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Flint, MI—The cornerstone of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, a stately Gothic Revival building at the intersection of South Saginaw Street and East Third Street in downtown Flint, is dated May 20, 1872.
“The very first thing this parish did was a typo,” said Walter Peake, St. Paul’s Parish Archivist, chuckling as he walked across the church’s front lawn.
Peake explained the cornerstone was actually set on May 29, not 20. “Likely something to do with the train schedule,” he said, a schedule that may have kept the bishop away on the intended date for the stone’s placement.
Either date, however, is why Peake and other St. Paul’s leaders are preparing for a month of celebrations: May marks the building’s 150th anniversary.
To honor the occasion, St. Paul’s has a host of activities scheduled throughout 2022 into 2023, with the first major events taking place over the weekend of May 21-22, according to a parish press release.
That weekend will include a Saturday open house featuring pipe organ and bell choir demonstrations, tours, and a reception. On Sunday at 10 a.m., The Right Reverend Prince Singh, Bishop of the Diocese of Eastern and Western Michigan, will preside over the formal rededication of the church’s cornerstone, reliving events of 150 years earlier.
While Peake will be the first to tell visitors that the church’s first organized days actually date back to 1840, when missionary priest Daniel Ebenezer Brown founded the Flint parish, he said he also recognizes that the church’s structure is the most visible monument to the years of worship and community building since.
“I’m not into ‘old white guy history,’ but I am into thinking about how this community developed,” Peake said, noting the many famous names associated with every part of St. Paul’s design.
Peake pointed to tiles manufactured at Albert Champion’s spark plug factory, stained-glass windows in memory of multiple mayors—Henry McGregor Henderson, Flint’s third mayor, William M. Fenton, the fourth, and Edward H. Thomson, the 18th—and mosaic and wainscotting donated by Edwin W. Atwood.
“These are the names that we know, and are easy to remember, because they’re either on street signs, on parks, on schools,” Peake said. “For every one of these guys, there’s hundreds who didn’t have money, who worked every bit as hard, and made every bit as big a contribution to this church.”
The Reverend Don Davidson, who prefers “Father Don,” is St. Paul’s Priest-in-Charge. He said he hopes the year of celebrations ahead reminds worshippers and residents alike of the rich history sitting in downtown Flint.
“For a church in Michigan to achieve a century and a half is pretty amazing,” he said, noting that there are few other Episcopal churches in the state that are older, but not many. “It doesn’t happen in our denomination that often. … Sadly, (we) don’t always appreciate our own history.”
Peake, on the other hand, could be accused of appreciating the history of the parish almost too much. He’s dedicated hundreds of hours to reading first-hand accounts of its earliest days, books on famous names associated with it, and has compiled documentation about nearly every corner and crack now standing at the intersection of Saginaw and Third.
He said he looks forward to sharing the many stories he’s gathered as archivist on the tours he will offer throughout St. Paul’s upcoming celebratory weekend.
“One of my very favorite stories is when they paid off the mortgage,” Peake said when asked for an example of what guests can expect to learn. “It was 1882.”
He admitted he was still trying to figure out which bank William A. Atwood, Franklin Pierce, and then-rector A.W. Seabreeze went to in order to make that final mortgage payment, but he guessed it was Genesee County Savings Bank.
“Anyway, they paid off the mortgage, they got the book stamped, and they came walking back down Saginaw Street,” he said.
Peake stopped to describe the men’s three figures cutting along the downtown Flint thoroughfare, paid up on an important bill—“Seabreeze was a tall man, William Atwood was a short, fat man…”—before continuing.
“So they come down the street. And as they keep going, they start moving a little bit faster, a little bit faster, a little bit faster,” Peake said, his own speech growing faster, too. “And next thing you know they’re running, and they’ve all got the same idea … they were on a mission to ring the bell!”
Peake doesn’t like the stairs up to St. Paul’s iconic bell, something he’ll also tell any tour group, but as he excitedly recounted the tale of three men vying to ring it in celebration of their final mortgage payment, he spoke with near-abandon.
“Everybody wanted to be the first one to do it,” he said. “But of course, (Atwood and Pierce) didn’t stand a chance on those steps … Seabreeze jumped over all of them.”
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s “Season of Celebration” includes a series of community-based events to commemorate the milestones in the life and history of the parish and highlight contributions of those whose work has sustained the parish since its founding in 1840.
Organizers said they welcome any and all interested residents and visitors to Flint to join them.
“It’s about relationships. It’s about collaboration,” Peake concluded. “That’s what the 150th is about. It is not about us or for us. … It’s about our neighbors. It’s about being a part of this community.”
More information on St. Paul’s 150th-anniversary events and services can be found on the church’s website, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by visiting parish staff at 711 Saginaw Street.