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by Jane Nones

St. Dunstan’s Anglican Church rose from the ashes of the Episcopal General Convention held in Minneapolis, Minnesota in September 1976. Even though traditional clergy and lay delegates, together with several like-minded organizations such as the American Church Union (ACU), the Evangelical Catholic Mission (ECM) and The Society for the Preservation of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer fought valiantly, they were unable to defeat the heretical changes which were ultimately adopted by the General Convention.

During the convention, the ACU sponsored an impressive high-church Eucharist in St. Mark’s Cathedral -the procession of bishops and priests wearing colorful vestments was very long, with the congregation of traditionalists filling every pew. Bishop Hayden of Northern California delivered an impassioned sermon, entreating everyone to be steadfast in their faith and to stand firm against heresy. Giving the impression that traditional bishops would be leading the way for the faithful, he held up his cross. declaring loudly, “We will go no further.” The congregation was mesmerized and took the bishop at his word. However, this turned out to be a hollow expectation that never materialized for those traditionalists who responded to Bishop Hayden’s “call to arms” and were eager to follow strong leadership by their Episcopal bishops, who were sounding a certain trumpet, but unfortunately did not have the courage to follow their own convictions.

On another occasion during the convention, the Prayer Book Society sponsored a low-church Eucharist held in a filled-to-capacity Minneapolis hotel ballroom. The Rev. Carroll Simcox delivered a spiritually uplifting sermon, offering hope, admonishing the congregation not to become discouraged. In addition, rumors were circulating which promised that, should the traditionalists fail to stem the tide of change, a “national diocese” would be established to provide episcopal oversight for traditional parishes – both for those already In existence as well as for any newly formed parishes.

Thus, on a very cold and snowy day in January 1977, four lay people -John Fitzimons, Fred Joseph, Walter and Jane Nones – who had witnessed these events and had taken the message seriously – began a series of meetings at the Nones’ house to discuss how they might go about establishing a traditional parish not affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota. After they contacted the Prayer Book Society and explained their mission, with the help of the Nones’ son, Phillip, they were sent a complete mailing list of the Society’s financial supporters in Minnesota.

Over the next several weeks, persons on this mailing list were solicited to ascertain if they had any interest in forming a new traditional parish. Since there appeared to be enough positive responses to warrant proceeding, the four founders incorporated the Anglican Church of St. Dunstan as an independent, traditional Episcopal parish, not affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota. Their plan was to affiliate the newly established parish with a traditional national diocese once it came into existence.

St. Dunstan’s inaugural service was celebrated at Ft. Snelling Memorial Chapel in Minneapolis on May 22, 1977. St. Dunstan had been selected as the parish’s patron saint because the date of this first service fell close to St. Dunstan’s day, which is May 19th on the Anglican Church calendar. Furthermore, it was felt that the name, St. Dunstan, was particularly appropriate since he had been Archbishop of Canterbury in the mid-900’s and was revered as a reformer. Forty-seven people attended that first service. However, it was subsequently discovered that not all were there to support a new parish, but rather a number had attended out of curiosity. It would be quite a while into the future before St. Dunstan’s would once again reach this attendance figure on a regular basis.

In September 1977, St. Dunstan’s sent a delegation of six lay members – Fred Joseph, John Fitzimons, Connie & Harry Muldoon, Vern Harman and Father John Holman — to participate in the Church Congress held in St. Louis. They returned elated, being especially pleased with the adoption of The Affirmation of St. Louis, which spelled out in detail the fundamental principles of the traditional Anglican faith. But even more importantly, they thought that at last the long-awaited-for episcopal oversight would now become available for St. Dunstan’s. Shortly after the St. Louis Congress the parish voted unanimously to affiliate with the Diocese of the Midwest of the Anglican Church in North America (ACINA). This name was later changed at the 1978 Constitutional Convention in Dallas to the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC). In January 1978, the Rev, Dale Doren of the Midwest Diocese was the first to be consecrated bishop in Denver, along with three other Episcopal priests – Robert Morse of Christ the King, James Mote of the Anglican Catholic Church and Peter Watterson, who later departed to Rome.

