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St. Michael’s Church was begun and has grown out of a desire to serve God as a family unit working and praying together to build and further the sense of family and also to reach out to the larger community. This sense of family and deep spiritual commitment to outreach have been constants over the 38-year history of the parish: although members have come and gone, the spirit that is uniquely St. Michael’s remains.
Historically, the parish has been long on the time and talent part of stewardship and short on treasure, the willingness to work and weather the financial storms together has added immeasurably to the closeness of the parish family. Since the parish is, a relatively new one by many Episcopal Church Standards, there has been no old money to fund large endowments, so the brunt of financial support has come from its young middle class families struggling to raise families and maintain homes. This fact and good spiritual leadership over the years has brought parishioners together in working for a common goal of spreading God’s Kingdom from this holy hill in southeast Lexington.
In his address to the diocesan convention in 1955, Bishop Moody stated that there was a need to expand missions in the diocese. At that time, Christ Church and Good Shepherd were the only Episcopal parishes in the city. Christ Church had begun searching for property to build a suburban church in south Lexington.
St. Michael’s Mission was begun when Christ Church donated to the diocese a two and a half acre tract of land between Libby Lane and Bellefonte Drive in the Zandale Subdivision.
Eight families held the first service November 6, 1955, at the Mary Jo Snyder Studio of Dance. The first priest-in-charge was the Rev. Ray Holder. Phil Johnston was the seminarian in charge. The Mission Committee was headed by Dr. D. W. McKelvey, senior warden and Robert F. Hunt, Junior Warden. On December 19, 1955, a pre-Christmas service was held with 25 in attendance. Within 10 months, the congregation had expanded to 25 families and had to move to the Naval Reserve Armory to accommodate its members.
Children have always been a very important component of St. Michael’s and Sunday School began in these early days at the armory with just a few children of all different ages. Christian education now has nearly 200 in the three year old through high school classes with four on-going adult classes.
St. Michael’s was a portable church in the early days: there was a portable altar, dossal curtain, credence table, and folding chairs that all could be set up in 20 minutes. In August, 1956, Bishop Moody appointed The Rev. William L. Porter as priest-in-charge. The mission had two lay readers, Stanley Adams and Stephen J. Cornett, the latter also elected bishop’s warden. The first baptism, wedding, and burial occurred during 1956. At the diocesan convention that year, St. Michael’s Mission moved to be in union with the convention. By the fall of 1957, St. Michael’s was a vital and growing congregation also in diocesan affairs.
With the financial assistance and other help of Christ Church, St. Michael’s began its first building project in the summer of 1958. It was a big step for the people of the mission, but now they could look forward to worshipping in their own chapel rather than a makeshift borrowed room. At the groundbreaking service, many clergy from the diocese joined parishioners in parading around the perimeter of the grounds. Some of the neighbors were somewhat upset that a church was going to be built on what had been the playground for the neighborhood’s children: home plate for their baseball diamond was to be about under the planned altar (center of the left wall of the current parish hall). At the open-air service, a gust of wind blew the Host down the hill. It was recovered after much scurrying around, and the service continued.
As always, the people of St. Michael’s had to find ways to save money on the building project. The bid for the building had not included geological surveys to determine where and how much rock was under the surface. To save this additional cost, some hardy parishioners used sledge hammers to drive 12-foot iron rods into the ground all the way around the perimeter of the building site to see if there was rock there. The pounding in of these rods was difficult enough, but pulling them out again was harder yet. This is a good example of the lengths to which these determined people would go and the sacrifices they were willing to make to insure that the mission prospered. The first service in the partially completed building was Christmas Eve, 1958.
The Rev. J. Harmon Smith became the new vicar in late 1959. He had a special ministry to the deaf. Soon St. Michael’s had incorporated eight deaf people into its worship services and life with someone signing the services including the sermons. A midweek service was held where Fr. Smith used only sign language.
