Under the leadership of Mr. Douds the church was to turn its efforts to sharing a greater portion of its giving with others outside the local church. Social conscience was emphasized and changes came. In 1951, Session abolished the paid choir — a long tradition in Hanover — and recruited a volunteer choir. That year the benevolence budget was doubled from $5,200 to $10,500. In 1952, Hanover agreed to raise an additional $8,700 toward the $12 million to be raised for new churches and expanded facilities at Presbyterian theological seminaries.
Pledges in 1952 increased by 26 per cent in amount and by 18 per cent in members pledging. The benevolence budget was again doubled in 1953 to $19,342 with the announced goal that Hanover’s benevolence budget would equal or surpass its current expense budget.
With the increased giving for others, Hanover did not neglect its own church. In 1951, the Church Social Hall was refurbished. New lights and movable partitions were installed and volunteers painted the hall. In that year the Trustees, who under the corporate charter were life-time members, agreed to voluntarily resign at the end of three years and thus put into effect the rotation system for that body. In 1952, the church organ, originally purchased in 1922, was rebuilt in an enlarged area at a cost of $11,500. The church for the first time in 1953 secured the services of an associate pastor, the Rev. Robert E. Hoffman, to be particularly responsible for the ministry of Christian Education.
During 1953, the church gave one-third of its overall budget to the Church’s Greater Work. In the same year the Trustees and Elders decided to form a Joint Board to meet regularly in order to reduce misunderstandings and tension between the two groups.
In 1954, the Girl Scout Troop of Temple Beth Shalom was permitted the use of the Church Social Hall since the new temple across the street had not been completed. Members of the Beth Shalom Girl Scout Troop acted as baby sitters in our nursery so that Hanover members who usually acted as sitters could attend the Christmas Candlelight Service, a practice that continued into the 1970s. By 1954 the church mortgage had been reduced to $1,000 and in that year as a result of overcrowding in the Sunday School, the congregation authorized a new educational wing to be erected at a cost not to exceed $150,000. The addition was begun in 1958 and completed in 1959.
On Sept. 12, 1954, the congregation released Mr. Hoffman as associate pastor to enable him to accept a call as minister of the Presbyterian Church in Northfolk, W.Va. The following month, the congregation engaged Mr. Paul R. Miller, a senior at Princeton Theological Seminary, to work in the Church School each Sunday and upon graduation in June 1954 to call him as associate minister in Mr. Hoffman’s place. Efforts were made to integrate the church membership in 1956. During this time of rising social consciousness, Hanover sponsored several refugee families displaced by the aftermath of war. In 1959, Hanover reached the honor roll of the General Assembly since for every dollar spent at Hanover an equal amount was contributed for benevolence use by others.
The late 1950s saw members of Hanover’s Men’s Fellowship increase their interaction with other groups within the Presbytery. In 1957 a monthly breakfast was begun that included individuals throughout the Presbytery. The breakfasts, which took place at First and Central, soon became so large that they were split into three separate locations. Hanover’s leadership was recognized when James C. Stewart, a prime mover in this endeavor, was named the first national president of the Presbyterian Men’s Organization. Mr. Douds resigned on March 16, 1960. The congregation reluctantly agreed. Mr. Douds’ ministry had a profound effect upon Hanover both as to the amount of giving and the use of the money raised. The congregation was truly surprised that it could meet its benevolence giving goals without neglecting the church itself. Mr. Douds was convinced it could be done and it was done. The church was stronger from his ministry and had been made aware of the great social injustices that pervaded the world. The Douds Decade — the Eisenhower Era, if you prefer — may be viewed as the culmination of a series of Hanover achievements that began with the decision at the beginning of the century to move from downtown Wilmington to the Boulevard. The United States had prospered, Wilmington had prospered, and so had Hanover. Despite two wars, the Depression, and the threat of nuclear war, the march of progress must have appeared to have been almost continuous, and nearly inevitable.
Ahead lay the 1960s, and few had reason to fear their coming. But by the end of that turbulent decade the United States would appear, to many of its people, a far different place than they had known.
Some of the signs of what was coming are evident in hindsight. Wilmington’s population had peaked in the war years, and had fallen steadily since. Although Hanover was still attracting new members from among the professionals who were moving to Delaware to work in the chemical industry, those newcomers were living in the new suburbs to the north, and they were commuting to church just as they did to work. And the city’s black residents, only recently freed from the legal segregation that had kept them from restaurants, theaters, and schools attended by whites, were beginning to challenge the unofficial segregation that was keeping them from full employment, equal status in society, and from white institutions such as Hanover. France’s involvement in Vietnam foreshadowed a war in our future. Weekly church attendance would decrease by nearly one hundred in the ten years following 1955. While the congregation felt no need for panic, the members realized that something must be done to ensure Hanover’s future viability.
