The first services of The Episcopal Church in Wisconsin were held near Green Bay in 1821 by the Oneida Indians, recent immigrants from New York State where they had been confirmed by Bishop John Henry Hobart.
Accompanying them on their move from New York was Eleazar Williams, their teacher, lay reader, and catechist, later ordained deacon by Bishop Hobart. (A note of interest: Williams gained national and international attention by his claim to be the lost
In 1838 St. Paul's was the first parish founded in Milwaukee and the third in Wisconsin. Before that was Christ Church, Green Bay (1826), and Holy Trinity, Prairie du Chien (1837).
Williams read services from the Mohawk Book of Common Prayer at gatherings held under trees or in Oneida homes until 1825 when a crude log chapel was erected. This building was known as the first Episcopal church edifice in
The first official missionary work was begun in 1829 by the Rev. Richard Fish Cadle, who labored for 15 years to establish Episcopal parishes amongst the settlers in Wisconsin. He held the first services and helped found parishes at Prairie du Chien (1837), Mineral Point (1839), Elkhorn (1841), and Whitewater (1841), as well as numerous other places.
The first services in Milwaukee were conducted by the Rev. Henry Gregory in January 1836. By 1838 there was a permanent mission which was to become St. Paul's Church of Milwaukee. Some other early churches in the Diocese of Milwaukee include St. Matthew's, Kenosha (1840); St. Paul's, Beloit (1841); St. Luke's, Racine (1842); and St. Alban's, Sussex (1842).
In 1838 the Territory of Wisconsin came under the jurisdiction of the Rt. Rev. Jackson Kemper, the first missionary bishop of the American Church, who later wrote that seeking "pilgrim children in the Land of Lakes and Rivers" was a task dear to his heart.
In 1847 he called the 25 congregations, 23 clergy, and 57 lay deputies of the territory to St. Paul's, Milwaukee, to hold their organizing convention—no small task at a time when there were poor roads and no overnight accommodations along the way. At that time Bishop Kemper accepted election as provisional bishop. (In 1859 he relinquished his missionary duties and became the first Bishop of Wisconsin.)
At this first convention of the Episcopal Diocese in Wisconsin, several Oneida Indian members were present, including Chief Daniel Bread, who was given the seat of honor and addressed the convention in the Oneida language.
In light of the 2000 "Called to Common Mission" statement, giving full communion to The Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a unique and important event also took place at this 1847 convention. Two Lutheran churches from Waukesha were present, having been accepted into full union with the Diocese of Wisconsin by Bishop Kemper. St. Olaf's, Ashippun, and Scandinavian Parish, Pine Lake (Nashotah Village), fully intended to remain Lutheran, while having a full union relationship with their Episcopal neighbors. The Rev. G. Unonius accompanied the parishes. Scandinavian-born and the first graduate of Nashotah House, this Episcopal priest went on to found both Episcopal and Lutheran congregations in Wisconsin. In the book from which this history is taken, author Wagner states, "Here we have recorded one of the most unusual and singular facts in the history of the American Church. If this is not the only incident of its kind in the American Church, it is rare—two congregations who announce their purpose of remaining Lutheran in doctrine and practice, and yet are being ministered to by an Episcopalian priest and are in full union with an Episcopalian diocese."
The second convention was held the following year at Trinity Church, Janesville, at which time the diocesan assessment system was started, collecting a total of $109.41 to help defray diocesan expenses.
Early in his episcopate, Kemper realized that the future of the church in this area was dependent upon the ability to supply it with clergy. In 1842 three young graduates of General Theological Seminary in New York, James Lloyd Breck, William Adams, and John Henry Hobart Jr. came west to Wisconsin. It was their intention to establish a monastic community and a school from which they would continue the missionary work of Cadle and Kemper. It soon became apparent, however, that the idea of a religious community would have to be abandoned in order to concentrate efforts on the development of a theological seminary. Such were the beginnings of Nashotah House, the oldest institution of higher learning in Wisconsin, which continues to this day as one of the major seminaries of the church.
The Rev. James DeKoven,
All Saints' Cathedral in Milwaukee, the first cathedral in the United States, laid its cornerstone November 1, 1869, in an effort started by Bishop Kemper, and completed by the Rt. Rev. William Armitage, second bishop of Wisconsin. The bishop's residence was built in 1902 next to the
By 1865 there were 45 parishes and missions and 61
The Diocese Today
The Diocese of Milwaukee today covers the southern third of the state from Kenosha and Port Washington on Lake
Today the Diocese of Milwaukee actively seeks to grow in faith as disciples of Jesus Christ through the work of its 56 parishes, 177
On Oct. 18, 2003, the Diocese of Milwaukee consecrated its 11th bishop, the Rt. Rev. Steven Andrew Miller.
[Compiled from The Episcopal Church in Wisconsin 1847-1947: A History of the Diocese of Milwaukee, by the Rev. Harold Wagner]