St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Dowagiac is located in the southwest corner of Michigan. The town has lost manufacturing jobs (and population) in the last 25 years, but the downtown area is thriving, thanks to an active Downtown Development Association. There are several community festivals and parades. We have good schools, a local hospital (affiliated with a major health system in Kalamazoo) and a junior college.
St. Paul’s has been a parish in the Diocese of Western Michigan for just over a hundred years. The church building is the oldest public building in Dowagiac and is on the National Register of Historic Places. While the exterior appearance reflects the style of a century ago, the interior of the church was modernized after a fire in 1959. Dom Francis Bacon of the Benedictine St. Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers designed the new interior, which includes three dramatic mosaics at the front of the church.
We have a small congregation (average Sunday attendance 24) who excel at hospitality. Our primary ministry is a free community meal and food pantry, which we call St. Paul’s Saturday, on the last Saturday of each month. We serve from 75 to 125 meals, with similar attendance at the food pantry. The event has grown far beyond our ability to support it alone. A local restaurant provides the main dish and salad, which parish members supplement with juice, milk, and bread. Desserts are provided by the local Roman Catholic church, who are now full partners with us in this ministry. Their members contribute over half the financial support for the food pantry and many of them volunteer each month to serve at the lunch and the pantry.
We are also proud to serve as a meeting place for eight 12-step groups. We have hosted their meetings for at least 40 years and are the only meeting place in town. Several of our members have participated in Diocesan missionary trips, and a former member of our congregation led several medical mission trips to Haiti, accompanied by members of our congregation. We still pray regularly for Haiti and many members still contribute to the Episcopal Nursing School there.
St. Paul’s has been enthusiastic about the shared-rector concept from the first description. We like the idea of maintaining our own identity, our own building, and our mission while sharing the costs of having a rector with two other parishes. We want the feeling of stability of a rector-parish relationship. As we work on the process, we can see possibilities of ministry together and of shared social activities. There are so many ways we can share resources and combine our efforts. We embrace a new and exciting future.