Foreword: An Abbreviated History of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church
In the beginning. . . .
Sunday, September 28th, marked the beginning of the Archdeacon’s third year in charge of the work at this place. Denton is one of the most important college towns in the state, being the seat of the College of Industrial Arts for Women, as well as the North Texas Teachers’ College. Two years ago we were worshiping in a dilapidated room over a candy kitchen – with a pine board set on two-by-fours for an altar and the plastering falling in large patches. When it rained there were puddles of water about the floor, and not infrequently in the seats of the pine kitchen chairs which served for pews. The owner of the candy kitchen proved more than willing, however, to shut off his player-piano during services whenever he discovered that it was interfering with a celebration of the Holy Communion.
“Archbishop’s Column,” The Diocese of Dallas (Diocesan Magazine), October 1924.
The Early Years
St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, or St. B’s, as it is referred to by many of its parishioners, is the oldest existing Episcopal congregation in Denton County. The text above is just a taste of what it was like “in the beginning” when we were just a few families gathered together over what was then Olympia Confectionary in hopes of building something greater. Our founders, with the help of early church leaders such as Bishop Alexander Garrett and the Reverend George Gibbs, obviously succeeded, for today our church sits strong and firmly imbedded in one of the fastest growing communities in the state and nation. It has remained true to its beginnings as a downtown church.
The history of St. Barnabas began in the nineteenth century and we, as a mission then a parish, have stood proudly since 1933. In 1875 Bishop Alexander Garrett visited Denton from Decatur and observed growth of the Episcopal faith in the community and ultimately appointed the Reverend George S. Gibbs to Denton on a temporary basis in 1892. The Reverend Mr. Gibbs is considered St. B’s first pastor, and it was under his leadership that the congregation, known then as a preaching station or preaching mission, was established. Bishop Garrett matched the $1,000 raised by the people with $500 to establish the station.
For roughly twenty years the Episcopalian community grew in Denton County. The November 19, 1915 edition of the Denton Record-Chronicle reported that: “An Episcopal mission for the benefit particularly of CIA (now TWU) and Normal (now UNT) students of that faith, but also for local members of the church, has been organized in Denton and is called the St. Barnabas Mission.” Temporary priests, including the Reverend Walter B. Clark (1919) and the Reverend E.S. Middleton (1921), continued to be assigned to the mission until the 1930’s when we were assigned official priests-in-charge. Priests-in-charge held local services each Sunday while also serving other missions.
By 1923 the community had grown strong enough to coordinate the building of a church structure at 401 North Locust Street, south of Parkway. There would be no more worship in the dilapidated room over the Olympia Confectionary (which was located on the second floor of the Scripture Building, still standing on the west side of the Denton Court House square at the Oak Street corner). The new structure on Locust Street was dedicated by Bishop Harry T. Moore and became known as St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. The appointed priest-in-charge was the Reverend James Kinsolving, who served from 1929-1936, and in later years became bishop of New Mexico (1956). The Reverend Clarence Haden, the next priest-in-charge (1936-1937), also subsequently became a bishop, of Northern California, in 1957.
St. B’s remained on North Locust for 15 years. The church building was moved to its current location, 1200 North Elm Street, in 1938 after a property arrangement between St. B’s and the Evers Family (the owners of Evers Hardware once located on Denton’s square) resulted in the larger lot.(The records are unclear as to whether a new building was constructed or the Locust Street building was literally moved to Elm Street.) The new lot contained a small frame home that was used as the parish rectory. Referred to as St. Paul’s House, this space is now used for church offices, the library and the bishop’s room. The parish hall, still in use today, was added in 1939. The old location at 401 North Locust Street is now a parking lot behind the central post office in downtown Denton.
