrived and in the fall after the summer people left. But the pressure for year-round services continued.
It was October 1979, almost 40 years after our founding, that year-round services began under the Rev. Nathanial C. Acton who had retired to Bethany Beach. Nat Acton helped guide St. Martha’s from 1975 through the 1980s. The church began to flourish and grow as never before.
By 1990 more space was needed. St. Martha’s undertook its first building expansion since its birth 50 years before. A new wing of post and beam construction on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the church was basically a large room that housed a kitchen and sacristy, but also expanded seating for Sunday services.
Ground was broken in 1996 for a second addition, reorienting the existing space into a cruciform shape. At this point, St. Martha’s was served by a team of four: the Rev. Simon Mein, the Rev. Jack Hird, the Rev. Albert Peters, and the Rev. Jim Lewis.
By the late 1990s, the clergy team was no longer meeting the needs of the congregation. The Rev. Dorothy Hartzog was called as a part-time priest from late 1998 until spring 2002. In 2004 St. Martha’s called the Rev. William H. Wickham as our first rector. St. Martha’s achieved parish status at the Diocesan Convention in 2005. After his retirement, the Rev. Mary L. Allen was called to St. Martha’s. Shortly after her arrival St. Martha’s undertook a third expansion which included a parish hall. With her retirement in March 2020, St. Martha’s is again engaged in a prayerful search for a new rector.
As our church community swells and recedes with the seasons, we offer to newcomers a welcoming community of faith.