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St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, Elkhart
The Episcopal Church in the town of Elkhart can trace its roots to the 1840s when three couples - Dr. Joseph Chamberlain and wife Caroline, Eliel Farr and wife Jane, and Chester Gore and wife Rheuanna - began holding prayer services using the Book of Common Prayer in their homes. They never formed a congregation, but in 1849, Bishop George Upfold visited Elkhart and held services in the Presbyterian Church. "At this public service," wrote the Rev. William Galpin, "very few knew how to make the responses, and to make the worship more hearty, the Bishop, before beginning, explained the service and then placed the prayer books he carried about with him on his missionary visits, in the hands of certain persons, and stationed them in various parts of the church, while all who could gathered about these persons and looked on with them. Thus the chants and prayers of the church were heard for the first time by any considerable number in this place."
During the 1850s, Upfold continued to make regular visits, as did several local clergy, including the Rev. Albert Bingham of Lima, the Rev. Henry M. Thompson of Bristol, and the Rev. Joseph Adderly, also of Bristol. However, no church was officially organized. Clearly interested in the town as a potential site for a church, Upfold remarked in his 1858 convention address that he had again visited Elkhart and that it had been occasionally visited by Bingham throughout the year.
Following the Civil War three local women, Ellen Augusta Mead, Ellen Mary Mabley, and Eliza Cornish, began making a trip every Sunday to visit either Bristol or Mishawaka for church services. Bishop Joseph Talbot took notice and in 1867 urged the ailing Bishop Upfold to appoint the Rev. Martin Van Buren Averill to establish a church in town. A register of baptisms was first kept in June of that year, and Averill conducted services at various sites, including Conley's Hall on Main Street. He organized a ladies' society, later known as St. John's Ladies Guild, to help raise money for a church.
Averill led the organization of St. John's Episcopal Church on 1 May 1868, with Benjamin Turnock and John Bostwick elected as the first wardens. The name had been chosen by secret ballot at a parish supper. Men and women brought sealed envelopes with their choices of names, and St. John's proved the overwhelming favorite. In 1869, the congregation under Averill's leadership arranged for the purchase of a lot at Third and Lexington streets. Two parishioners, Judge Oliver H. Main and Benjamin Turlock, gave their personal notes for the purchase and borrowed the money from Judge Howe of Lima. With the occasional help of the congregation, the men paid the notes back with interest, with Howe agreeing to donate $100 toward the lot.
Even before an edifice could be built, the congregation purchased an organ for its worship services in Conley's Hall, replacing a melodeon that was previously in use. Instead of securing a reed organ, they purchased a pipe organ to be used in the church whenever it was built. It was the first such organ in Elkhart and attracted much interest in the community. However, the effort to build a church languished. Averill left in 1870 and his successor, the Rev. Richard Totten, failed to generate enough interest.
Then in 1873, after the election of the Rev. Addis E. Bishop as rector, the congregation broke ground for a new building and completed it the same year. Bishop "soon aroused the people to the need of erecting a new church," and the parish regained the initiative begun under Averill's tenure. The rector worked side by side members of the congregation, carrying lumber and brick in order to complete the building. He donated one of the stained three glass windows out of his personal funds. This small rectangular wood-frame chapel served the parish for the next twelve years, during which time thirteen priests served as rector. Although the rapid turnover did little to promote stability, it improved when the Rev. Franklin Adams arrived in 1887. He stayed four years and completed construction of a rectory.
Realizing that a better church was needed, the vestry developed new construction plans immediately after the arrival of the Rev. William Galpin of Michigan in 1894. Galpin appointed a building committee to begin raising the necessary funds. In 1895, construction began on the present edifice in an elaborate Gothic Revival style under a design by local architect A. H. Elwood. Nicknamed "the Tower," the church became identified regionally as one of the most ornate and outstanding examples of that style. The first service was held on 5 July 1896, even while construction was still underway. The nave was completed in August. Bishop John Hazen White consecrated the building on 11 June 1902, once it was out of debt.
The twentieth century brought many changes to the parish. Under the rectorship of William Wesley Daup in 1918, St. John's constructed a new rectory. The Rev. Walter Lockton arrived in 1920 and served 17 years, taking an active role in the diocese. The Rev. Leslie Skerry Olsen, a native of Colorado and a graduate of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, took charge in 1943 and had another long rectorate of 14 years. During this time the parish grew to more than 1,000 communicants. In 1953-54, the parish constructed an addition with classrooms, offices, and a common room.
