Red Clay's History

Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church has a long and rich history dating back to the early eighteenth century when Scotch-Irish immigrants landed and settled in Delaware bringing their Presbyterian faith with them. Our congregation was established in 1722 but did not install its first pastor nor erect its own building until 1755 and 1761, respectively. Three prominent pastors served the church for a total of 146 years up through the mid-20th century.

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Reverend William McKennan (1755-1809). Red Clay’s first pastor served a total of 54 years during which he also served White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church at times. Like many of his congregants, Rev. McKennan was an immigrant (born in Ireland) who arrived in America around 1730. He was an active member in the community serving as an original trustee of Newark Academy (a forerunner to today’s University of Delaware) and, according to his epitaph, “taught the Doctrines of his Redeemer with plainness, simplicity, and sincerity...His heart was opened to the distressed; his table was spread for the stranger.” Delawareans are still reminded today of his service by McKennans Church Road which runs adjacent to the church and its cemetery.

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Reverend Thomas Love (1825-1862). Red Clay did not install another pastor until 1825 when Rev. Thomas Love began his 37 year tenure, serving both Red Clay and Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church. The Red Clay congregation at this time was one of modest means and largely consisted of farming families with those of a few blacksmiths, merchants, doctors, and manufacturers included. Rev. Love himself owned a small farm nearby but did not let it distract him from his pastoral duties. He was considered an impressive and solemn speaker, and during his ministry his congregations supported various reform causes, championed temperance, and held “Sabbath Schools” and prayer meetings, including those for the larger community outside of his congregations (e.g., the DuPont powder yards). Under Rev. Love’s leadership, Red Clay also erected a much-needed, new building in 1853 where the present sanctuary now stands.

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Reverend John D. Blake (1887-1942). Rev. John D. Blake, a native of Iowa, began Red Clay’s longest pastorate (55 years) during the spring of 1887. Church membership numbered 115 at that time and would continue to be primarily representative of the local farming community. The rural setting meant that roads were often impassable from inclement weather, forcing the cancellation of services more frequently compared to what we are accustomed. Nevertheless during his tenure, Rev. Blake and his congregation began transforming the church into the Red Clay that we know today. Multiple organizations, such as those related to social events, mission work, and youth ministry, began within the church and expanded Red Clay’s reach to others in local and international communities.

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Post-World War II. The “little church on the hill” quickly grew to well over 1,000 members by the mid-1960s, reflecting the post-war “boom” across northern Delaware and other parts of the nation. Red Clay soon found itself a “suburban church” with newer, different, and faster-changing challenges and opportunities.  Today Red Clay is home to a vibrant, dynamic congregation following its vision centered on Belong, Nurture, Reach, and Rejoice.

The information on this page was adapted from the 1997 edition of "History of Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church," researched and compiled by Hancock, Levy, Baird, and Rufe.

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