Two of St. Dunstan’s parishioners – Connie Muldoon and Jane Nones -participated in the 1978 Constitutional Convention in Dallas as delegates from the Midwest Diocese. Several years later, when the ACC redrew diocesan lines and created a new diocese to accommodate expansion, St. Dunstan’s was automatically transferred from the Midwest to the Diocese of the Missouri Valley. Subsequently, St. Dunstan’s followed the Diocese and Archbishop Louis Falk into the uniting Anglican Church of America (ACA) in October 1991 with many people from the parish attending and participating as delegates to the Deerfield Beach Synod.

In St. Dunstan’s early years, it experienced the same trials and tribulations familiar to almost all Continuing Anglican parishes. Renting a place for worship, as well as locating supply priests to conduct services, was a constant struggle and it seemed as if the parish would always be unsettled and nomadic. At one point, St. Dunstan’s was renting space in an athletic club, where one had to walk past a large swimming pool to get to a room which was furnished with a soft red-velvet chairs, looking for all the world like furniture suitable for a bordello. (The chairs were actually much more comfortable than most church pews!) There was a clunky, out-of-tune piano in one corner of the room and a portable bar was rolled in and covered with a white tablecloth to serve as an altar. Following services, the club most generously invited parishioners – for a fee, of course – to partake of a lavish Sunday brunch, complete with fancy ice sculptures. Few Continuing Anglican parishes could boast of a more elaborate fellowship hour!

In spite of these early difficulties, the parish not only survived, but actually continued to grow at a slow and steady pace, with lay people conducting Morning Prayer services whenever a priest was not available. The Holy Spirit was always there, making sure that St. Dunstan’s was here to stay – permanently.

On two fronts 1989 was a blessed and fruitful year for St. Dunstan’s. In July, Fr. William Sisterman was received by Archbishop Falk and later installed as rector. Earlier in the year, a church building was purchased from a Christian Scientist parish which had closed its doors on the preceding Christmas. Although the building required a great deal of remodeling to conform it to a traditional Anglican place of worship, it was ideally located geographically and was priced within the parish’s budget constraints.

Built in 1915 as a Methodist church, the white-frame building was constructed along classical New England colonial lines. In the early 1950s the Methodist parish had outgrown the building; thus it was sold to Christian Scientists, who immediately removed the altar and pulpit, transforming this area into a stage with an organ placed front and center. In addition, the cross on top of the steeple was sawed off and discarded, plus the bell was missing.



St. Dunstan’s re-designed the interior of the church by building an expanded altar area, and by moving the organ to a newly created choir loft above the narthex. One feature in the renovation project was the incorporation of an altar, pulpit, lectern and baptismal font rescued from an old Methodist church in St. Paul, which had been demolished several years before.

On a bitterly cold but bright sunny day – December 23, 1991 – a new cross was installed on the top of the steeple, just in time for Christmas Eve services. It was a beautiful sight to see the floodlights on the ground, aimed directly to illuminate the restored cross, with the white glistening snow on the ground beneath. That Christmas Eve was a very special one. [The cross replaced one removed by the Christian Science Church. It was formally dedicated in April 1992.]

Thanks to parishioner donations and sweat equity, extensive refurbishing of the undercroft began in the summer of 1994. First to be tackled was the kitchen area, resulting in a well-lit, lovely modern facility, complete with appliances for use in preparing and serving parish dinners and receptions. New sheet rock has been installed on the walls in the undercroft and freshly painted.

Finally, a church bell, given to the parish by Lee Tozer, was named and blessed on Low Sunday, April 23, 1995. It was placed in the steeple and rung for the first time on Easter II when Archbishop Falk was present for confirmations and his annual visit to the parish. The bell originally came out of another church and was named “Elizabeth” in memory of the donor’s deceased wife, and St. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist.

Today St. Dunstan’s continues to flourish and grow, with more young families joining the congregation. When the parish was founded, the average age of parishioners was approximately 60 years, while at the present time it is more like 30 to 35 when all of the children and infants are counted. There is a vibrant Sunday School for elementary-aged children featuring the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program and accompanying Atrium, as well as a junior and senior high class and a nursery for infants. Father Sisterman conducts evening Bible study sessions and inquiry classes for adults during the week and oversees the Alpha Program, a vibrant evangelization program that originated in the Anglican Church in Great Britain.

Looking to the future, the parish is already showing signs of outgrowing its present building that can seat no more than 130. Within a few years St. Dunstan’s parishioners will need to decide whether it is better to add on to the present structure or to buy a larger facility. However, a problem like this is a happy one to confront and solve!

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