The Church of the Atonement is the oldest church in Fish Creek, Wisconsin.
A summer Episcopal mission that serves full-time residents as well as vacationers,
The Church of the Atonement is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
The Church of the Atonement started with the unfinished home of fisherman Charles Gesler, which was purchased by the Diocese of Fond du Lac for $125. The diocese, formed in 1874, was forged out of the wilderness by Bishop John Henry Hobart Brown, who conducted the first service in Fish Creek on Aug. 12, 1877.
Several priests served the church until Episcopalians brought the Rev. Joseph Jameson to Door County. He worked a 60-acre glebe (parish property) in Jacksonport, giving one Sunday to a new church there and the rest to Algoma, Fish Creek and Sturgeon Bay. Sometimes he made the 75-mile round trip to Algoma by bicycle. He served the Church of the Atonement for 23 of his 35-year ministry in Door County.
In 1913 the Rev. Horatio Gates, who lived in Ephraim, took over. He liked to teach Sunday school under the cedars behind the church. Children sat on rocks painted with their names. From the 1920s through the mid-1950s the church blossomed under the Rev. Ashley Gerhard, rector of Christ Church, Winnetka, Ill. The Rev. Thomas Thrasher came in 1956.
In the 1970s the Rev. William S. Lea and Bishop Arthur A. Vogel were the summer ministers.
The Church of the Atonement does not have a rector. Each summer visiting Episcopal bishops and priests hold services while enjoying short vacations.
The Church of the Atonement was originally a year-round church.
In winter the seating capacity fell from 85 to 65 to make room for a wood stove.
The church bought its first organ for $105 in 1892.
A tower and a stone wall were added in 1895.
The communion-rail kneelers (1973) are superbly needlepointed with designs of Door County wildflowers and of the symbols of the atonement, which are the crown of thorns and the pelican. The prayer-desk kneeler was stitched with the design of the diocesan seal.
In 1988, a memorial garden was created amid the cedars to the west.
A "Bishop's Committee" of parishioners operates the church and tries to keep it as close as possible to its original state. Maintaining tradition is uppermost in the minds of the bishop's committee. Discussion of bringing in electricity went on for years before the committee approved an outdoor plug to heat coffee. A second outlet made possible an electric organ in 1991.
The entrance gate (1991) incorporates wild grapevines surrounding a wreath of three fish in a blue copper finish. It swings both ways on small wheels, an engineering marvel that delights children and adults alike. Bishop Robert Anderson dedicated it "in memory of all who have passed this way."
Electric lighting didn't arrive until the mid-1990s. Before then the celebrant read the scriptures with the aid of a small lamp attached to an auto battery.
In 2004, the Church was lifted to add a foundation and crawl space to enhance the life of the building. A well to provide water for flowers and plantings was added too.
A new organ has been installed for 2011.
Today the church still has no heat, so the services are scheduled seasonally, usually from late-May to mid-September.
Those who worship at The Church of the Atonement,
whether year after year or for one vacation Sunday,
give thanks for the glory of God and sing praise to His name.