Olsen was succeeded by the Rev. Carl H. Richardson in 1957. An army reserve officer, Richardson served 17 years, during which time the parish established St. David's as a mission in 1964. Richardson died suddenly in 1974 and was succeeded by the Rev. John Thomas, a popular rector who served until 1981. Tall and imposing in stature, Thomas and his wife established a popular vacation Bible school and hosted a diocesan convention. His successor, the Rev. Howard Keyse, led a renovation of the chancel and the installation of a new Casavant organ in 1983. He left in 1986 to become rector of St. Ann Church in Woodstock, Illinois.
St. John's has worked with choral interns from the University of Notre Dame's Sacred Music Program to provide outstanding liturgies for the congregation. Keyse's successor, the Rev. Richard Kallenberg, arrived in 1987 and oversaw other renovations. Kallenberg was an unsuccessful candidate for bishop in 2000, when Bishop Gray retired. The parish was later served by the Rev. Daniel Repp and most recently, the Rev. Terri Peterson, who was originally trained and ordained as a Lutheran pastor.
Martin Van Buren Averill, 1867-1870
Richard Totten, 1870-1871
Addis Emmett Bishop, 1873-1875
Gustav Arnold Carstensen, 1876-1877
Erasmus Jurian Hopman Van Deerlin, 1877-1878
Moses Clement Stanley, 1879-1880
Gustav Edmond Purucker, 1882
Erasmus Jurian Hopman Van Deerlin, 1883-1884
Augustine Prentiss, 1884
Samuel Franklin Myers, 1885-1886
Franklin White Adams, 1887-1891
Stephen Elliott Prentiss, 1891-1892
John Frederick Milbank, 1893
William Freeman Galpin, 1894-1903
Richard Rathbone Graham, 1903-1906
Charles Silas Champlin, 1906-1910
Llewellyn Burton Hastings, 1910-1913
William Wesley Daup, 1913-1919
Walter Jay Lockton, 1920-1937
Virgil Pierce Stewart, 1937-1942
Reginald Williams, 1942-1943
Leslie Skerry Olsen, 1943-1957
Carl Hazard Richardson, 1957-1974
John W. Thomas, 1974-1981
Howard Richard Keyse, 1981-1986
Richard A. Kallenberg, 1987-2008
Daniel S. Repp, 2009-2016
Terri L. Peterson, 2017-
John A. Cawley and Robert Meacham, Centuries of Witness: One Hundred & Fifty Years of Christian Witness in Elkhart (Elkhart: Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist, 1995).
Parish Register 1, 1868-1893
Parish Register 2, 1893-1902
Parish Register 3, 1902-1918
Parish Register 4, 1914-1931
Parish Register 5, 1931-1943
Parish Register 6, 1943-1953
Parish Register 7, 1953-1978, Communicants
Burial Register, 1955-1982
Confirmation Register, 1952-1973
Baptismal Register, 1953-1964
Marriage Register, 1940-1968
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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 also permitted openly gay priests to be ordained and serve in the diocese. 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" and to promote racial reconciliation and more loving, Christian relationships. The movement provided materials to individuals and congregations to "help us to understand and take up the long-term commitments necessary to form loving, liberating and life-giving relationships" with one other. "Together," promoters said, "we are growing as reconcilers, justice-makers, and healers in the name of Christ." This effort was also coined "the Jesus Movement" by the Presiding Bishop. Part of that process involved studying and apologizing for sins committed against minority groups throughout the Church's 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.
For several years during Bishop Sparks's episcopate, from 2020 to 2022, the nation suffered under a devastating COVID-19 epidemic. In-personal worship was canceled, and services were conducted remotely online through Zoom, a computer meeting software. When vaccines became available and the virulence of the epidemic eased, congregations met in limited form with enforced masking and social distancing. Bishop Sparks was instrumental in developing protocols that had never been previously considered in diocesan history.
In 2023, the Diocese of Northern Indiana embarked on an exploratory path to discern the possibility of reuniting with the Diocese of Indianapolis. That process remains ongoing at this writing.
Episcopal News Service:
Consecration of Bishop Douglas Sparks, 25 June 2016, Trinity English Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne