History of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church

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 of 1958 those families petitioned the Right Rev. Reginald Mallet to explore the possibility of establishing a church in the seat of Lake County.  Bishop Mallet did not initially embrace this church plant 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 that Old Methodist Church (on Main Street).  124 people attended the service.  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 on, the folks of St. Christopher’s were eager for their own church.  At the time, Mr. Richard (Dick) Banser worked for Henderlong Lumber Company.  During a hunting trip with his boss and friend, Arnold, Dick 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 celebrated services each Sunday.  Despite being a newly formed church, music has always been a priority for St. Christopher. In fact for almost the first year of worship they 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, Rev. Leslie C. Howell.

Mrs. Richard 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 serves on the vestry and attends 9 a.m. Sunday services and weekday Eucharist (noon every Wednesday, followed by lunch).

While the church was growing stronger in Christ it was also preparing for the future.  In December 1961, the church broke ground for its current building on Marshall Street.  Dick recalls 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 remembers the nearly frozen fingers and toes from that worship service!

The following spring, the basement and foundations were poured.   As the founders were eager to avoid debt, they built the church as time and resources allowed.  Services were held in the basement for over a year before the upstairs space was worship ready.  The building itself, as it was built, followed a popular design 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 LaPorte and had been stored in Miller’s barn prior to being cleaned and prepared for their current home.  Eleanor Miller herself hand-stitched all of the altar linens.  The people of the church built the very building in which Eucharist is still celebrated today.

Since Rev. Howell, St. Christopher’s has welcomed a succession of talented priests.  In 1960 Rev. Thomas Ray was installed; from 1964 to 1971, Rev. Charles Dibble served; in the 1970’s Rev. William R. Hull celebrated (and was named rector in 1977); in 1978 Rev. Patrick Heiligstedt joined the church.  In the midst of these priests, a rectory was purchased in which two different priests lived, in succession, before it was sold in the 1990’s. In the early ‘90s, Rev. Col. Ronald R. Baskin assisted for a couple years. After Rev. Heiligsted retired, Rev. George Minnix served as priest for 8 years.

At the turn of the millennium, Rev. Spencer Thiel joined the church.  He remained priest-in-charge until 2014. In 2011, Rev. Thiel welcomed Michael Dwyer to serve as a deacon, enabling him to prepare for his ordination as a priest.  Rev. Michael Dwyer is now the priest-in-charge of the Calumet Episcopal Ministry Partnership, which St. Christopher joined in June of 2015.

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