The Red Schoolhouse


The first home of St. Barnabas: the little red schoolhouse on the fairgrounds.

The committee rented the Red Schoolhouse—which had been bought by the Chelsea Community Fair Board and moved to the fairgrounds on the south edge of town—and began turning a building used as a kitchen and dining room for the Community Fair into some semblance of a church. They started with nothing. Herbert Crandell built the altar and painted it white, with the Chi Rho in gold on the front. He found an old lectern in the basement at St. Andrew’s, which he painted white. The women made unbleached muslin curtains from ceiling to floor to make a backing for the altar, and a dark red curtain directly behind the altar. Behind these curtains was the area that was used by the Fair Board as a kitchen, and which the new congregants used as a robing room, kitchen and storage space—in fact, pretty much everything except worship.

Of course, there were no pews or kneelers or prayer books or furnishings for the altar. But this small committee did a tremendous job of making, giving, borrowing and finding all the things needed to establish a mission parish. The Congregational Church was discarding some pews and St. Barnabas bought two, as well as borrowing some chairs from Burghart’s Funeral Home. Herbert found a gold cross. Meanwhile, they were all thinking of what we could give to make the building usable. The Bookers and their families gave the silver communion set, the missal stand and the receiving basin. Jessie Ramp gave the missal for the altar, the Crandells’ father made a beautiful walnut processional cross which was used until 1976. The Kaysers gave the Bishop’s chair, which came from Edmund Kayser’s father’s church, and the brass altar cross which he made—and is still used to this day. The Andersons gave all the material for the curtains, and Mrs. Emma Clayton gave the vases and candlesticks. Mrs. Clayton casually called on Mrs. Eaton one afternoon and as she was leaving, she said she wanted to make a contribution to the new church, and handed her a one hundred dollar bill. The candle lighter and snuffer was given by Mrs. Eaton’s sister, Virginia Everham, of Port Huron, and the Eatons themselves gave 48 upholstered folding chairs. The Bookers found and bought a reed organ, which came from a church in Webster.

The mission members, both men and woman, painted the floor, scrubbed the walls, and washed the windows. The furnishings were still incomplete when the first service was held in the schoolhouse on July 25, 1954. As soon as there was a place to meet, the congregation began to hold monthly covered dish suppers, which continued for many years.

At the same time, Carolyn Nichols, an 18-year-old Page Foundation worker, and the daughter of an Episcopal rector at Suffern, NY, came for a month to canvass the town for families with Episcopal backgrounds, or of no church affiliation. She stayed with various members of the mission. She was an unpaid worker, but was delightful and really enjoyed working out her calling.

In September, 1954, the Women’s Guild was organized (the modern-day equivalent of this group would be Episcopal Church Women). It was a close-knit group who turned their hands to anything that was needed. The women made the kneelers from bare wood to the finished product, using foam rubber and dark red Naugahyde furnished by the Andersons. They made prayer book and hymnal holders which could be hooked around the back of the chair. They made the Bible markers and pulpit hangings in three colors. Besides all the carpentry, sewing, and planning for money-raising projects, the Guild also held interesting and instructive meetings. They studied several books including Faith and Practice, and each woman took her turn at presenting a chapter of each book studied.

In October, Dr. Lewis started off a series of confirmation classes, which continued until March, when Bishop Crowley came for the first confirmation service.

During all the months of acquiring furnishings, Herbert Crandell, with much help from Dr. Lewis, was attending to spiritual needs, and he did wonders—we had a priest for communion, sermons, services set up for each Sunday, and even bulletins! He was a senior at the University of Michigan and was pretty busy. He also made special plans for special days such as Christmas and Epiphany. Besides Dr. Lewis, the Rev. Wilbur Schultze, Prof. Stanley Dodge, and lay reader, William Klatt, joined us on occasion from St Andrew’s, Ann Arbor. The Rev. Robert Murray from St. James, Dexter, assisted us with confirmation classes.

Fred Anderson, son of M. J. and Grace, served as organist until he left for school in September, 1954, when Mrs. Eleanor Freligh became organist. The men of the church acted as lectors, reading the lessons and everyone taking his turn. We had two young boys who served as acolytes: Teddy Kayser and Bill Freligh. When Eleanor and family left in 1955, Helen Goltra took her place at the organ and served in that capacity for 17 years. She was followed by Marjorie Beaumont, wife of Father Jerry Beaumont.

In December, 1954, the women of the church held their first Christmas Bazaar and Greens sale. It was unexpectedly successful and continued many years hence.