Historical material provided by Christ Episcopal Church

The Early Years - a Solid Foundation 1855-1918

There were Episcopalians living in Oberlin as early as 1851 and, but 1852, the Rev. Anson Clark, Rector of St. Andrew's, Elyria, was conducting services in private Oberlin homes. The Rev. Francis Granger helped the Oberlinians organize as The Association of the Friends of the Episcopal Church in Oberlin in 1854, the articles of the Association being formally signed by 31 people on April 18, 1855. Mr. Granger made several trips to the East to obtain part of what was then the enormous sum of $3,000 so that a church building might be built. Mr. Granger served as Rector from 1855 to 1858.

Construction of the Church began in 1856 and was completed in 1859, and the building was consecrated by Bishop McIlvaine on May 11 of that year. The total cost of the building was approximately $5,000. The Bishop personally contributed $200 toward the erection of the Rectory. Complete in 1861, it stood just south of the Church and served as a home for Rectors until 1967. It was demolished in 1972.

The Church itself was designed by a New York architect, Frank Wills, who had come to this country from England via Canada in the 1840's. Forsaking the then-popular pure Gothic, he designed the Church in Norman Romanesque style complete with a Sarum Altar to fit the Norman tradition. The vestibule was added in 1867, and the chancel in 1869, the latter being a gift of the Dubois family of Newton Falls, Ohio. The Dubois family had created the parish of St. Mark's, Newton Falls. It was terminated in 1866 and the church was sold, the proceeds being given to Christ Church, Oberlin.

The Rev. William C. French (1858-1874); the Rev. Henderson Judd (1874-1880); and the Rev. James Moore (1880-1882) served as Rectors during the first years of the parish. Following the death of Mr. Moore in 1882, there was a decline in parish activity and for three years there was no Rector. In 1885, the Rev. George F. Smythe became Rector, serving until 1890.

He was followed in turn by the Rev. Gibson W. Harris (1892-1893); the Rev. Franklin S. Moore (1893-1896); and the Rev. William H.C. Lewis (1896-1896). In 1900, the Rev. Walter Scott became Rector, serving until 1911. Under his administration and that of the Rev. Roy R. Riblet (1911-1918), the parish thrived and became well established.


The Middle Years - New Buildings, New Activites, New People


The Rev. Louis E. Daniels became Rector in 1918 and was to be remain so for 25 years. Fr. Daniels brought his musical interest and enthusiasm to the services of Christ Church, establishing for the parish a reputation for services beautiful in music and liturgy. Following the English tradition, he recruited and trained boys' choirs and these for many years added much to the service.

Fr. Daniels, referred to by many as the Old Gentleman in his later years, wrote several books, two on Church music and a biography of Bishop Leonard. He was a Canon at Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland, and in 1932 received the honorary degree of Doctor of Sacred Music from his alma mater, Kenyon College. When he retired in 1943, Fr. Daniels had served as Rector long than any other person. A colorful and dynamic figure, Fr. Daniels continued to live in Oberlin until his death in 1954.

The Rev. Robert F. McGregor, and Oberlin College graduate and former member of the parish, became Rector in 1943 and was to remain until 1949. Young and enthusiastic, Father Mac continued traditions set by Fr. Daniels and attracted more young people into the life of the parish. During his administration plans were made for the construction of a parish hall, and much of the needed $50,000 was raised with his help.

The Rev. W. Chave McCracken became Rector in 1949. To the established musical and liturgical traditions, he was to bring his own great interest in art and drama, leading to activity in drama as a form of worship. His years in Oberlin saw the parish alive intellectually in a manner rare in parishes anywhere. The Parish Hall was built in 1949-50 and was dedicated by Bishop Beverly Tucker in May 1950. Some members of the parish contributed their physical skills to the labor.


The Modern Era - Social Activity, Conflict, and Healing 1957-1985

Following the resignation of Mr. McCracken in 1956, the Rev. Edward W. Jones became Rector in January, 1957, and remained in that position until 1968. A warm and sensitive individual, Father Ted gave the parish an added awareness of the need for civil rights and open housing and he worked actively with these issues during his time in Oberlin. College students increased their participation in the work of the parish and numerous people from other Churches became Episcopalians by confirmation. Mr. Jones is the only Rector of Christ Church to become a Bishop, having been consecrated Diocesan Bishop of Indianapolis in 1978.

