Saturday, October 23, 2010

Christ Church Revisited

At this point, Christ Church was still considered a Mission...

In 1971, attempts were made to preserve Christ Church, the Episcopal church in St. Vincent. 

QUESTION:  If Christ Church was bought, restored, and donated to the St. Vincent Historical Society, how did it get back into private hands, the situation it is in today?  Some possible answers follow the article below, which documents the 1971 preservation efforts...

by Calvin R. Bouvette
[Kittson County Enterprise (March 24, 1971)]

Christ Episcopal Church, St. Vincent, which has not been used as a place of worship the past few years, will be preserved as a historical shrine. This is being made possible through the interest and the activity of Mrs. Wilhelmina Johnson, of Lancaster, the County Commissioner of the fifth district. Mrs. Johnson has interest in the church as she is a former resident of St. Vincent and the church is where she was baptized and confirmed. Her grandfather and grandmother, Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Gamble, and her parents Mr. and Mrs. William Gamble, were members of the congregation and they had a part in the establishment of the congregation and were active in the history of the early church.

The church is Kittson County's first church and its construction was started in the summer of 1880. The first service was held that same year on Christmas Day. The early members who were instrumental in establishing Christ Church were Mr. F. Lindsay who was a customs inspector at the St. Vincent port; J.W. Sheppard of the Town Company; D. or J. H. Rick of the St. Vincent Bank; Alexander Gamble; Matthew Cowan; Hugh Griffith; Fred LeMasurier; Archie Darrach; John Smith; R.H. Lapp; Dr. Campbell; and William Gamble. Donations and labor for the construction of the church was mostly by local contributions, however there was some money sent to St. Vincent by eastern families that helped pay for materials.

In 1881, Bishop Whipple who presided over the vast dioceses of Minnesota and North Dakota, decided to place a resident priest in charge. He appointed the Rev. Villiers Appleby1 to consider the charge or to try and interest a clergyman to service the field. Rev. Appleby went to Winnipeg in search of a priest and in the mean time the congregation had met and they raised $650.00 and this sum soon grew to $1,000.00. Rev. Appleby decided that he would accept the charge.

Regular services were now held, and on June 10, 1882, the parish was formally organized. The congregation at this meeting decided to purchase an organ and a church bell.2 This was the first church bell that called the worshipers in Kittson and Pembina counties. Later that year, in November 1882, the Rt. Reverend M.N. Gilbert, Bishop Coadjutor of the dioceses, held the service of consecration of the church. He also confirmed twelve candidates at that service.

From Christ Church, the Episcopalian faith began to branch out in this section of Minnesota and North Dakota. Missions were started at Hallock and Joe River, Minnesota, and at St. Thomas, Neche, Cavalier, Joliette, Bathgate, Hamilton, Carlisle, and Elkwood, North Dakota. A year or two later a mission was formed at Argyle, Minnesota. In 1886 Grace church was opened at Pembina and their first service was on Christmas day of that year.  The Ladies of the Double Temple Society, New York, had contributed $900.00 for the construction of that church.  This church today is in use by the Methodist congregation.

The church went through the several Red River Valley floods and the most severe damage was caused by the flood of 1948.  In the fall of 1949, the church was completely repaired and a new basement was installed.  The priests that have served the parish were the Rev. H.B. Appleby, H. Beer, W. Wharton, P. Peabody, W. Watson, A. Mitchell, S. Remans, and J. Kimberly.  These men served from a period of 1881 through 1924. From 1924 to 1949 the parish was served by Canadian priests.  In 1949 the Rev. Fred Smyth served Christ and St. John's (Hallock) churches. Hallock and the St. Vincent church was served from that time by priests who were residents at Hallock.  They were Rev. Ray Frost, Rev. Seaton-Elliott, Rev. Richard Hewetson, Rev. Kenneth Umbehocker, and Rev. Clifford Ott.

The church in 1966 was again severely damaged by flood waters from the Red and from that time the church did not re-open and services were suspended.  The church members are now affiliated with St. John's Church, Hallock.

County Commissioner Johnson being associated with all this early county church history is anxious to have a county's first church preserved.  Mrs. Johnson has just completed arrangements and has purchased the church and property from the Dioceses of Minnesota.  The property will be renovated and put into a good state of repair.  Just recently organized is the St. Vincent Historical Society and Mrs. Johnson is making Kittson County's first church a gift to the St. Vincent group.  Twelve residents of the St. Vincent area have organized to form the society and the officers are:  Mrs. Ada Clinton, president; Mrs. Lillian Lapp, vice president; Mrs. Ruth Easton, secretary-treasurer.  The first project of the society is the preservation of the old church and the group's further aim is to preserve and promote interest in the historical artifacts of the area of the county.

Commissioner Johnson is presently a member of St. John's church and her gift serves a double purpose for her.  She said she thought the first church in Kittson County should be preserved and especially when she knew man of its early members and that so many of its membership were associated with the county's early history.  She too was interested in preserving this early Episcopal landmark both for the area and for the church's diocese of Minnesota.
In an effort to find out how the church went from protected and preserved, back into private hands where it is today, I contacted the Gamble family in hopes they might know.  They confirmed that indeed, the individual who preserved the church in 1971 - Wilhemina Johnson - was their relative, a Gamble!
We don't know how the city managed to sell it, but the Historical Society became defunct [died out?] - perhaps there wasn't any condition on the deed as to its use. We tried to find the St. Vincent city council meeting minutes, but they didn't seem to keep good records, and we didn't find out anything. We even contacted the Episcopal Diocese in Minneapolis, regarding the church being deconsecrated, but they had little information. The archived church records are at the Minnesota Historical Society in St.Paul.

1 - Villiers Appleby was born and educated in London, with further education in Minnesota (theology and medicine), serving in Ontario Canada before coming to St. Vincent from 1881-1888...

St. John's Episcopal Church, Hallock MN
2 - The bell used in Christ Church was the first church bell in the region. The bell was made by Meneely Bell foundry of Troy NY, and cost $145 when purchased in 1882. The bell is now located as an outdoor display, in the front lawn of its sister church, St. John's Episcopal Church in Hallock, MN...

Meneely Bell Co Advertisement, cir. 1880