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Grace Episcopal Church, Fort Wayne (formerly St. Philip and St. James Episcopal Church)
St. Philip and St. James began as a mission of Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Wayne, in 1969. The Rev. George B. Wood, rector of Trinity Church in downtown Fort Wayne, joined a group of vestry in seeking a mission in the southern side of the city. In 1966, Nellie B. Wood Hillsmier donated seven acres at the corner of Tillman and Hessen Cassel roads with the stipulation that the church be named for her late husband, James J. Wood, a prominent local inventor for General Electric. She had also stipulated that if a church was not constructed within a proscribed period of time, the land would revert to her and she would sell it to another developer. Father Wood negotiated an agreement that the church be named St. Philip and St. James, incorporating the names of two of her husbands. "She was a character," Wood later recalled, "sharp as a tack, rough as a cob, and I treated her the same way."
The Rev. Geoffrey Ashworth, was hired to be its first vicar and began holding services for 35 families in a barn on the property and later in a gymnasium at Village Woods Elementary School. The congregation searched for money to fund the building. Early architectural plans proved too expensive for the parish, but two parishioners, Tony Bada and Don Stinson, devised a plan to construct a utility building at a cost of about $63,000 in 1970. Wood called them a "godsend." The first service was held on November 1, 1970, at which time the church was officially incorporated.
After a series of vicars that included George Davis, William Gibson, and Ronald Poston, the church became an independent parish in 1988, receiving parish status at the diocesan convention. The Rev. Robert Fitzpatrick became rector in 1990, and three years later the vestry made the decision to sell the Tillman property and make plans for a new building in Aboite Township. Several years followed with the congregation meeting in local schools. In 1996 the congregation decided to change the parish name to Grace Episcopal Church in order to reflect the low liturgical style of services the parish had adapted. Local architect John Shoaff devised plans in 1998 for a traditionally-styled frame church at a location at 10010 Aurora Place, located on a hill off Liberty Mills Road. Funding challenges continued, and a church with an adapted design opened and was dedicated on 10 September 1999 by Bishop Edward Jones of Indianapolis. Fitzpatrick left the parish to become Bishop of Hawaii in 2000.
After Fitzpatrick left and a year of interim ministry by the Rev. Theron Lansford, the parish called the Rev. Isaac Ihiasota, but the congregation became divided over his leadership style, and he left in April 2003. From 2003 to 2007, Grace was led under the interim pastorate of the Rev. Barbara Schmitz. In September 2008, the parish called the Rev. Kathy Thomas, who was installed in November. She remained rector until her retirement at the end of 2017. Thomas P. Hansen, the recently-retired rector of Trinity Fort Wayne, became its supply priest as the congregation began a search for a new rector. Plans were made in 2019 for a shared position with St. Alban's.
Geoffrey Ward Ashworth, 1969-1972
George Miller Davis, 1972-1973
John Wesley Inman Jr., 1973-1974
William Gibson, 1974-1986
Ronald G. Poston, 1987-1989
Robert Fitzpatrick, 1990-2000
Theron Lansford (interim supply), 2000-2001
Isaac Ihiasota, 2001-2003
Barbara G. Schmitz, 2003-2007
Kathryn Pauline Thomas, 2008-2017
Thomas Parker Hansen (interim supply), 2017-
Phyllis Markoetter, Grace Episcopal Church: A People's Story of Faith. Fort Wayne: Grace Episcopal Church, 2002.
Kathy Thomas, "Top 30 Events in the 20 Years of Grace Episcopal Church 'on the Hill.'" Information sheet.
Interview with Rev. George B. Wood, 1989, on Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Wayne, and the Founding of St Philip and St. James
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Douglas Everett Sparks, Eighth Bishop
Bishop Douglas Everett Sparks, the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Northern Indiana, is the current incumbent. Born on 8 January 1956, he studied Philosophy at St. Mary's Seminary College, graduating with a Bachelor's degree in 1980. Subsequently, he received a Master's degree from De Andreis Institute of Theology in 1984. Ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Church in 1984, he served parishes in Missouri, Colorado, and Illinois. In 1989 he was received as a priest into the Episcopal Church, serving as rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Whitewater, Wisconsin, from 1990 to 1995. He also married Dana Wirth and had three children: Christina, Graham, and Gavin.
Sparks later served at St. Matthias Church in Waukesha, Wisconsin, then went to New Zealand to become Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in Wellington. On returning to the United States, he became rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Rochester, Minnesota. From here he was elected bishop on 6 February 2016. He was consecrated at Trinity English Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, on 25 June 2016 by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
Bishop Sparks has adopted a five-point plan of mission that will guide his episcopate:
1. Tell the Good News of the Kingdom.
2. Teach, Baptize, and Nurture new believers.
3. Tend to human need with loving service.
4. Transform unjust structures of society.
5. Treasure God's Creation and renew the Earth.
Bishop Sparks has reversed previous diocesan policy and approved same-sex marriages being performed in the diocese with the consent of individual parishes. He was personally present for the wedding of South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg to Chasten Glezman on 16 June 2018 in a ceremony at the Cathedral of St. James in South Bend. He has also formed a strong pastoral partnership with Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows of the Diocese of Indianapolis, marching for social justice issues, against gun violence, and in favor of greater acceptance of all marginalized groups in the Church. He is an "activist bishop" and comfortable in that role, but he is always careful to ground that advocacy in his faith.
On a national level, the Episcopal Church began an initiative under Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to become a "Beloved Community" to promote racial reconciliation. Part of that process involved studying and apologizing for sins committed against minority groups throughout its history. During his sabbatical in 2022, Bishop Sparks walked the Potawatomi Trail of Death, traveling on foot from Plymouth, Indiana, to Kansas. He left an account of his pilgrimage. It symbolized the work of the Diocese of Northern Indiana to account for acts of racism in its past.
Episcopal News Service:
Consecration of Bishop Douglas Sparks, 25 June 2016, Trinity English Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne