The first Episcopal Church in St. Joseph was St. Peter’s Mission, started in the year 1835 or 1836 by the Rev. James Selkrig, a missionary from Niles. The mission was then a part of the diocese of Michigan under Bishop McCoskry. The following year, the Rev. Marcus Cushman became the first resident rector, though still a missionary. At that time there were 12 families in St. Joseph and 4 communicants.
St. Paul’s 1893
St. Paul’s Mission began in 1893 with regular services beginning in 1895. These regular services were conducted by the Rev. Woodruff of Holy Trinity, Benton Harbor and were held at the Swedish Lutheran Church, St. Joseph at 3:00 P.M. on Sundays. The church was a small cottage on the site of the present day Saron Lutheran Church. By that time the Rev. Geo. de Normandie Gillespie had become the first bishop of the Diocese of Western Michigan and had presumably changed his mind in regard to St. Joseph Episcopalians.
In 1897, St. Paul’s purchased a small lot at the corner of Main Street and Niles Avenue. In 1900 the first Episcopal Church in St. Joseph was erected. It was a small, frame, brown-shingled church with windows of amber-colored ground glass.
In 1938 a member of the Men’s Club suggested moving St. Paul’s church from its noisy location at the junction of Main Street and Niles Avenue to a place on the outskirts away from traffic. Mrs. L. M. Shepherd gave the church 3 lots in Highcliffe Terrace and later sold several other lots adjoining, 300 feet along Morton and Thayer and 200 feet on Lane and Kingsley, so that the church now has the whole of a large block.
The church was moved at considerable expense and trouble and stood on the prairie for almost two years while the church people were busily engaged in collecting the resources to enlarge and remodel. The old parish hall was not moved so the rectory was sold, helping the financial situation. The building was placed in the middle of the original three lots and the basement was finished off as a parish hall.
St. Paul’s 1948
Early in the morning of Epiphany 1948, the church building burned to the ground. Besides the loss of the building there was a terrible loss of books, music, and vestments. Some things were saved: the original chalice and paten, the altar cross, the Eucharistic candlesticks, the font and all but about four pews. The reredos was totally destroyed as well as the hangings and altar linens. The day of the fire, the Rev. Glen Frye of the Methodist Peace Temple in Benton Harbor offered his church for our use until ours was rebuilt. The offer was accepted and until 1950 we worshiped there.
In 1949 and the first 3 months of 1950, the present St. Paul’s was erected. Services were held for the first time on Easter Sunday 1950 with Bishop Whittemore in attendance. The only stained glass consisted of the Evangelist windows in the chapel and the Children of Prayer and Praise in the north vestibule. Two years later the stained glass windows in the nave were installed, with the exception of St. Paul’s which came later and Christ the King in 1961. The windows along the sides of the nave were all memorials but were not marked, to the great disappointment of the donors. Christ the King window was given by the Shepherd family and it, too, is not marked.
In the summer of 1959 an addition was built. It contained a library, a nursery, two classrooms for church school, four rooms beneath these, and a good-sized supply closet. This addition has a south entrance.
As with all congregations St. Paul's community has ebbed and flowed with the economy and the community. Today the congregation is in a new phase of growth. The church in St. Joseph has joined with St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Dowagiac and Trinity Episcopal Church in Niles to form the Southwest Michigan Episcopal Covenant. The Covenant is led by the Reverend Diane M. Pike.
The three parishes realized that by joining together they could continue to build up the body of Christ in their communities by sharing resources and support.
The Covenant group is still in its fledgling years as the people reconnect with the greater Episcopal community in the lower corner of Michigan.
We continue to welcome all who seek Christ in themselves and others. Won't you join us?