Strength in small numbers: Farmington church traces its roots back 145 years

 

Officials and members of Church of the Advent in Farmington celebrated on May 9, 2015, the visitation of the Rt. Rev. Brian N. Prior, the bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. (Photo submitted)
Officials and members of Church of the Advent in Farmington celebrated on May 9, 2015, the visitation of the Rt. Rev. Brian N. Prior, the bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. (Photo submitted)

Though it’s one of the oldest and smallest churches in Dakota County, the Church of the Advent has an involved membership making a difference in Farmington and beyond.

The Episcopal congregation will mark its 145th year with an open house Sunday, July 31, at its National Register of Historic Place chapel at 412 Oak St.

“We will welcome you with open hearts and hands as you walk into our historic chapel with the red door,” said the Rev. Elaine Clyborne Barber, pastor of the church.

The Church of the Advent was founded in 1871 and includes a church building that is on the National Register of Historic Places in Farmington. (Photo submitted)
The Church of the Advent was founded in 1871 and includes a church building that is on the National Register of Historic Places in Farmington. (Photo submitted)

The event will include Arthur Finnell, historian of the Episcopal Diocese; music; and some former and present parish members sharing their memories during a gathering on the chapel lawn near the Labyrinth Circle at 12:30 p.m.

The church is the only one among the three oldest that still hold its worship services in its original building, according to Kathryn Boehlke, who wrote about the church’s history in the Farmington Centennial Booklet 1872-1972.

It was designed by John H. Thurston, an ardent supporter of the Episcopal church in Dakota County, who hosted the local congregation’s first service at his home in 1861, according a church history timeline.

The parish was formed on July 24, 1871, and construction on the building began that year with its first service on Feb. 18, 1872. A tower bell – the first of its kind in Farmington – was installed in July 1873, and additions were made in 1907.

It wasn’t all good news for the church in the early years as the congregation stopped meeting from 1924 to 1933 after the railroad yards closed and membership dwindled.

Church members reorganized and revitalized the church with a consecration of the chapel on its 60th anniversary June 27, 1933.

Major renovation and restorations were completed in 1962, 1972, 1975 and 1982. During the 1973-75 renovations, several younger members dug the earth by hand for a new foundation –  an example of the congregation’s involvement in such work.

A meditation labyrinth was completed Aug. 2, 2010, and the church has continued its tradition of community outreach in the new millennium.

Their community service mission is being lived out with current initiatives such as the annual meal and worship service for local factory workers, support for the Farmington Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, food drives, book collections for schools, a hat and mitten collection, blood drives and much more.

“We show support to one another and to others by sharing our talents, our time and our gifts with the community,” Clyborne Barber said. “We offer hospitality to friends and strangers as we live out our Christian faith in our daily lives. We look for ways to encounter God in our lives journey and to respect the visitor who comes to our parish home. As in the early days of Advent, we continue to be a bridge to the larger world with our service projects and social justice concerns.”

Longtime parishioner LaDonna Boyd recalls her introduction to Advent when she moved to Farmington nearly 50 years ago.

“I think it was always a very friendly and very outgoing church,” said Boyd, who moved to Rosemount about 10 years ago. “It was always a very welcoming place.”

Because it is a small congregation of about 35 members, Clyborne Barber describes the church as a “home away from home.”

She said the spiritual care of the parish members has been an important mission since the church’s founding in 1871.

“Church of the Advent prides itself in being a loving Christian community where the good news is proclaimed,” Clyborne Barber said.

In addition to the focus on worship, the church offers social activities, personal support and fellowship time.

“We gather to worship God and to join others in prayer and celebration of gifts we have received,” she said.

Boyd said when visitors or possible new members attend a church service, she said they are welcomed and invited back for coffee so they all can get to know each other.

“It’s good to be recognized and welcomed,” Boyd said.

She said, when she has traveled in Arizona, she’s attended church services where she had to go out of her way to start a conversation with people.

Boyd recalled that in the 1980s there were several Advent church members who were employees of places like Northwest Airlines or Unisys and they would “kind of come and go.”

Now the church membership is composed mostly of longtime and newer members who attend Sunday services every week.

“They are people who are always very interested, open and giving,” Boyd said.

In an effort to promote the continuity of leadership, Boyd said many committees and efforts are led by old and young parishioners alike.

“We are looking to the future,” Boyd said of ideas such as offering classes or additional outreach and continuing to maintain the historic structure that suffered hail damage recently and needs a new coat of exterior paint.

“It is something you feel you are a part of as you are preserving this history,” she said.

Boyd said when a new heating and air conditioning system was installed, one parishioner remarked it’s probably the first new heating system in 100 years.

Advent is one of five Episcopal congregations in Dakota County, including those in Burnsville and Eagan.

More about the church is at http://www.adventmn.com.

Email Tad Johnson at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @editorTJ.