The end of an era: Longtime Cloquet church closes its doors next week
"I have been here all of my life," said Kay Johnson a bit sadly. "I went to Sunday School here, I was baptized, I was confirmed, got married here, raised my children here and I thought my funeral would be held here."
After a pause she added, "But I'm not ready to go yet!"
The church treasurer was talking about the upcoming closure of the nearly 100-year-old St. Andrew's Episcopal Church building, nestled on a small lot at 204 Eighth St. in Cloquet.
Although the church was built in 1918, service records for St. Andrew's can be traced back to 1893 when parishioners met at the Nelson Opera Hall on the corner of Arch Street and Avenue B, according to a history booklet put together by the church centennial committee in 1995.
The congregation had a building of its own by April 1896, with 85 people and almost 90 children attending Sunday School classes.
Located at the corner of Avenue C and Broadway Avenue, the building did not last long. It had been set on cedar blocks about four feet off of the ground instead of a solid foundation, and the building blew off in a storm about a month after it opened.
The next church was built on a solid foundation.
On Oct. 12, 1918, St. Andrew's burned with the rest of Cloquet. The congregation met in people's homes and at Garfield School until a new church building was completed Nov. 23, 1919.
The church had moved from the west end of Cloquet to Eighth Street and was the first permanent church building constructed after the fire. The stained glass altar window cost $225 when it was installed in 1919.
In 1935 the federal government sent a check for $5,800 for the 1918 fire claim. After they paid the attorney $580, the remaining money was used toward a new addition to the church.
Due to the growth of the Sunday School program, the church built another addition in 1961-62. The class size jumped from 87 students to 99 students.
The little church with red doors was debt-free as of January 1977 after the last addition payment was made. At that time attendance averaged about 70 people, with a capacity of about 120.
A cedar wreath fundraiser was held each year from 1922 to 1993, and all members of the congregation helped out.
"Cedar gathering in the woods on a Saturday always included a coffee and treats break, sometimes with a campfire. The guild ladies would gather on Tuesdays to make wreaths and enjoy a cordial luncheon. The first Tuesday in December was delivery day with most main street businesses displaying a St. Andrew's cedar wreath," the church history booklet said.
The fundraiser was such a huge success that they bought 40 acres of cedar to keep the project going. Nothing was wasted. The branches were used for wreaths and the tree trunks were sold for fence posts.
The Rev. Joe Piette and his wife, Diane, arrived in 1990. Piette participates in Total Team Ministry with a group of ministers in the area who switch around and preach at other churches within the group.
Over the years, many of the devoted St. Andrew's parishioners aged and began having trouble accessing their little brick church. There was no room to make the split-level church handicapped-accessible. When the vestry checked into adding an elevator, they discovered it would cost almost as much as the church was worth.
The congregation has dwindled significantly to a few faithful followers.
"Sometimes there are only six people in the congregation on Sunday," said Johnson. "We sit close to the front and try to have three on one side and three on the other."
She is sad at the thought of the little church closing forever. And frustrated. The church had become financially solid over the years and has money in savings, unlike some churches that have closed. The vestry has donated to several organizations, including the Friends of Animals Humane Society and the Salvation Army. They are hoping to make one final donation to their favorite organizations.
The church building will be sold by the diocese and Piette will continue to preach at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hermantown. He said other Episcopal churches will be taking tables, pews or whatever they can use once the doors of St. Andrew's close forever.
The deconsecration ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, 204 Eighth St., Cloquet, with the Right Rev. Brian Prior, the Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota leading the service. Call Rev. Joe Piette at (218) 879-5336 or Kay Johnson at (218) 879-5374 for more information.