St. Michael’s Kindergarten and Day School, known as one of the best of its kind, was begun in 1960 under the direction of Fr. Smith with Barbara Simmonds as the first teacher. After the first year, Ms. Simmonds was unable to continue, and the school was dormant for a year. In 1962, Doris House became director of the school and maintained that position until her death in 1988. Since 1988, Marge Marcum has been the director, continuing the legacy of excellence established by Doris House.
During this time, Allen House was elected treasurer of St. Michael’s and served in that capacity for 30 years. By the early sixties, St. Michael’s was a beehive of activity every day. The Eucharist was celebrated Monday and Wednesday mornings, Thursday evenings, and all holy days as well as Sunday morning. Girl Scouts and Brownies used the undercroft four weekdays each week, there was a monthly potluck and there were active men’s and women’s groups.
During 1962, the rectory was built with the large number of bedrooms tailor-made for the Rev. Scott Peddie and his family. Fr. Peddie, a former military officer, worked very hard visiting new people and is credited with doubling the size of the congregation during his tenure.
Although still a mission at this time, St. Michael’s dedication to outreach was apparent as it provided lay readers for over a year for Christ Church, Richmond.
The move to parish status was rapidly approaching, but to lay the groundwork, Fr. Peddie promoted the mission to the entire diocese on St. George’s Day at the Cathedral Domain in April 1964. A chartered bus took many of the 96 parishioners to the Domain that day, and all of the St. Michael’s people wore bright yellow tags saying they were from St. Michael’s. Bishop Moody stressed the need for the churches to make their facilities available to the community for activities; St. Michael’s was already doing this with five Girl Scout troops, one Boy Scout troop, one Cub Scout pack, an AA group, an ostomy club, a youth group, and a women’s group and choir meeting regularly.
At the diocesan convention that followed in May 1964, Fr. Peddie asked for recognition of St. Michael’s as a parish. The Committee on New Parishes and Missions reported that St. Michael’s had complied with all cannons pertaining to parish status except for the part of paragraph 4 which stated that a mission must have paid the full salary and pension of its vicar for the past year. Factors favoring admission to parish status were that the mission had doubled in size in the past two years with a present total of 208 communicants; the pledged income for 1964 was $17,000.00; a new rectory had been built with regular payments being made on the mortgage; and there were many activities each week.
The Committee on New Parishes and Mission recommended that paragraph 4 of the canon be waived and that the diocese accept St. Michael’s as a parish due to the favorable location, evidence of life and growth, and the fact that full salary for the vicar had been paid by the mission for a time. Bishop Moody noted in the Executive Council the good spirit at St. Michael’s.
The next month, a Meet St. Michael’s Day was held to acquaint the diocesan family with the new parish. Later that year, the annual parish picnic was moved to the Domain, an event that was to turn into the annual Parish Weekend in later years and continues to the present.
In early 1965, the title to the 2.5 acres was transferred by Christ Church to St. Michael’s, joining the half-acre the rectory was on, which was previously given by Christ Church. The parish continued to grow, and there was a need to build and addition to accommodate more Church School rooms. The loan was approved for this project in early 1965, and a wheelchair ramp was included at one of the entrances. About the same time, the parking lot and driveway were paved. Also in 1965, St. Michael’s celebrated the tenth anniversary of its founding. Although the parish was coming of age, during that summer the parish was to experience one of its many summer financial crises despite parishioners doing their own janitorial work, which included a weekly mowing party. When some people forgot or didn’t take their turn, Buddy Evans filled in to see that the church was clean.
In September 1965, Fr. Peddie announced his resignation and recommended that his successor be the Rev. Geoffrey Evans, rector of Ascension Church in Mt. Sterling. It was decided to call Fr. Evans in October, and he accepted effective mid-November.
In 1966, St. Michael’s investigated the possibility of installing air conditioning, but financial problems necessitated a postponement of this project. The same year, the State Board of Education inspector stated that St. Michael’s School was the best that he had inspected in the city.
