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St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Crown Point
St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Crown Point, was organized as a diocesan mission in 1958 with a building erected at 12718 Marshall Street. Prior to 1958, Episcopalians in Crown Point had to travel north to Gary, Hobart, Hammond, or Valparaiso to attend weekly Eucharist. At that time there were at least twelve Episcopalian families in Crown Point. On Easter weekend 1958, those families petitioned Bishop Reginald Mallet to explore the possibility of establishing a church in the seat of Lake County. Bishop Mallet did not initially embrace this church planting for fear that the challenge was too large. However, the will of the people was strong, and they persevered.
On August 3, 1958, more than 90 people attended an organizing meeting across the street from the old Methodist Church in Dr. Grey's office to form the church. A few weeks later another meeting in Durfee's side yard was held to establish the name of St. Christopher’s. On September 7, 1958, the first service was held in the Methodist Church on Main Street. 124 people attended the service, and 87 received communion. 47 children joined the Sunday school, which had six teachers, one of whom was Leslie (Les) Heckel. Les remained a beloved member of St. Christopher’s until his death in 2011.
From the first organizing meeting, the membership of St. Christopher’s was eager for its own church. At the time, Richard Banser worked for Henderlong Lumber Company. During a hunting trip with his boss and friend, Arnold, Banser learned that the property where the church now resides was for sale. The church community quickly started saving money and was able to successfully purchase the property.
In the meantime, the church held services each Sunday in the Methodist Church. Despite being a newly-formed congregation, music was a priority from its beginning. In fact, for almost the first year of worship the members carried their own organ in and out of the Methodist Church each Sunday. On the first anniversary in 1959, St. Christopher welcomed its first rector, the Rev. Leslie C. Howell.
Mrs. Banser, president of St. Christopher's Women's Auxiliary, served at the anniversary celebration's "beautifully decorated tea table." Mrs. Banser has since passed, but her husband, Dick, still served on the vestry and attended 9 a.m. Sunday services and weekday Eucharist for many years afterward.
While the church was growing stronger, its members were also preparing for the future. In December 1961, the congregation broke ground for its current building on Marshall Street. Banser recalled that it was a bitter cold and blustery day with snow "up to the armpits." The weather didn’t slow them down. They marched all around the property, acolytes and all, to consecrate the land that would be the foundation for their new church home. He fondly remembered the nearly frozen fingers and toes from that worship service.
The following spring, the basement and foundations were poured. Since the founders were eager to avoid debt, they built the church as time and resources allowed. Services were held in the basement for more than a year before the upstairs space was ready for worship. The building itself, as it was constructed, followed a popular style of the time called the Cuckler design. The altar, which is still used today, was built by Wilbur Husemann. The men of the church installed and finished the hardwood floors themselves. The pews were purchased from a church in La Porte and had been stored in Miller’s barn prior to being cleaned and prepared for their current home. Eleanor Miller hand-stitched all of the altar linens.
Since the Rev. Leslie Howell, St. Christopher’s has welcomed a succession of talented priests, including the Rev. Thomas Ray in 1960; the Rev. Charles Dibble from 1964 to 1971; the Rev. William R. Hull from 1971 to 1978 (named the first rector in 1977); and the Rev. Patrick Heiligstedt from 1979 to 1996. The congregation built a rectory in which two different priests in succession lived before it was sold in the 1990s. In 1996, the Rev. Col. Ronald R. Baskin assisted. After Heiligsted retired, the Rev. George Minnix served as priest from 1996 to 2001.
At the turn of the millennium, the Rev. Spencer Thiel joined the church and remained priest-in-charge until 2014. In 2011, Thiel welcomed Michael Dwyer to serve as a deacon, enabling him to prepare for his ordination as a priest. Dwyer became the priest-in-charge of the Calumet Episcopal Ministry Partnership (CEMP), which St. Christopher joined in June 2015.
Leslie Charles Howell, 1959-1961
Thomas Kreider Ray, 1961-1964
Charles Ralph Dibble, 1964-1971
William Russell Hull, 1971-1978
Patrick Charles Heiligstedt, 1979-1996
Ronald Russell Baskin, 1996
George Myers Minnix, 1996-2001
Spencer Thiel, 2001-2016
Michelle I. Walker, 2015-2020 (CEMP)
Kristine Graunke, 2015-2020 (CEMP)
Michael Dwyer, 2016-2018 (CEMP)
Pamela Thiede, 2020- (CEMP)
Cynthia Moore, 2020-2021 (CEMP)
Adapted from St. Christopher's website: http://www.calumetepiscopal.org/st-christopher/about.php
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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.
Episcopal News Service:
Consecration of Bishop Douglas Sparks, 25 June 2016, Trinity English Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne