The Episcopal Church of the Mediator

The rev. eliphalet nott potter

THE REV. ELIPHALET NOTT POTTER  

Taken from The Mediator Messenger, Vol. XV, No. 2, July 1957
Copied (and slightly edited) May 14, 2008

It is an interesting coincidence that two of the clergy most intimately associated with the Church of the Mediator have borne the same middle name, Nott.  The Rev. Robert Nott Merriman of beloved memory served this parish from 1913 until his sudden death in 1949.  The founder of the work was the distinguished Churchman whose photograph appears below, the Rev. Eliphalet Nott Potter.  

Dr. Potter, born September 20, 1836, came from a noted Church family.  His father, Alonzo, and his uncle, Horatio, grew up on a farm in Beekman, New York, and came under the influence of the great Bishop John Henry Hobart for whom Hobart College is named.  Both went into the ministry: Alonzo became in time the Bishop of Pennsylvania (1848-1865); Horatio, the Bishop of New York (1854-1887).  Bishop Alonso Potter of Pennsylvania in turn had several sons: Edward T. became a noted architect and was responsible among other things for the Cathedral Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem; Henry Cadman followed his uncle Horatio as Bishop of New York (1887-1908); Eliphalet Nott also was ordained in 1862 and his first post in the ministry was to be sent by his father (for this area was then a part of the Diocese of Pennsylvania) to develop the new work of the Church in Allentown and Bethlehem.

Grace Church, Allentown was at that time the only Episcopal parish in the twin cities.  Eliphalet founded the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and helped start the Sunday School in Allentown’s Sixth Ward in 1863, which three years later became the Church of the Mediator.  When the first cornerstone was laid, July 4, 1866, Mr. Potter resigned this work to devote full time to his duties in Bethlehem as Rector of the Nativity, and Secretary and Professor of Ethics at the newly founded Lehigh University.  However, some three years later he resumed active care of the Mediator in order that the necessary funds be raised to pay all debts and to complete the church and was accorded the title of Rector, which he retained for a year or so.

During the remainder of his long career, the Rev. Mr. Potter devoted most of his time to academic work.  An indication of his stature is given by the fact that he was awarded honorary degrees by seven different colleges and universities, among them such outstanding institutions as Columbia, Williams and the University of Toronto.  For many years he served as Professor of Union College, Schenectady, NY , and was for fifteen years (1884-1897), the distinguished President of Hobart College, Geneva , NY.  He died in Mexico City, February 16, 1901, the father of six children, one of whom, Mrs. George T. Smith of Camden, SC was still living only two years ago and from whom his photograph was obtained.  Interestingly, a grandson, the Rev. Philemon F. Sturges, is presently Rector of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, Philadelphia, and another, now deceased, Eliphalet Nott Potter, II, of New York City was the first husband of Mrs. Fred Astaire. 

The character of this devoted and scholarly priest who founded our parish can be gathered from a Resolution adopted by the Vestry of Nativity Church on hearing of his death in 1901. 

“The sad intelligence of the death, far from home and family, of the Rev. E. N. Potter, first rector of the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem South, which occurred in the City of Mexico on the 6th instant, required more than a passing notice, and the Vestry desires to place on record their appreciation of the zeal and earnestness which he brought to bear upon his church work, and the steadfastness with which he maintained it during his rectorship of the parish.  With but a handful of devoted churchmen to aid him, he entered upon his duties with youthful ardor and zeal and earnestness of purpose that accomplished wonderful results.  During the period from July 1862 to early spring 1869, he caused to be erected – and was largely instrumental in obtaining the necessary means therefore – the Church of the Nativity and rectory at South Bethlehem, Grace Church at Allentown, and the Chapel of the Mediator at Allentown’s Furnace Street.  Dr. Potter was untiring in his labors for the welfare of the Church, watched with solicitous care over his people, ministered to the sick with tender sympathy, baptized our little ones, laid our beloved ones to rest, and comforted those that mourned.  In his daily intercourse with his parishioners he was ever courteous, friendly and had a cheery word for all…  

"Our earnest, heartfelt sympathy is with you and yours in your sorrow."