While the congregation was making the transition from North Locust to North Elm, senior warden duties were assigned to Dr. L.H. Hubbard, fifth president of Texas Woman’s University (1926-1950), then known as the College of Industrial Arts (CIA) and later (1934) as the Texas State College for Women (TSCW). The participation of Dr. Hubbard and his family in the life of St. B’s cannot be overstated and in many ways helped us in becoming a full parish. During the same period the Reverend John William Schwer served as priest-in-charge and taught courses in religion at TSCW. The Reverend Schwer became assistant rector at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Corpus Christi in 1942, joined the Chaplain Corps in 1943, and was declared missing-in-action on August 13, 1944 while serving in England and France. His death was confirmed that same year and a certificate of merit and Chaplain’s Medal was presented to his widow in 1946.
The year 1942 marked the arrival of St. B’s last priest-in-charge, the Reverend Homer F. Rogers. Father Rogers was fresh out of seminary when he began his work at St. B’s. He was actually ordained on June 29th of that year at St. Barnabas according to the Denton Record-Chronicle and married his wife, Dotty, in 1943. Under Father Rogers’s leadership St. Barnabas experienced sizable growth and change. The Anglo-Catholic or “high church” character of the services that still draws people to St. B’s today began under Father Rogers (affectionately called “Padre” by many parishioners). However, St. Barnabas is not nearly so high church now as it was under Father Rogers and his successors through the early 1970s when, for example, parishioners were expected to practice the sacrament of confession on a regular basis. It was also during the Rogers era that the congregation began to serve both local colleges as Father Rogers was designated chaplain to both TSCW and NTSC. In part because of the influence of “Padre”, through 2009 St. Barnabas has had at least 20 members of the parish enter the priesthood or religious orders.
The Parish Years
On January 24, 1946, St. Barnabas became an independent parish by an action of the 51st Annual Convention, and from this date Father Rogers served as the first rector. In 1951, a majority of families left the parish, partly due to resistance to the high church services that had been practiced under Father Rogers, and established a new mission congregation that would later develop into Denton’s second Episcopal Church, St. David of Wales. As a result, St. Barnabas Parish turned to the task of rebuilding the parish with the remaining half-dozen or so families.
Following the brief tenure of Father William Joseph Heilman, the Reverend Thomas Talley served as rector from 1954 to 1961. During his tenure, St. Barnabas built an Episcopal Student Center at North Texas State University (UNT after 1961), the Canterbury House, which was later acquired by UNT for campus expansion. Thereafter, the Episcopal collegians met in an interdenominational student center. At Canterbury House, Father Emmett M. Waits (later rector from 1965 through 1973) served as the chaplain of a very spiritual but very lively student center, which housed eight Episcopalian male collegians, fostering among them and the other students, men and women, who worshiped there a lifelong dedication to the Church as priests, nuns, monks, and involved laypersons.
In 1959 multiple renovations occurred that gave St. Barnabas much of the look and feel that we are familiar with today. The current altar was installed as a memorial to Kathryn Lillard Pettit, from her family and friends. The nave was extended westward 25 feet to make space for a baptismal font, choir loft and additional pews. The front of the church was redesigned to its present appearance, including the stone wall and tower as well as the covered walkway. The faceted glass windows, Stations of the Cross, and the present pews were also added. The rectory was expanded to include a built-on apartment for the rector so that the primary structure could be used for offices. Today, that apartment is used as the nursery during services and for various EYC activities
On August 16, 1967 a two-alarm fire at St. Barnabas began in the electrical wiring under the church floor. A passing taxi driver reported the fire at 3:15 a.m. The fire heavily damaged the church wing and caused considerable smoke and heat damage in the parish hall and rectory. Denton’s fire chief reported to the Denton Record-Chronicle that the wood floor of the sanctuary was almost entirely burned out on the underside. The ceiling and altar were badly burned, as well as 10 to 15 pews. Almost all the gothic glass windows along the sides of the church were cracked from the heat. When the Vestry considered the heavy damage that had occurred and the great cost of the repairs needed, it raised the question with the congregation as to whether the church should be repaired on the present site or moved to a new location, a discussion that still comes up today at times. In the end, it was decided to stay on Elm Street, and the building was restored. The confessional (which had had locations in the narthex and in the old Lady Chapel, now the sacristy) was moved to the area where the columbarium was installed in 1993 (the priest sat in the hallway facing the parish hall while the person making a confession sat on the front pew in the nave.) The same artists who rendered the Stations of the Cross did the ambry as part of the restoration. A policy was adopted of attempting to provide for future growth by purchasing adjacent land when any became available. This policy soon led to the purchase of the property at 1205 Locust to serve as the parish rectory, which was justified not only by the need for additional land for growing room but also – very wisely – by the thought that the parish would not always have bachelor rectors. On October 13, 1968 St. Barnabas was re-consecrated by Bishop Charles Avery Mason. Father Waits not only led the effort to finance reconstruction, but in 1967 convinced the parish we could raise funds to purchase a two-manual Rieger pipe organ, a major acquisition for a small parish.
