The church may close but the spirit lives on
"I have been here all of my life," said Kay Johnson a bit sadly. "I went to Sunday School here, I was baptized, I was confirmed, got married here, raised my children here and I thought my funeral would be held here." After a pause she added, "But I'm not ready to go yet!"
The church treasurer was talking about the upcoming closure of the nearly 100-year-old St. Andrew's Episcopal Church building, nestled on a small lot at 204 Eighth St. in Cloquet.
Although the church was built in 1918, service records for St. Andrew's can be traced back to 1893 when parishioners met at the Nelson Opera Hall on the corner of Arch Street and Avenue B, according to a history booklet put together by the church centennial committee in 1995.
The committee discovered St. Andrew's mentioned many times in the fledgling Village of Cloquet newspaper, the Pine Knot.
According to the history booklet, Reverend S. Prichard came to preach at St. Andrew's and also visited the schools.
"The teachers possess the happy and important faculty of combining gentleness and kindness with the amiable strictness, which gave to the school an air of Christian sweetness which in the days of my childhood was conspicuous for its absence from the school room," said Prichard in the Pine Knot. He went on to say he was impressed with how well religion was being taught at the school and they were lucky to have a Christian gentleman in Principal Cloyd.
The congregation had a building of its own by April 1896, with 85 people and almost 90 children attending Sunday School classes.
Located at the corner of Avenue C and Broadway Avenue, the building did not last long. It had been set on cedar blocks about four feet off of the ground instead of a solid foundation, and the building blew off in a storm about a month after it opened.
The next church was built on a solid foundation.
Reverend Frank C. Coolbaugh came to St. Andrews in 1901 and was very active in civic affairs in the Village of Cloquet. According to the booklet, he was a dynamic person and gave many speeches. He was also one of the original petitioners to incorporate the Village of Cloquet into a city in 1904. After 12 years at St. Andrews, Coolbaugh moved on.
On April 17, 1916 the small church was robbed. According to the booklet: "The culprits got away with the chalice and plate of the communion set. The thief stole about a half of a bottle of wine and broke into the offering box. The offering box fortunately didn't have much money in it."
On Oct. 12, 1918, St. Andrews burned with the rest of Cloquet. The congregation met in people's homes and at Garfield School until a new church building was completed Nov. 23, 1919.
After the fire, a metal box was found in a cornerstone of the foundation wall of the old, burned-out church. "The contents were in a good state of preservation and contained some church records, seven cents in coin and an Oct. 3, 1896, Pine Knot describing the laying of the cornerstone 23 years in the past."
The church had moved from the west end of Cloquet to Eighth Street and was the first permanent church building constructed after the fire. The beautiful stained glass altar window cost $225 when it was installed in 1919.
In 1935 the United States Government sent a check for $5,800 for the 1918 fire claim. After they paid the attorney $580, the remaining money was used towards a new addition to the church.
In 1955, the church bought a pedal pipe organ for $4,150 to replace the old reed organ.
Due to the growth of the Sunday School program, the church built another addition in 1961-1962. The class size jumped from 87 students to 99 students. The kitchen in the basement was moved and remodeled during the addition.
In 1964, Harry Newby Sr. taught political science classes in the church basement.
The members of the church passed a motion to install a sound system in 1965 and it was finally installed in 1994, 29 years later.
The little church with red doors was debt free as of January 1977 after the last addition payment was made. At this time attendance averaged about 70 people, with a capacity of about 120.
The cedar wreath fundraiser began in 1922 and all members of the congregation helped out.
"Cedar gathering in the woods on a Saturday always included a coffee and treats break, sometimes with a campfire. The guild ladies would gather on Tuesdays to make wreaths and enjoy a cordial luncheon. The first Tuesday in December was delivery day with most main street businesses displaying a St. Andrews cedar wreath. Buskala's Jewelry had purchased a wreath every year of the project," the booklet said.
The guild ladies fundraiser was such a huge success they bought 40 acres of cedar to keep the project going. Nothing was wasted. The branches were used for wreaths and the tree trunks were sold for fence posts.
In 1993 the long time tradition came to an end.
Reverend Joe Piette and his wife, Diane, arrived in 1990. Piette participates in Total Team Ministry with a group of ministers in the area who switch around and preach at other churches within the group.
Over the years, many of the devoted parishioners aged and began having trouble accessing their little brick church. There was no room to make the split level church handicapped accessible. When the vestry checked into adding an elevator, they discovered it would cost almost as much as the church was worth.
The congregation has dwindled significantly to a few faithful followers.
"Sometimes there are only six people in the congregation on Sunday," said Johnson. "We sit close to the front and try to have three on one side and three on the other."
She is sad at the thought of the little church closing forever. And frustrated. The church had become financially solid over the years and has money in savings, unlike some churches who have closed. The vestry has donated to several organizations, including the Friends of Animals Humane Society and Salvation Army. They are hoping to make one final donation to their favorite organizations.
The church building will be sold by the diocese and Reverend Joe will continue to preach at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hermantown. He said other Episcopal churches will be taking tables, pews or whatever they can use once St. Andrew's doors close forever.
Breakout box: The end of an era
The Deconsecration ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10, at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, 204 Eighth St., Cloquet, with the Right Rev. Brian Prior, the Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota leading the service. Call Rev. Joe Piette at 218-879-5336 or Kay Johnson at 218-879-5374 for more information.