Monday, June 16, 2008

Old School: David Buel Knickerbacker

"And in the dream I knew that he was goin' on ahead and he was fixin' to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there-" No Country for Old Men

Half of the arrogance of the current age, I would guess, it the nervous apprehension that we are unique in virtually everything we do- just us in the whole darn world. If that's so, then the other alienating idiocy we have is that we're the first to do it, not just now, but ever- first people to ever think or do anything in particular.

It surprises me that we could believe such things, but there you are.

With the second of those two errors in mind, I'm starting a new series, profiling those great men (unfortunately, no great women are noted) who came before us to Gethsemane and made a place. We are shaped by the places we inhabit, whether we come to them by choice or not. In that way, they have been prepared specifically for us. These are the men who paved the way.

David Buel Knickerbocker was elected rector of Gethsemane after its initial split from the parish of Holy Trinity in 1857. He had been a missionary to that parish and to the newly begun Church of the Ascension that later became Gethsemane; rectoring, however, meant that he could focus solely on Gethsemane.

Before the year was out, the parish was self-sustaining and adopted the Free Church principal, which meant that all seating was free. The people "had a mind to work" and came together under that principal. The Ladies Aid and Missionary Society travelled throughout the city with his oversight, welcoming newcomers, caring for the sick, and bringing children to Sunday School.

Eleven years later, the Young Workers and the Brotherhood of Gethsemane reached out with missionary zeal throughout Minneapolis, serving the Indians on the river near Fort Snelling. They also became lay readers at outlaying mission posts- a special project which flourished under Knickerbacker.

By 1859, within just two years, the parish had added ten new families. In 1860, a parish school opened to teach young people rudimentary music and catechism and the prayer book. By 1862, the church had grown to 175 members, and had to expand the building in 1865 to seat 350 people.

Throughout this rapid expansion, Knickerbacker never forgot his missionary purpose. He travelled widely and never stopped seeding new churches in unity. Despite an offer from the Seabury School in Faribult, the vestry encouraged him to remain longer, as he eventually did- although by this time he had established so many churches- including one at the local jail- that he could not himself serve them all. Upon his decision to remain, together with the Ladies and the Brotherhood, Knickerbacker began and ran the "Cottage Hospital" - the first hospital in Minneapolis.

Knickerbacker was also an able fundraiser, beginning an envelope collection within the parish and frequently requesting the aid of his brother Masons and the business community. With his help, Gethsemane was able to: enlarge the hospital not once, but twice; maintain a mission to the Indians in Mendota; carpeted the church and installed a new organ; established "Sheltering Arms," the city's first orphanage; and finally, by 1883, moved the expanded church to its new lots at Fourth and Ninth.

Two months after the cornerstone was laid, Knickerbacker resigned, to become the Bishop of Indiana. The congregation, at last, accepted his resignation. He had served for twenty-seven years, declined several loftier positions, and worked for periods entirely without pay- having been involved and active in every aspect of parish life.

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