During the rebuilding, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, then located immediately across Elm Street, briefly offered space for worship services until the parish hall could be aired out and folding chairs put up for services. That short-term cooperative act was part of a long-time good relationship between the two parishes and their priests. Indeed, for many years the two parishes held an annual joint Palm Sunday processional on Elm Street, complete with a live donkey (one who happened to favor Dr. Pepper as a beverage). St. Barnabas has, at various times, also worked closely with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, LCMS, and Christ the Servant Lutheran Church, ELCA.
In 1975, with the encouragement of the Reverend Charles Walling, Ann’s Haven Hospice of Denton County, was established. A study group at St. B’s led by Dr. Robert Lockwood, whose wife Ann had died of cancer after a long illness and for whom the hospice is named, developed the idea and provided the impetus
In the mid-1980s during the time (1984-1988) Father J. William Brown was the rector, St. Barnabas parish installed the first columbarium in the narthex on the west (back) wall. The columbarium in the hallway between the parish hall and the church was added in 1993, and it was subsequently expanded in 2009.
Having a vintage physical plant always presents challenges. Early in their life at St. Barnabas, parishioners, as well as visitors, ask the same question when stepping into the nave for the first time: “what’s up with the white bars?” It’s a good question. In 1988 the walls of St. B’s were essentially collapsing because the external buttresses were merely cosmetic and not load-bearing. After much research and discussion it was discovered that rods could be extended across the nave and tightened to secure the walls’ longevity and parishioners’ safety. Today, the bars have become part of the character of the church.
By 1989, after almost 30 years of use, significant repairs beyond the addition of the bars were needed. In addition, the land use of the neighborhood was changing from single family dwellings to professional offices. The vestry decided in 1989 that the rectory was not a satisfactory family dwelling, also noting the growing trend for parishes to provide clergy with housing stipends rather than actual houses. A housing allowance was added to the clergy pay package and the building on North Locust was designated as the Christian Education Building. During the week, Cornerstone Cooperative Day Care shares the space by paying rent and contributing “sweat equity” to building maintenance. By providing Cornerstone with a home, St. Barnabas has further enlarged the outreach programs that have always been of great interest to parishioners.
Father Charles Williams (1989-1993) had a keen interest not only in setting the intellectual tone of the parish but also in enhancing its artistic environment. The emphasis on the arts was most appropriate, for the parish served as a place of rehearsal, performance, and research for fine arts students, especially from TWU, for many years. Father Williams encouraged the remodeling of the altar area. After his death, the parish published a book of his sermons. Though known for his intellectualism and quiet nature, Father Williams also provided a good laugh. After telling the children at a Blessing of the Animals ceremony that pets did not go to heaven, he was petitioned by the children to reconsider. By that point, he had acquired a much-loved dog and deemed that pets did, indeed, go to heaven. (There is less certainty that the raccoons that have plagued the parish for years deserve eternal life.)
Following a brief period with an interim priest, the Reverend Christianne McKee, Father Donald K. Johnson became rector in May 1995. A hallmark of his ministry has been the growth of families with young children and the hiring of two youth directors to work with the EYC.
