Faribault church exhibits history inside and out

Published 8:09 am Friday, March 9, 2018


Faribault Daily News via Associated Press

A 114-foot spire easily spotted on Third Street Northwest belongs to Congregational Church of Faribault, the religious landmark that houses the city’s longest-standing congregation.

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Congregational Church’s current co-pastor, Jan Bodin, said visitors driving through town often stop in to see the building because the National Register of Historic Places added the church to its list in 1977.

In keeping with early Romanesque Revival architecture with a structure similar to that of New England churches, St. Paul architect Monroe Sheire designed the original Congregational Church built in 1867. Faribault’s namesake, city founder Alexander Faribault, donated land where the church took shape.

A quarry on the east end of Faribault provided the limestone that builders Rice and Daniels collected and transferred with a horse-drawn wagon. With this material, Rice and Daniels constructed the 40-by-75-foot building. Unique to this church compared to others inspired by New England structures, was the corner steeple which builders typically positioned front and center in the 19th century. Atop the steeple is a rooster to represent the hour St. Peter denied Jesus three times.

The church’s highly valued Tiffany & Co. gable window depicts the Biblical scene in which the women who visited Jesus’ tomb peered inside to find it empty. Embellishing stones surround the keystone at the top of every stained glass window. A releading of the windows took place in 2006.

In addition

The year 1910 saw additions of a lower-level kitchen, two upper-level rooms, a ladies’ Bible classroom, pastor’s study and primary Sunday School room that eventually became the Mary E. Leavens chapel. It was named for a woman who taught Sunday School at the Congregational Church for over 47 years.

The Women’s Federation, formerly known as the Ladies Social Society, built the Parish House in 1915. Bodin said she doesn’t know of another church in Minnesota with a Parish House, and appreciates the added space it provides for fundraisers, dinners, offices and other functions.

“The heating system for the church is behind the second building. So in other words, the heating comes through the Parish House, under the street and into the church,” said Bodin. “I don’t know any other parish that’s like that.”

Bodin said another feature that sets Faribault’s Congregational Church apart from other churches where she’s served is the double staircases. After entering the front door, congregants take either the left or right staircase to arrive at the worship space. Since the church’s construction took place in the 1860s, Bodin said the extra effort it took to climb the stairs may have related to the worship manner of that period.

“We’re always working on renovations,” said Bodin. “The Parish House is not on the Historic Register, so we’re free to do whatever we want there. The church part has to be in keeping with the historical aspects. If we wanted to add a second steeple or something like that, we’d have to get permission. Putting in a new roof would just be considered caring for the facility, so we wouldn’t need permission for that.”

A resurfaced parking lot, energy efficient lighting, handicapped-accessible bathrooms and a parlor off the back parking lot are some of the updates the church made since Bodin began her assignment. Pews removed from the first couple rows now allow for more space should congregants attend services in wheelchairs or bring babies in a car seats. Unlike exterior renovations, Bodin said interior changes may be executed without permission.

“One of the things about the building is we have a little museum in it a lot of people don’t know about,” said Bodin. “I would say almost any visitor who walks in on a Sunday morning goes back there to look at things.”

Hand-carved offering boxes and preserved items like old Bibles, vestments for clergy and communion wear are some of the relics showcased in the church’s mini museum. For an extra taste of the history contained within the building’s limestone walls, Bodin encourages anyone interested to stop in at the Congregational Church of Faribault.