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Page Two St. Thomas' Espiscopal Church

St. Thomas was built when Canyon City was a lusty mining town, where more thought was given to saloons and gold then to salvation. On May 31, 1874, Dr. Nevius held the first service of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Good Templer's Hall, (on Main Street, Canyon City's busy thoroughfare at that time), a service at which there seems to have been 15 present. In August of that same year, the first confirmation class was presented by Dr. Nevius to the Rt. Rev. Benjamin Wister Morris, the Missionary Bishop of Oregon.

By this time, the congregation had purchased a parcel of land for the princely sum of $130.00 and a vicarage for $300.00. The cornerstone was laid on September 3, 1876 by Bishop Morris, assisted by Dr. Nevius, the pioneering missionary and designer of the little Church. The first service was held in the new Church on July 15, 1877, but it wasn't until June 20, 1879 that Bishop Morris was able to return to Canyon City to consecrate the new Church, and set it aside as a House of God.

*The style of architecture is old. Nevius combined Anglican and Gothic architecture. It has a steeply pitched roof, pointed window.frames, under-girded by heavy timbers whipsawed from trees in nearby forests. The building rests on sandstone blocks, cut from local quarries. Nevius also designed other Episcopalian church buildings. All bear this particular style of design.

The interior is finished in handsawed knotty pine now showing the mellow stain of age. The pews are of this same hand worked pine. The stained glass windows are constructed of diamond shaped panes, which were either shipped around the Horn and wagon from The Dalles; or came overland from the East, along the Oregon Trail. Many loving hands have completed the interior furnishing. Quartered oak, richly yet simply carved, combined with ornaments of highly polished brass, make this one of the most beautiful churches in Oregon.

Beneath the overhang of the roof, in the rear of the building, one can find a spring of crystal clear, coal water. This source of water has served many people of the town for 100 years during hot summer weather, and in times of frozen water pipes. The Church has it's own source of water for baptisms.

Until recently, one could still climb stairs, made by hand in another era (these stairs were removed in 1975 for remodeling) and enter the small room used by a succession of Bishops and visiting clergy who rode into town on horseback to hold services on Sunday morning.

*But what of the people of St. Thomas? What of the miners with their dreams of riches, the logger, the rancher with his band of sheep or his herd of cattle? What of the saloon keeper, the freighter, the store keeper! What of the teacher with her brood of lively children, the dentist who advertised a painless extraction? All have lived here, some have worshipped here. In this old building not a few of these people were married. Here their children were baptized and confirmed. Many times the Church bell has tolled to mark the passing of yet another pioneer on to larger life.

But whether they moved on in search of new riches or new adventure or whether their days were ended here in Canyon City, one thing is certain - they all left their mark here. Each had a part to play, large or small in the moulding of the rich heritage which is ours today.

Yet, we should not assume that congregations have always been large or the membership lists have been long. In fact, for many years, St. Thomas stood all but dormant, barely kept alive by the love and devotion of a handful of people to whom St. Thomas was ever a reminder of the richness of yesterday as well as a bright hope for tomorrow. The building was always kept up, the brass was always shined, and this handful of people continued to find God within the mellowing beauty of it's walls.

Since 1950 the congregation experienced a new awakening. Since that time, there has bepn a resident clergyman in Grant County most of the time but most important the people themselves worked and prayed together, ever increasing the depth and strength of the Church fellowship. Such men as George Cutcher, Rev. Albert Allen, Rev. Richard Payne and Rev Robert Parlour helped to build and to mould a strong congregation that embraced those who have lived here for well over fifty years as well-as those who lately came and who would soon be moving on. But young or old, all who worship in St. Thomas are soon caught up in the richness of the past, and the promise for the future.

Much has been done with a view to the future. The old Church was completely renovated in 1950. Since then, the old rectory on the hill was sold, and a beautiful three bedroom ranch style home was erected in 1954 on Humboldt Drive. In 1956, on land donated by Dr. William Prophet and Earl Brent, a $60,000 Christian Education building was erected, and was dedicated on May 14 of that year in honor of Charles and Ann Barth, through whose interest and kindness the building became a reality.

The ministry of St. Thomas stretches to the corners of Grant County, an area of some 4,520 square miles. But figures mean little until one realizes that this is about the same size as the State of Connecticut or the State of Maryland. At one time, St. Thomas had three preaching stations - one 25 miles away, the other two 50 miles distant. In Seneca, a logging community services were held twice a month in the Community Chapel, while in the Long Creek and Monument area a congregation made up mostly of ranch folk worshipped twice each month at the King Ranch. In Izee, the ranching community worshipped mostly at the Officer Ranch. The ministry is one that must deal continually with the problem of distance and communication and isolation. It is a ministry that must speak the language of rancher and logger. It is a ministry that is old in terms of history, yet young in terms of the spirit of the pioneer, which still rests so strongly upon us. In God's wisdom, it is a ministry that will always uphold the best from the past while speaking to the present moment, and ever working for the future.

Many founders of our country such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and James Monroe were members Of the Episcopal Church. There is a marked similarity between the two systems of government of the Episcopal Church and our Government. It is interesting to note that the same years mark their births.

1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

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