St. Michael’s sponsored the Harvest Ball, hosted the School of Religion taught by the Rev. Addison Hosea of St. John’s, Versailles, went through another financial crisis, and invited Carroll Simcox, editor of The Living Church, to preach at the church. Fr. Evans became president of diocesan clergy.
In 1969, Fr. Evans was named chair of the Diocesan Department of Youth, which reflected the activity of St. Michael’s youth. That year also saw another drop in plate income while expenses increased. There was a significant danger that the new parish might revert to mission status. Parishioners were asked to give more and invite new members into the parish. Air conditioning finally was installed. The family picnic was officially turned into the Family Weekend at the Domain.
Cannon Honea’s consecration as Bishop Coadjutor in 1970 began the next phase in St. Michael’s history: the parish was maturing, and there was the prospect of a new administration in the diocese in the near future. Bishop Hosea became Diocesan Bishop when Bishop Moody retired. St. Michael’s people were always involved in events and projects for the Diocese; the parish, and primarily Buddy Evans and Joe McCain, provided the labor to complete the chapel in the new Diocesan House on Sayre Avenue.
St. Michael’s was now the seventh largest parish in the diocese with income up over $10,000 from the previous year. The parish was active and healthy, and 1971 became the best year in its history to that time. New pews were installed in time for Christmas Eve services, so the old folding chairs were donated to St. Alban’s, Morehead.
To keep up with the growth of the parish, yet another addition was needed, and in early 1972, the bid was approved for construction. A record budget was adopted as the parish continued to flourish. In November 1972, the addition was completed and dedicated. It was quickly filled and has been used regularly since that time by the Day School, Church School and various other parish groups.
Activities continued in 1973, but financial problems still plagued the parish, and the diocesan pledge was not met. Yet by the end of 1974, income again kept pace with expenses, and all obligations were current.
In the first half of 1975, it was agreed by the parish that Fr. Evans could go to El Salvador as part of the companion diocese project with that country. In December 1975 the Rev. Robert Horine was chosen Locum Tenens in Fr. Evans’ absence. Fr. Horine had served at Christ Church, Covington, and as the Bishop’s assistant.
Little known to everyone then, Fr. Horine was to lead St. Michael’s on the next phase of its journey as a Christian family. There had been good spiritual growth in the parish in 1974 as well as an expanded outreach program. There was a feeling of solidarity, due in part to the successful stewardship campaign, the best in parish history. The parish now housed three community service organizations, was a voting precinct, and provided meeting space for more Girl Scouts than any other church or organization in Central Kentucky. An income of $43,332.00 was realized in 1974.
When Fr. Horine came to St. Michael’s in early 1975, he found himself much busier than expected. Following his six months of service, the parish gave a reception in appreciation of his care of the parish.
In the summer of 1976, Fr. Evans hired the Rev. William E. Hamilton, a new deacon and a recent ETSK graduate, as a part-time assistant. A few months later, Fr. Evans resigned to become rector of the Church of the Holy Comforter in Miami. During Fr. Evans’ tenure, the Parish Weekend had been instituted and maintained and the family atmosphere had been strengthened despite parish growth. The parish also took a new stance on reaching out: the women of the church volunteered each month at The Nearly New Shop, people went to the VA Hospital each month with cakes and cookies and to play bingo with the patients and the parish began collecting food for the hungry. When it was time to relax, the people relaxed together at organized parties and other social events, but they also gathered on their own. Thus, St. Michael’s, which was the center of their religious lives, became the focus of their social lives as well, an answer to the pressures of modern life on families and the church.
Fr. Horine was called as rector effective the first Sunday in Advent, 1976. He brought a new spiritual dimension to the parish, teaching that while an active parish like St. Michael’s was perform many fine ministries in the community, it must be well fed spiritually, or the ministers become burned out.
