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.
The financial panic of 1837 and other causes led to the departure of many families. The congregation dwindled away and by 1840, St. Peter’s became defunct. Many efforts were made to revive the Episcopal Church in St. Joseph but for years there were only occasional visits from Episcopal missionaries; Niles showed the greatest interest. This was then the Diocese of Michigan with Bishop McCoskry in charge.
In 1867 the Rev. Geo. de Normandie Gillespie came from Ann Arbor and performed a service but was not favorably impressed. Years later he became the first bishop of the Diocese of Western Michigan.
In 1870 the Rev. J. Rice Taylor of Saugatuck held an afternoon service and re-organized the church under the name of Christ Church. In 1871 the Rev. V. Spaulding held ten services in St. Joseph and in 1872, Christ Church was admitted as a mission. It had 30 communicants, 4 teachers and 16 students in Sunday School. The Rev. Spaulding was vicar.
By 1874 the number of communicants had doubled but by 1877 there came an unaccountable falling off. The Rev. Spaulding resigned, his salary 4 months in arrears, the Sunday School deserted entirely. A fire destroyed most of the church property and the name of Christ Church Mission was stricken from the list of missions in 1878. Faithful Episcopalians of this village began attending Holy Trinity in Benton Harbor.
St. Paul’s 1893-1913
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. The only access to the tiny space for the furnace was by lifting a portion of the floor in the front vestibule. The church contained the nave, choir area, the sanctuary, and on either side, microscopic rooms for a sacristy and storeroom for choir vestments. The pine floor was covered with a cheap, in-grain carpet that lasted until 1923 when its tattered remains were honorably discharged from service. There were no kneeling benches at first but a few persons brought hassocks or footstools from home. The church members looked up, not down, for they had a beautiful light oak reredos to view. It was in the likeness of an English cathedral and was a gift of the Olson family in memory of their father, Lewis Olson.
In 1901, the Pixley family gave the altar cross in memory of B. F. Pixley, one of the founders of St. Paul’s. That cross is still with us on the high altar. Soon after, the high altar candlesticks were given and exist today, having survived the big fire of 1948. One of them is slightly bent so the Altar Guild always turns it with its best side toward the congregation. The altar cross survived in good condition but the heat of the fire on the hollow brass base turned the wooden block interior to a chunk of charcoal.
St. Paul’s Mission lacked the money to finance the building so a loan was taken out from Rufus Gates Rice who agreed to take the mortgage. He died soon after and his widow canceled the mortgage; for this reason the original church building was called St. Paul’s Memorial Church. There was a bronze tablet on the west wall commemorating the fact. The name was retained until 1951 when the present building was completed and the word “Memorial” was dropped since none of the original memorial remained.
From 1901 to 1902, a supply priest, Dr. Matrau, conducted services. For a few months we were again under the care of the Rev. Mr. Woodruff of Benton Harbor. September 14, 1902, so the Pixley diary says, the church was dedicated.
Note: Because the fire destroyed so many documents, Edith McConnell reconstructed a great deal of information from the diary of Jane Pixley, long-time member of St. Paul’s.
The Rev. Henry Jones became our rector in 1903 and remained until 1905. From 1906-1908 the Rev. Lincoln R. Vercoe was rector of St. Paul’s. While he was here the church built a good-sized parish hall behind the church and a large boys’ choir was started. The church took a new lease of life and its numbers increased very notably. The number of services increased, especially during Lent, and all the saint’s days were observed for the first time.
In the year 1907 (one record says 1908) St. Paul’s became a parish.
St. Paul’s had two rectors with very short terms in our parish; the Rev. J.A. Baynton (1909-1911) and the Rev. C. D. Frankel (1911-1913). During these two short rectorships nothing notable happened and the history merely mentions various guilds and things done to make money.
St. Paul’s 1913-1930
In September 1913, the Rev. Frederick Ossian Granniss began as rector and he remained with us longer than any other rector up to that time. He left in 1924 because of ill health and old age as he was over 70 at the time. The mortgage on the parish hall was burned in 1920. There were then about 113 communicants and a Sunday school with 7 teachers and 41 pupils. During the early days of the mission or parish the Sunday school sessions were held through the summer, but just before Rev. Granniss came, they were discontinued. He instituted summer sessions again with a special course of lessons. Rev. Granniss had many outside speakers preach to us, especially during Lent. Some were bishops, others were notable clergy from Indiana and Michigan. Sunday evening services were held for a few years but were discontinued because of poor attendance.
