Slawson, 61, a soft-spoken Tennessee native with a reputation for bringing people together, was serving in the Diocese of Mississippi five years ago when the Maryland Diocese contacted him about St. Peter’s.
He accepted the vicar’s job two months after the shootings. He brought with him an understated resolve, and a mantra that became the church’s rallying cry.
He greets a guest in the silence of the St. Peter’s chapel, an intimate, wood-paneled worship space a few feet from the scene of the killings in 2012. “We’re a resurrection people,” he says. In some ways, the church has always battled to stay alive.
It was founded on April 15, 1842 — 175 years ago this weekend — when a priest named Alfred Holmead came to what was then Ellicott Mills to become chaplain at the nearby Patapsco Female Institute, a finishing school.
Holmead saw the move as a chance to start an Episcopal parish for the mill workers in the village, according to a history of the church by former member Dick Mitchell.
Situated in what is now historic downtown Ellicott City, the parish was so humble it couldn’t afford a full-time rector for half a century, and didn’t hit the 100-member mark until the 1890s.
Katherine Schnorrenberg, a member since 2002, has studied that history extensively. She says the church has always represented a blend of cheerful eccentricity and monetary uncertainty.
“St. Peter’s has teetered on the edge of financial instability since its founding,” she says. “Its history has always been kind of a hoot.”
That was certainly the case between the 1920s and the 1940s, when the diocese fired and rehired its irascible rector, the Rev. Julius Velasco, several times.
The building burned down in 1939, and Velasco used part of a meager insurance payout to have many of the charred bricks carted uphill to a parish property on Rogers Avenue, where they became part of the foundation of the new church. The burned bricks are still visible there. “When you think about it, it’s quite