Fr. Horne’s tenure saw an expansion in the music program at St. Michael’s with an active children’s choir singing periodically under the direction of Priscilla Hepburn, organist and choir director. Growth continued, and a small addition to the church proper began in the early 1980’s with the altar moved from the east to the north wall of the church to accommodate more seating. The Rev. Joe Ashby was hired as curate. During this time, the Rev. Dr. Pem Kremer, an English Professor at UK, was ordained deacon and served the parish as its first female clergy.
In 1980, parishioner Mary Purcell entered the ordination process for the priesthood. Although Bishop Hosea refused to ordain her priest, he did ordain her as a deacon, and she was assigned as deacon assistant to Canterbury Chapel, the Episcopal Mission on the UK campus. Meanwhile, St. Michael’s continued to grow, and the Rev. David Bender, another deacon, served the parish with Fr. Horine.
In June 1985, St. Michael’s hosted the election of a Bishop Coadjutor. The Rt. Rev. Don A. Wimberly from the Diocese of Florida was elected and was consecrated Bishop in September 1986, upon Bishop Honea’s retirement. Within a month, both Bishop Moody and Bishop Hosea died just as the new diocesan administration of Bishop Wimberly began.
At Easter, 1985, Fr. Horine resigned as rector of St. Michael’s, and Mary Percell was named Deacon-in-charge while the search for a new rector was undertaken. Various priests in the diocese supplied the church on Sundays.
It was a time of uncertainty at St. Michael’s as the vestry voted to conduct an in-depth parish survey prior to actively beginning the search process. Leadership of the parish was given by Senior Warden John McCann and Junior Warden Harry Moore with the Parish Survey headed by Rob Sither. In the nine months between the time Fr. Horine left and a new rector was called, the parish faced hard financial times yet again, and attendance dwindled.
Following extensive interviewing, the Vestry called the Rev. Peter Casparian, vicar of Canterbury Chapel at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, as the new rector. He assumed office on Ash Wednesday, 1986. Change and growth began immediately. Paneling of the sanctuary was soon completed, and by fall, 1986, there were three services each Sunday: Rite I at 8 AM, Rite II with a folk choir, the St. Michael’s Singers, at 9 AM, Sunday School at 10:10, and Rite II with traditional music at 11 AM. There was another expansion of ministries as St. Michael’s began to serve dinner each third Monday at Horizon Center, a soup kitchen for the homeless. Fr. Casparian and his wife, Marguerite, instituted the annual Passover Seder on Wednesday of Holy Week.
On May 17, 1986, the Rev. Mary Purcell was ordained priest at St. Michael’s, the first woman priest in the diocese and the first ordination by Bishop Wimberly. She continued to serve at St. Michael’s for a time as assistant to the rector, then accepted a call as assistant at Church of the Good Shepherd, and finally was called as rector of Church of the Nativity at Maysville. She left the Diocese in September 1992, to become rector of St. Timothy’s Church, Des Moines, Iowa, her home diocese.
In 1986 soon after Fr. Casparian became rector, Jan Fromm and Judith Kalom, both parishioners, approached him about beginning the process toward ordination. In 1989, Virginia F. Stanford, MD, also began the process toward ordination to the priesthood as she entered the Virginia Theological Seminary. Following ordination in 1990, Deacon Kalom was assigned to St. Michael’s. Ms. Fromm was ordained deacon in June 1991, and became deacon-in-training at St. Michael’s. She was ordained priest in January 1992, and became assistant to the rector until her call to become vicar of the Church of the Resurrection December 1, 1993. Dr. Stanford was ordained deacon in June 1993, and became deacon-in-training at All Saints in Lynchburg, VA, with priestly ordination planned for June 1994.