The Rev. Harry Bruce came to this parish in September 1924. The church purchased a house near the church for a rectory. It was necessary to mortgage the church property and another mortgage on the rectory itself covered the balance of the purchase price. Just before Mr. Bruce came to town a new guild, St. Margaret’s, was formed as well as a Men’s Club. The latter assisted the rector and also built up the Sunday School by driving about the Twin Cities to collect pupils and bring them to St. Paul’s.
There have been several guilds at St. Paul’s and unfortunately names have been duplicated leading to confusion. There have been two St. Catherine’s, two St. Margaret’s, two St. Cecilia’s and one St. Mary’s, which became the first Altar Guild. The Men’s Club which was begun in 1925 existed until 1951.
In September 1926 the Rev. Harry Bruce went to Vermont and the Rev. Walter Stephen Dunlop took his place and remained our rector until May 1930. The latter organized a chapter of the Daughters of the King which bore his name. He also instituted St. Stephen’s Mission for the colored people (written in 1958) of Benton Harbor. This was really building on the foundation laid by the Rev. F. O. Granniss who spent much time working with them. The new mission took over the Holy Trinity church in 1927. So few members of Holy Trinity were left that it was decided to close the church and the remaining members transferred themselves to St. Paul’s. A new organ was put in St. Paul’s to replace the ancient bellows-powered organ of the original building. The church was also redecorated.
In 1935 a total of 190 communicants were reported and the church school had 96 pupils on the books with 15 teachers. The following are Edith McConnell’s comments on these figures: “These figures come from Smith’s History of the Diocese of Western Michigan but I doubt very much that they are correct though I have no others to substitute. I was a teacher at the time and can recall only half as many teachers. The parish hall wasn’t very large and I can’t see where we could have put so many. The person compiling these figures must have seen a list of teachers somewhere, covering several years—the same with pupils, and mistakenly reported them all. So far as I know we NEVER had as many as ninety-six until several years after we moved into the new St. Paul’s in Highcliffe Terrace.”
The favorite means of raising money for the original church was having sales of baked good and bazaars. Items sold at the bazaars were mostly aprons, rag rugs, quilts, knitted items, handkerchiefs; most items were not fancy though there were embroidered pillowcases and luncheon sets. Every June a Strawberry Festival was held on the lawn of Sweet Brier, the B. F. McConnell home, on the site of the present Congregational Church. There were also many programs, parties, and church suppers. Some were unique, like the women’s guild party which charged as admission as many cents as the number of inches in our diameters. In 1907 a large fair called Kermis brought in the amazing sum of $206. Previous to this, financial reports of money-raising cited less than $100. Remember that the 1907 dollars were much larger than the ones later in circulation in 1969.
The early church had very few altar linens but some lasted until the 1920s. Hangings consisted of only the green, white, and purple sets, with no red ones. Services at that time were: Communion at 7:30 A. M., church school from 9:30-10:30 and at 10:45 Morning Prayer three Sundays and Communion on one Sunday. Evening Prayer was at 7:30 P. M. until it was discontinued in the mid-1920s. The Litany was said quite often, especially during Lent. It was said at the Litany desk which stood at the foot of the chancel steps. The desk was discarded sometime in the late 1940s.
St. Paul’s 1930-1948
The Rev. A. Freeman Traverse came to St. Paul’s in 1930 and remained here much longer than any other rector, nearly twice as long as the Rev. F. O. Granniss. In 1935 a new St. Catherine’s Guild was started and in 1938, a new St. Cecilia’s Guild. Neither one had any connection with the former guilds of those names.
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.
Lack of space perhaps, caused the building to be turned the wrong way. True, its front door faced north, as does the present church, but instead of turning the nave toward the left, it went straight back from the north door, making the ecclesiastical east, SOUTH.
Many fine memorials were given, an organ by the Kaltenbrun-Chandlers, a set of chimes and electric crosses on the gables of the transepts. The new pews (those we currently use) were given as memorials, each with a small bronze marker. The markers were discarded after the 1948 fire. The remodeled church had real kneeling benches for the first time.