The next Rector was the Rev. Richard H. Baker, Jr. His time in Oberlin coincided with a period of intense social and political unrest that left many people unsettled and confused. With considerable skill, he helped many in the parish interpret and understand. A former Rhodes Scholar, Mr. Baker's great interest in both young people and teaching led him to leave the parish ministry for full time teaching and school chaplaincy in 1971. He was succeeded by the Rev. L. Peter Beebe in January, 1972.

The Beebe administration began auspiciously. Young, attractive, and with magnetic personalities, the Beebes quickly became a part of the parish family. Affectionately regarded by many, they especially appealed to those of high school and college age. Many in this age group as well as older people from other Churches became active in the life of Christ Church.

By 1974, however, storm clouds had gathered. A staunch supporter of women being ordained as priests, Mr. Beebe invited three women who had been irregularly ordained in Philadelphia the previous year to Christ Church to celebrate the Eucharist. Although opposed by Bishop John Burt, the service was held and the women were to come back several additional times as well.

Members of the parish were not opposed to the idea of women being ordained priests, but they were divided on how best this might be accomplished. Some felt that Mr. Beebe, having made his point, should not overplay his hand but rather wait for action on the question at the General Convention in 1976. His personal style became an issue as well and as emotions ran high, friendships became strained and in some instances, severed. Intense national press and television coverage of the Christ Church Story exacerbated an already bad situation. Adding to the extreme difficulties were the advent of trial liturgies and differences of opinion as to which forms of worship were best for Christ Church. Late in 1975, the groups supporting Mr. Beebe continued to have services at the Church while the other group attended services held at Fairchild Chapel [on the campus of Oberlin College, in Bosworth Hall] with the assistance of supply priests in the area.

At the Annual Meeting in January, 1976, those supporting the Rector were found to be in the minority; his supporters resigned from the Vestry, and soon thereafter, the Beebe followers left Christ Church to establish a new worshipping group, The Community for Christian Faith and Action . The remainder of the parish then resumed worshipping the Church. Mr. Beebe ended his service as Rector in March.

In the fall of 1976, the Vestry called the Rev. Dr. Philip L. Culbertson to become Rector, and he began his duties in December. Coming to Oberlin from two years of doctoral studies in Jerusalem, and with a background in theater and music, he seemed to be just the one to continue many of the traditions of worship and to help bring about the necessary healing process in the parish. Mr. Culbertson served as Rector until May 1985, when he resigned to take a position as Professor of Pastoral Theology at the University of the South [Sewanee, Tennessee].


Current Era - Growing Leadership and Commitment 1986-present

The next Rector, the Rev. Donna B. Ross, was called to Christ Church in the summer of 1986. A former schoolteacher, she brought to the parish a variety of pastoral gifts, among them a ministry of spiritual direction, strong leadership in worship and preaching, and a deep commitment of Christian education in all areas of parish life. Under her guidance, Christ Church welcomed many young families into its fold, saw a blossoming of new ministries among its members, and grew in stewardship of its human and financial resources. Mrs. Ross introduced the Catechumenate Process to Christ Church, which helps newcomers and members of the parish to become more fully involved in God's total ministry. Mrs. Ross served as Rector until 1996; Brian K. Wilbert is the current Rector.

Other clergy, from time to time, have served the parish. Among them is the Rev. Nancy L. Roth, who joined the staff as Priest Associate in 1991, served as Priest-in-Charge during the fall of 1992. The author of several books on prayer and spirituality, Mrs. Roth travels widely to give workshops and retreats.

The Rev. David L. Anderson, now Professor Emeritus of Physics at Oberlin College, read for Holy Orders with Mr. McCracken in the mid-fifties. He has served as Associate Rector of the parish for many years, and has on several occasions served as Interim Rector.