The spiritual life of the parish also suddenly took another leap forward as a Thomas Merton Class grew out of a men’s retreat at Gethsemane. Education for Ministry, a year’s commitment to weekly study and meetings, began under the leadership of Marguerite Casparian. By 1990, there were four EFM groups each week. In addition, Bishop Wimberly and Fr. Casparian both emphasized participation in Cursillo, and many, many parishioners have participated in this weekend experience with its follow up of weekly grouping to enhance spiritual growth. For high school youth, the Happening experience has been a key one in their spiritual journeys. In May 1993, St. Michael’s hosted a Disciples of Christ in Ministry training session for four days. The DOCC program was then begun in September 1993, with plans for future groups. Like EFM, the emphasis is on small group sharing but without the study component, and DOCC’s time commitment is shorter. The sessions were jointly conducted by the Rev. Jan Fromm, and the Rev. Judith Kalom.
Other small group efforts included socializing through foyer groups (eight parishioners met once a month for a meal at a different member’s home over four months, and then new groups were formed). In addition, St. Michael’s large singles population began to meet together and with Diocesan Singles.
Large emphasis had always been placed on lay participation in the Eucharist and in the ministry of the church. However, this began to truly blossom as lectors, lay chalice bearers, and finally lay Eucharistic Ministers Bill Rodgers and Alex Seyerle, the latter commissioned on Pentecost, 1993, all served to extend the table of the Lord. As this is written, a new group of Lay Eucharistic Ministers is being trained by Deacon Kalom.
By 1988, it was obvious that St. Michael’s would need to build a large new worship facility with basement rooms for education and other activities. Cottage meetings were held by each vestry group to discuss the project and debate that such a venture would incur. Ground was broken by Bishop Wimberly assisted by Fr. Casparian and charter members John and Marie Glover. The date was March 3, 1991, when 150 stalwart St. Michaelites gathered and sang lustily in the driving rain, accompanied by trumpets, for the beginning of the dream of a new church. That dream was to be realized December 15, 1991, the third Sunday of Advent, when the first service was held in the new space.
Instrumental in the realization of the new church was Senior Warden Mark MacDonald, chairman of the building committee Bob Slone, parish construction liaison Russell Harr, and meticulous planning for beauty and practicality by Fr. Casparian and a committee of parishioners. The fir ceilings and slate floor provide the wonderful acoustics for organ and instrumental music, the chancel choir directed by Ruth Witt, and the Family Singers led by Kathy Jo Gutgsell. New casing was provided for the organ so that it can accommodate additional ranks later. It was also revoiced.
Outreach continued to be a vital part of St. Michael’s mission with an enthusiastic group of dedicated Habitat for Humanity workers who have helped build two houses and repair six more to date. The majority of St. Michael’s $5,000.00 share for its Habitat house each year has been raised through a silent auction of everything from quilted hangings to lawn and garden expertise to baked goods to a catered gourmet dinner for eight.
A crowded corner room at St. Michael’s had been home to Voluntary Action Center of the Bluegrass. It was the dream of early member Dr. John Mink. Then in 1990, VAC occupied the basement of the rectory. In 1992, the National Council for Christians and Jews took over the upstairs. Both groups embody the spirit of St. Michael’s outreach ministries. The rectory space then becomes classrooms on Sundays.
In 1990, the church purchased the house adjacent to the property on the Libby Lane side. At the time, the sexton and his family reside there.
During the building project, parishioners enjoyed checking out the progress each week following services. The two Sunday Eucharists was expanded to include one Saturday evening, as there was not room in the old space to comfortably seat everyone at two services.
The new worship space was engineered to accommodate a balcony should an addition be needed. An array of new pews as well as the old ones was installed in the new space. The old altar, side altar, crucifix and Christus Rex were retained. In 1992, a reproduction of a 15th century Madonna and Child was installed over the side altar. Choir stalls were procured from Cardome Convent, recently closed in Versailles, and a pulpit and bishop’s chair were retrieved from storage and given to St. Michael’s by the diocese. All were lovingly refinished, and the bishop’s chair was reupholstered prior to the first service. Plans for needle pointing kneelers and chancel furniture are underway.
The story of the parish seems to be one of people being spiritually fed in a church that strives still to be a loving family through it has long since become a program church so far as size is concerned. That group of well-nourished Christians in turn continues to reach out to bring the light of Christ to the community and the world.