St. Paul’s 1948-1970
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. Having no lack of space now, we were able to locate the church building more advantageously and have the altar at the EAST end, instead of the south as had been necessary before. 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 May 1948, after his ordination as deacon, the Rev. H. Stewart Ross came to this parish as Rev. Traverse’s assistant. In November of the same year Rev. Traverse resigned and Fr. Ross became locum tenens. Fr. Ross was ordained to the priesthood in the late summer of 1949 and had the unusual experience of beginning his Episcopal ministry in a Methodist church. On April 20, 1952 the Rev. H. Stewart Ross was made the rector of St. Paul’s. In the summer of 1954 he took six months leave of absence to study at Oxford. During this time the Rev. Paul D. Felton acted as locum tenens.
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. The library was started by St. Cecilia’s Guild, a large job for a medium sized guild with no financial backing. From time to time there have been donations of books. A nursery school was held on mornings in the parish hall for the first few years but it was discontinued. Also, from time to time troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have met in our parish hall.
In 1949 a new Altar Guild was formed with Miss Edith McConnell as director. In 1958 there was a junior and senior guild, also with an adult choir, a large junior choir of girls, called the Choristers and a boys’ choir, called St. Gregory’s.
In 1958, it was noted that three of the streets surrounding the church property have been paved and plenty of sidewalks put in. Trees had been set out and ivy planted around the building as well as the grounds being landscaped. There are about 621 baptized persons in the church and about 288 names on the mailing list, most of them families with a few “singles”. The church school had 13 teachers and about 137 pupils who attend fairly regularly. Beginning in July 1958, the Rev. Robert Bruce Wheeler, vicar of St. Stephens Mission in Benton Harbor, assisted Fr. Ross on numerous occasions.
In 1961, St. Augustine’s of Canterbury began with families from St. Stephen’s and several families from St. Paul’s as the nucleus. In addition, in May 1962, Fr. Ross performed the first service at St. Paul’s first parochial mission in Lakeside, Michigan, several miles south of St. Joseph. Services were held in parishioners’ homes and for a time in a room at the Molly Pitcher Winery which was owned by church members, the Ruttledges. In 1965 our parochial mission became a diocesan mission and in 1967 it became the present-day, Church of the Mediator.
The Rev. Ernest K. St. Johns became our first curate in June 1962. During this period of time, Fr. Traverse, now retired, assisted with many services. In 1964 the bronze statue of St. Francis of Assisi by Faggi was anonymously donated and installed on the church property. In August 1965 the Rev. Ray K Grieb became our curate until his resignation in 1968. Also in 1968, on June 2 the Rev. Stewart Ross resigned. Until November there were numerous supply priests. At that time, the Rev. Robert Forrest Andrews was selected to be our new rector.
In 1970, Edith McConnell’s history ends with: “You may find mention of yourselves, families and friends and odd bits of history by browsing in the library and reading St. Paul’s history.”
St. Paul’s 1970-1995
Fr. Traverse died on January 7, 1971 after many years of service to our faith, eighteen years as our rector and many years assisting during his retirement. Also in 1971, parish member, the Hon. Chester J. Byrns was elected to the National Executive Council of the Episcopal Church.
Edith McConnell died on April 19, 1973 and in February 1974. Fr. Andrews appointed Doris Hile as Historian.
In 1978/1979 first floor restrooms and kitchenette were created, plans were laid for a lounge on the first level. The lounge became a reality in 1986. Though the boiler/furnace has a history all its own, it was converted from oil to gas in 1981.
In June 1980 Fr. Andrews resigned to become rector at St. James in Grosse Ile, having been at St. Paul’s for 12 years. The Rev. Canon William P. O’Leary, retired, became our interim rector, and Fr. Frandsen from St. Augustine’s helped with hospital visits.
From 1981 until 1987, the Rev. Gerald Skillicorn served as rector of St. Paul’s. Father Gerry brought enormous love and energy to the parish, introducing us to the renewal movement. During his last year here, the Rev. Ruth Meyers, a doctoral student at Notre Dame, began working as Fr. Skillicorn’s assistant. When he resigned, she became our interim rector.