Like many of his predecessors, he had to oversee work on the physical plant. First, in 2002 the kitchen was completely remodeled as were the bathrooms. Disability accommodation was improved. By 2008 the vintage physical plant had more problems. Significant water damage was discovered underneath the parish hall floor, requiring repairs to the parish hall support beams, upgrading of the drainage for the entire property, and new flooring in the sacristy, parish hall, kitchen, and adjacent bathroom.
The Here and Now
Most exciting about the history of St. Barnabas is that there is still more to come. The twenty-first century has seen an enrollment explosion in the Sunday school and growth in its youth program. The longtime emphases on strong lay leadership and on outreach have continued. Music continues to be a ministry held in the highest esteem under the direction of the organist and choir master. We have watched beloved friends and family leave us and welcomed the arrival of new members and their families. We are a small downtown church by choice, and with this choice we continue to create a mission that serves God and our community.
St. Barnabas Clergy
|The Reverend George S. Gibbs||1892|
|The Reverend Walter B. Clark||1919|
|The Reverend E. S. Middleton||1921|
|The Reverend Charles James Kinsolving||1929-1936|
|The Reverend Clarence R. Haden, Jr.||1936-1946|
|The Reverend Miller M. B. Sale||1937-1938|
|The Reverend H. G. Hennessy||1938-1939|
|The Reverend John William Schwer||1939-1942|
|The Reverend Homer Francis Rogers||1942-1953|
|The Reverend William Joseph Heilman||1954|
|The Reverend Thomas Talley||1954-1961|
|The Reverend John Harrison Heidt||1962-1964|
|The Reverend Emmett M. Waits||1965-1973|
|The Reverend Albert A. Bradshaw||1973-1974|
|The Reverend Charles E. Walling||1975-1984|
|The Reverend A. Patterson Young (Interim Rector)||1984|
|The Reverend John William (Bill) Brown||1984-1988|
|The Reverend Charles T. Williams||October, 1989-1993|
|The Reverend Christianne McKee (Interim Rector)||1994-1995|
|The Reverend Donald K. Johnson||May, 1995-Present|
- 1875: Bishop Alexander Garrett visited Denton from Decatur regarding the need for an Episcopal church in Denton County.
- 1892: The Reverend George S. Gibbs was assigned to Denton on a temporary basis.
- 1923: The first St. Barnabas church structure was built at 401 North Locust Street.
- 1933: St. Barnabas achieved regular mission status (changed from preaching mission).
- 1938: Through a donation by the Evers family, the church building was moved from Locust Street to its current location, 1200 North Elm.
- 1940’s: The Texas Boys’ Choir was founded in Denton and used St. Barnabas frequently for meetings and performances until moving to Ft. Worth in the 1950’s.
- 1946: St. Barnabas changed from mission to parish and the Reverend Homer Francis Rogers became the first rector.
- 1954-62: Under the Reverend Thomas Talley St. Barnabas founded the Canterbury House at North Texas.
- 1959: Renovations to the church included a new alter, expansion westward to include a baptismal font and choir loft, a new front entrance, and a rector’s apartment.
- 1967: St. Barnabas was partly destroyed by fire on August 16. Alis Dickinson Adkins began her tenure as organist and choir director.
- 1968: Bishop Charles Avery Mason re-consecrated St. Barnabas on October 13.
- 1988: “The Bars” are added to St. B’s sanctuary.
- 1975: The parish is instrumental in the establishment of Ann’s Haven, Hospice of Denton County.
- 1989: The rectory at 1205 Locust was changed from a single family dwelling to a facility for Christian education.
- 1993: The Reverend Charles Williams encouraged the work of renewing and redecorating the sanctuary before his untimely death in office.
- 1994: The current baptismal font, designed and constructed by Harlan Butt, was donated in memory of Roy Elders by his friends and family.
- 1995: The Reverend Donald K. Johnson became rector.
- 2008: The parish celebrated its 75th anniversary as a mission and parish.