100th Anniversary of the Return (1912 -1914)

St. Paul’s Returns to the Episcopal Church

On May 15th – 18th, 1912 the triennial General Council of the Reformed Episcopal Church met in Philadelphia. The Rev. J. Fred Speel, St. Paul’s rector since 1907, did not attend with St. Paul’s delegate, Mathias Burgraff, nor with John Wonnacott, the alternate. In 1912 the parish reported 77 members and the annual budget was $3,172.58, which included over $350 for outreach beyond the parish.

In his report to the Council, Reformed Episcopal Bishop Chenny told the representatives of the REC parishes, “St. Paul’s Church, Put-in-Bay, continues to present a very difficult field of effort for our church. We have some devoted and praying people in the congregation, but the fact that the island is a place, not merely of summer resort, but of Sunday excursion from all cities on the border of Lake Erie, is a very grave obstacle to spiritual religion. The Rev. Mr Speel deserves the fullest credit for the brave struggle which he has made against overwhelming difficulties…”

Laura Cooke Barney’s entries in the Gibraltar records for the summer of 1912 indicate Mr. Speel was away from the island on Sunday August 4th. When he returned the following week he tendered his resignation and told the congregation he was leaving the island for a larger church in Albany NY.

Mr. Speel was well liked by the congregation. As part of his ministry he made regular visits to the people on Middle Bass Island. In appreciation for his service at Middle Bass, the residents of Middle Bass gave St. Paul’s a baptismal font in August 1912 at the conclusion of Rev Speel’s ministry.

Laura Barney and her husband Charles met with Mr. Vroman after Mr. Speel’s announcement but waited for his departure to take any action. Laura’s journal entry indicated Mr. Vroman felt the church should seek re-admittance to the Episcopal Church. At the time, Jay Cooke’s son, the Rev. Henry Cooke, was the editor of the Diocese of Ohio’s Episcopal newspaper. His published articles provide insight into the decision of the parishioners.

Almost immediately after Mr. Speel’s departure the congregation voted to return to the Protestant Episcopal Church. On Saturday, September 28th the members of St. Paul’s sent a letter to Diocesan Bishop Leonard in Cleveland asking to be taken into the church under his Episcopal Care. The majority of the adult members (69) signed the petition to Bishop Leonard of TEC in Cleveland requesting reacceptance.

At the time of the transition, the property title where the church sits was held by Jay Cooke’s daughter, Laura Barney, who, like her father, was a devoted member of the Protestant Episcopal Church. After the return was complete Laura transferred the land to the Episcopal Church following the Canons of the Episcopal for stewardship of the property.

In October 1912 Bishop Leonard visited the island to welcome the parish back in the Diocese of Ohio under his Episcopal oversight. Over the next two years the parish completed the documentation required and then petitioned the Diocesan Council for acceptance.

An overview of St. Paul’s history was prepared for the 150th anniversary of the Congregation’s 1864 establishment and the 1865 completion of the church building. It is available from the church office. A more expansive and comprehensive history is being prepared. Contributions of historical facts and memorabilia are welcome!