Historic Lakeside Church Celebrates 125 Years

St. Martin’s by-the-Lake Episcopal Church celebrates 125 years.
A picture-perfect view of St. Martin's by-the-Lake Episcopal Church.

Lakeside views of brilliant sunshine sparkling on the water. Tethered sailboats bobbing in gentle rolls of incoming waves. This year, St. Martin’s by-the-Lake Episcopal Church will celebrate 125 years of worship near scenes just like this, which have delighted parishioners for decades. Originally built in 1888 for the wedding celebration of Major George Camp’s daughter, Lucy May Camp, this charming clapboard church continues to serve as a much-requested wedding chapel. More than 700 weddings have been performed at St. Martin’s, but the church also strives to serve the community with regular worship services, outreach projects and a focus on youth ministries. This historic church, with its high-pitched, cedar-shingled roof and slender steeple was designed by Cass Gilbert, architect of the Minnesota State Capitol and U.S. Supreme Court buildings. It resembles a European seaside structure with shake siding and a cobblestone base. At its main entrance, a staircase ascends to double wooden doors adorned with gothic-style metal hinges. After his daughter’s wedding, Major Camp donated this enchanting chapel to the Minnesota Diocese of the Episcopal Church. In 1949, the building was moved 200 feet east to where it now sits along the shore of Lake Minnetonka. Among the signature celebratory events this year was a June reenactment of Lucy Camp’s wedding to Mr. Henry E. Von Wedelstaedt of St. Paul. A great-great-granddaughter of the original flower girl played the part of the bride, and a parish gentleman assumed the role of the groom. The church was decorated with Victorian flowers and music reminiscent of the era lilted in the background. The event was followed by a Victorian high tea. Between the 1888 wedding, and when the church was moved in the late 1940s, St. Martin’s served mostly vacationers as a summer chapel with rotating clergy from different denominations. Elizabeth Ringer, now 89, tells of growing up nearby. “When I was a little girl,” Ringer says, “some women got together and decided on a summer church schedule. Each woman took a Sunday and invited her own minister to come out and preach.” On their respective Sundays, each woman would decorate the church and invite their minister to lunch following services. Ringer adds, “In those days, St. Martin’s was never open during the winter.” In 1948, Sam Cook became the first full-time minister at St. Martin’s. Ringer credits Cook for organizing regular events and services, and keeping the building well-maintained. The chapel sanctuary remains as it was 125 years ago, paneled inside with unfinished Georgia pine. Any additions have been constructed and painted to match the original exterior. “I’m sentimental about the place,” says Ringer. “I’ve had four great-grandchildren confirmed there.” Reverend Dave Langille is the current minister serving members and visitors at St. Martin’s. “I’ve been here two and a half years,” Langille says. “Last year, St. Martin’s had its first outdoor worship service at the beach. A parishioner with a vintage Ford pickup ran a shuttle service back and forth from the parking lot. We’ve also done baptisms in the lake.” St. Martin’s by-the-Lake will host a two-day anniversary celebration November 10 and 11; November 11 is St. Martin’s Day. St. Martin was a Roman soldier in the fourth century. He became a Christian while serving in France, where it’s said he saw a naked beggar and had mercy on him by cutting his own cloak with his sword and giving half to the beggar. Martin later lived a pious and holy life and was known to live simply, tend the sick, feed the hungry, visit prisoners and plead for mercy for the condemned. On November 10, St. Martin’s will host an intergenerational service with families serving together on local and globally minded mission projects. The evening will be capped off with a youth-led concert. There will be anniversary services on November 11, with special music, a guest preacher and a brunch between services. Everyone is welcome, Langille says. “This church ministers to people of all economic classes and from as far away as Delano,” Langille says. “This is a joyful and welcoming community that has found a way to focus on what is important. We’ve added an education hour and are expanding our youth programming and missions.” After 125 years, faith continues to grow at St. Martin’s by-the-Lake.