In August of 1988, the Rev. Douglas Hadley was chosen as our next rector. When he resigned in April of 1994 we experienced almost a year and a half without a full-time priest. In this interim period, the Rev. Kenneth Davis served our parish well. During this period and prior to selection of our next rector, several parish meetings were held to discern our needs and wishes regarding St. Paul’s and it next rector. It was during this time that a Memorial Garden was designed and planted. The remains of many members are interred in the Garden.
St. Paul’s 1995 - 2007
In August of 1995 we called the Rev. N. DeLiza Spangler as our rector. During Mtr. Liza’s 10 years at St. Paul’s, the parish membership nearly doubled. We completed a major renovation of the lower level facility with parish and diocesan financial support insuring handicap accessibility with the installation of a lift to the lower level as well as other modifications. Upstairs, the offices and the sacristy were renovated.
We established an Endowment Fund whose purpose is to fund outreach and education projects in the future and we added many beautiful items to enhance our worship space. It was during this time that parish member, Bruce Leben entered the monastery of St. Julian of Norwich in Wisconsin, following a call to this life. Brother Barnabas continues to be supported by and support the parish in prayer.
Another parish member, Paula Durren, answered the call to ordained ministry and entered the seminary with full parish support. Mtr. Paula was ordained to the Diaconate and the Priesthood at St. Paul’s in 2002 and currently serves as rector of the Church of the Mediator in nearby Harbert, MI.
Through a special pledge drive in 2001 Mtr. Liza was able to call the Rev. Jason Fout as her Curate to serve the parish needs. We began Ftr. Jason’s time with his festive ordination to the Priesthood in December of 2001. Ftr. Jason joined us for four years during which time he began many small groups to meet the diverse needs of the parish. Ftr. Jason went on to complete his Doctoral studies in Cambridge, England in September of 2005.
In August of 2005, Mtr. Liza called the Rev. Valori Mulvey Sherer as her Curate. We celebrated her ordination to the Priesthood at St. Paul’s in September of 2005.
In November of 2005, Mtr. Liza was called to be the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Buffalo, New York. The parish sent her off with many tears both of sadness and joy for her new beginnings.
Mtr. Valori was able to provide pastoral care with much parish support until the vestry called the Rev. Thomas Toeller-Novak, recently retired rector of Grace Episcopal Church, Holland, Michigan, as our interim in March of 2006. Mtr. Valori was called in January of 2007 to be the rector of St. Mary’s Church in Cadillac, Michigan. She was sent with much love, good wishes and prayers for a successful rectorate.
2007 - Present
During this time of parish discernment, we grappled with our past, both successes and challenges. We determined that the parish did well when guided by the strong spiritual leadership and trust of our rector. The people of St. Paul’s want a rector who loves them and provides a strong spiritual and ecumenical foundation through worship and education to help us go out into the world with confidence as Christ’s image.
Reverend Dennis was instrumental in introducing St. Paul’s and the parishes of Southwest Michigan to the paradigm of our combined communities. He provided the foundation and left us with excitement and new energy as we formed our Covenant group as he retired due to health concerns. We continue to pray for each other and work together to realize our new future as the Episcopal Church in our various communities. We hope you are part of that future.
In October of 2007, the Rev. Pamela V. Sten began her tenure at St. Paul's. She had previously been the Assistant Rector at St. David's Episcopal Church in Glenview, Illinois, where she served for five years following her ordination. Mother Pam came to us with a background in music education. She was also a member of St. Thomas' Church in Battle Creek prior to entering seminary. During Mother Pam's time with us a strong mission for the people of Sudan grew. Many members dedicated their time and energy to prayer, raising funds for a hospital and doctors and even taking extended mission trips to the country to share their skills. This was also an unsettling period in our history as Mtr. Pam’s skillset was not a good match for the parish dynamic.
In August of 2012 the Rev. William Whiting was assigned by the bishop to shepherd our church. Father William brought love and a joyful and listening spirit to build up the community. He helped the community to come together and reach out in prayer that pointed us to the future.
The Rev. Dennis Remenschneider came in February of 2014 to continue the journey of wholeness as we prepared ourselves to move into a new and exciting future.