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Church at Seventh and Vermillion streets dates back 163 years

By Jane Lightbourn • Staff writer

Members of the LeDuc family worshipped at the church and two of the daughters taught Sunday School. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, at Seventh and Vermillion streets, dates back more than 160 years with strong historical ties, while still reaching out to worshipers today.

St. Luke’s was organized as a mission church in 1850. It was established by the Rev. Jackson Kemper, the Episcopal bishop of the entire Northwest Territories. In 1855, the first worship service was held in the dining room of the Dakota House, at Second and Sibley streets.

The cornerstone for the first church was laid May 6, 1856, by Kemper. The building opened in November of that year. The Rev. E.P. Gray of Winona preached. The congregation and the preacher sat on boards supported by nail kegs as seats in the unfinished building.

During the 1850s, Bishop Henry Whipple, the first Episcopal bishop in the Minnesota Territory, worked to provide proper treatment and justice for the Native Americans. He was known as “Straight Tongue” to all nations. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church always welcomed Native and African Americans to their worship services. Indian John, a good friend to the settlers, is buried in St. Luke’s Cemetery.

In 1857, the first church building was consecrated and the first offering was 25 cents (total). The Rev. Timothy Wilcoxson led services every other Sunday. He walked from St. Paul to Hastings, Point Douglas, Prescott, Faribault, Cannon Falls, Basswood Grove and Red Wing.

The church pews were built from Butternut wood and were rescued from a fire in 1880. They are still used today. In 1868 the altar cross, candlesticks, vases and Communion silver were given to the church.

The first church building was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve in 1880. The Christmas tree caught fire from the candles used to decorate it. Although the building was lost, the furnishings were saved and placed in the new building that was completed in 1881. The cost of the new building was $7,759.50.

In 1882 the parish’s young people raised $250 to install the Good Shepherd Window above the altar  and the Young Ladies Guild presented the Bishop’s Chair that was first used by Bishop Whipple when he confirmed a class of May of that year.

The stained glass windows date back to the 1800s. There are plaques with initials C.O.B. (Mrs. C.O. Bell) and G.P.P. (George P. Pringle).

Some other dates of importance include: 1892 – the gas lamps were replaced with electric lights; 1902 – the new pulpit was given by the parishioners; 1933 – the last mortgage was paid off; 1968 – the  pipe organ was installed; 1987 – the original church pews were repaired and refinished; 1992 – completion of new meeting/gathering space and elevator added; 1993 – nursery remodeled, new offices and new youth room; 2006 – sanctuary roof replaced with cedar shingles; 2012 – pastor’s office and youth room were updated and remodeled.

Today’s priests are the Rev. Bob Langenfeld and the Rev. Frank Van DeSteeg. Deacon is Betty Herman.