Hanover had always been a “neighborhood” church, but the times were changing. Hanover’s members were increasingly unlikely to come from the immediate neighborhood. There were an ever-growing number of alternatives to a social life centered around the church. And, increasing, the young people of the church were leaving Wilmington when they became adults, so that each year the “younger generation” was smaller and less interested in maintaining the practices and traditions of the past. Inside the church’s walls, things were changing as well. Madeline Burton, one of the first African-Americans to worship at Hanover since the Civil War, processed with the choir in the late 1950s. While most of the congregation approved, some quietly took their membership elsewhere. It would be another 15 years before Hanover had its first African American member in this century. Earlier that decade, Helen Allen and Julia McMaster, had become the first female Elders at Hanover.
Discussions began about ways to attract those living nearby to Hanover, a conversation that continues to this day. The church also made strides to make its facilities available to the community. The Christian Education Building was used to house a school for retarded youngsters; later it would make space for a Catholic elementary school and a Head Start program.
This growing sense of social conscience, and an understanding of the changing demographics of the city of Wilmington, prompted Hanover to continue its tradition of helping to start new churches. In 1961 Hanover played a part in the organization of Church of Our Savior — as many as 40 of its members, all African-Americans, joined Hanover for morning worship as they formed their own church. Concord Presbyterian Church was started as an outreach program to the northern suburbs by members interested in helping this under-served community. No sense of competition existed; it was simply the act of a large church helping a new neighborhood begin a new ministry.
Paul Miller had arrived at Hanover in the mid-1950s, serving first as a weekend youth worker, upon graduation as associate pastor, and as pastor from 1960 until 1965. His ministry would touch the lives of a generation of members and he is remembered fondly for his personable manner and commitment to his beliefs. During his tenure at Hanover the role of the pastor grew in complexity as Rev. Miller took his convictions to the street — protesting outside the Strawbridge & Clothier department store to help force the integration of the sales staff. Phil Martin, associate pastor from 1961 until 1965, also took part in the activism of the day by picketing the Rialto Theater on Market Street, a restaurant on King Street.
The role of the church as a political force — be it on behalf of civil rights or because of its position on the war in Southeast Asia — would provide the greatest opportunity and present one of the most profound challenges to all Presbyterians. As the suburbs continued to develop and the city became less attractive to new home buyers, many people wondered whether the continuing decline in church attendance was in response to controversial positions or simply a result of demographics.
In spite of shifting attitudes throughout society, day-to-day church life remained surprisingly unchanged. A huge craft group would meet on Tuesday mornings and stay through lunch in the social hall. Two bazaars were held during the year — the Spring Bazaar with flowers, luncheon and crafts, and the Fall Bazaar similar to the present-day Mistletoe Market. There was a Couple’s Group with a supper on a Friday every month (a planned potluck) that included a program, ranging from social to parenting to law or other presentations. Missionaries would come to share their stories of work in far-off places and the youth group continued to enjoy a strong membership.
In 1966 Scottie Griffith became pastor of Hanover; he is remembered for his happy, uplifting sermons. He and his wife occupied the Hanover manse at 700 W. 20th Street. Mrs. Griffith fulfilled the traditional role of the minister’s wife, raising their daughters and singing in the choir. And while Hanover talked a great deal about the integration of African-American members into the congregation, there was no concerted effort to recruit them. Rev. Griffith and associate pastor Bill Davis stood before an almost exclusively white group gathered for worship on Sunday mornings.
The late 1960s brought an unpopular war to a nation coming to grips with increasing generational differences. Hanover families included young men who were either drafted or chose to go to Vietnam and those who decided that their conscience led them to boycott the conflict. Throughout this difficult time these families were able to remain friends, serve communion to each other, sit across the bridge table from one another, and worship together with a sense of mutual respect. The war was not a common theme from the pulpit and for the most part Hanover chose to see it as a distant distraction, although in 1969 the Session did pass a resolution criticizing the Synod for allowing the Presbyterian center at the University of Delaware to be used for the offices of the Heterodoxical Voice, an anti-war newspaper that lasted for only a few issues.