The parish commitment to service beyond the confines of the local Church manifests itself in numerous ways. There is strong support for the national work of the Episcopal Church through The Presiding Bishop's Fund for World Relief , for the Diocese of Ohio through missionary giving, and for significant efforts to help those in need in Oberlin and elsewhere through The Mission Endowment Fund, The Rector's Discretionary Fund, and the annual Parish Budget. The parish has provided space and assistance to a daily Hot Meals Program; The United Youth Group; and, from time to time, other local and diocesan groups as well. Oberlin College students are an integral part of parish life, and contribute much to the spiritual and temporal well-being of the congregation.

In 1990, the Vestry and other parish leaders set outreach to youth and the elderly as mission priorities. As part of this mission, the parish joined with First Baptist and First United Methodist Churches to form the United Youth Group, with the intention of reaching out to unChurched youth in the community.


Music, Art, and Architecture

No mention of Christ Church and its history can be complete without comment concerning the organ and windows of the Church. The first organ, built by Charles Henry Churchill in 1851, was moved to Christ Church from First Church [First Church in Oberlin, United Church of Christ] in 1856. Some years later it went to a church in Brownhelm, Ohio. Subsequently, one or two reed organs provided music until 1921 when a Johnson organ from Springfield, Illinois, was installed. By 1962, plans were underway for a new organ and the necessary fund raising to make it possible.

Professor Fenner Douglass of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music had become well acquainted with Mr. Dirk Flentrop of Zaandam, Holland, who was constructing several organs for Oberlin College. Mr. Douglass brought Mr. Flentrop and Christ Church together and for $19,000, a Flentrop tracker action instrument was designed for and installed in the Church in 1964. The organ, the first new one the parish has had, is name for the later Frank Balshfiled, a long-time member of the parish and an organ maintenance technician by profession.

In 1901, Kenyon Cox, a New York artist, designed and installed a memorial window in memory of his father, Jacob Dolson Cox, a Civil War general and Oberlin College alumnus and trustee. A gift from Mrs. Cox in memory of her husband, the window depicts a knight in armor symbolizing courage. In 1955, Ms. Margaret Kennedy, a member of the parish, with the encouragement of Mr. McCracken who was then Rector, set up a studio in the Church basement. From there she designed, built, and installed additional windows, even firing the glass in her studio. The first window to be commissioned and designed was the rose window, given by the Skjerne family in 1955 in memory of Mrs. Skjerne's father. Subsequent windows were gifts of other members or friends of the parish.

In 1966, the Walter Nord, Eric Nord, and Evan Nord families gave to the parish a new Rectory in memory of their daughter and sister, Mary Nord Ignat. Located at 159 Elm Street, the Rectory is in use today and its location near the College campus makes it especially accessible to students.

In 1975, the Christ Church building was designated a Historical Landmark by the Council of the City of Oberlin. In 1978, it was entered in the National Register of Historic Places by the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service, United States Department of the Interior.

The installation of an accessibility ramp and air conditioning in the Church, a mechanical lift in the Parish Hall, a second and larger parking lot, and other property improvements prepare the parish for even more effective service as it approaches the end of the century.


Richard Lothrop

Parish Historian


Rev. Francis Granger


Rev. William C. French


Rev. Henderson Judd


Rev. James Moore


Rev. George F. Smythe


Rev. Gibson W. Harris


Rev. Franklin S. Moore


Rev. William H.C. Lewis


Rev. Walter Scott


Rev. Roy R. Riblet


Rev. Louis E. Daniels


Rev. Robert F. McGregor


Rev. W. Chave McCracken


Rev. Edward W. Jones


Rev. Richard H. Baker


Rev. L. Peter Beebe


Rev. Philip L. Culbertson


Rev. Donna B. Ross


Rev. Brian K. Wilbert

1996- present

The Parish of Christ Church Oberlin, in the Diocese of Ohio, was founded in 1855; and now as then continues to seek and serve the Christ in all persons.

Click here to return to "Oberlin Organizations: Past and Present".

Click here to return to the Christ Church section of the Houses of Worship tour.

Click here to return to the Christ Church section of "Oberlin College Architecture: A Short History".