In the fall of 1917 Monongahela was seized by the patriotic fervor that was sweeping the nation because of the United States’ recent entry into what would become known as World War I. The US Army found itself ill prepared for the miserable conditions of trench warfare on the front in France. The uniforms provided to American soldiers were not protecting them from the cold and wet of the trenches, and so a massive campaign was started on the home front to provide socks, mufflers, scarves and other knit goods to the boys at the front. Almost daily the Monongahela Republican was running advertisements for knitting parties held by the women of Eastern Star, the “Queen Esthers” of the First Methodist Church, the Lydia Bible Class of the First Baptist Church, and a dozen other organizations along with advertisements for where to get the best khaki yarn.
At St. Paul’s the knitting was the responsibility of the St. Margaret’s Guild. In 1917 knitting, accompanied by music on the Victrola and player piano, was the main activity of all their meetings. Back then, the main fundraiser of the Guild was a bazaar held in early December of each year since about 1908. In the fall of 1917 it was decided that a turkey dinner would be added to the bazaar to fund the Guild’s knitting operation. This dinner, which would eventually become what we call “the English Tea”, was first held on December 14, 1917.
Although we know little about the first English Tea it must have been a success because St. Margaret’s Guild decided to keep doing it long after the need for knitting had passed. On December 8, 1926, the English Tea was one of the first major public events held in the new Parish Hall. That year there was an increase in the price for the dinner, for adults it was $1.00, and children were 50¢. That year there was such a demand for dinner, that people had to be turned away.
One of the strangest things about the English Tea is that it is called “the English Tea” and yet it seems that it was never intended to be like a traditional tea that one might find in England. The most likely explanation for this was the Rev. John Norman, who was serving in his fortieth and last year as rector of St. Paul’s in 1917. Norman was very keen to connect St. Paul’s to its Anglican roots and so started many English-themed organizations and events, including soccer and cricket teams. It was probably as part of that initiative that the dinner was first billed as an “English Tea.”
Over the years the bazaar and the tea became separate events, the tea was moved to early November and the menu changed from turkey to ham. Eventually the bazaar and the St. Margaret’s Guild would fade away but the English Tea still remains. For ninety-three years now St. Paul’s has put on its best and invited the town in for supper. It is one of the enduring traditions that makes St. Paul’s what it is and it got its start in the singularly Christian act of providing warmth for those who were freezing, and a touch of home to boys who were suffering far away.