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St. Barnabas has seen better days but it's still an 'integral part of Eagle Rock'

Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church in Eagle Rock began more than 100 years ago. According to one of its adherents who's compiling a history on the church, it was made possible by what might now be called crowdfunding.

"It only seats 75 people," said Anita Britt, a parishioner who is leading an effort to document St. Barnabas' past.

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Founded as a mission in 1908, services were held in private residences and a Masonic temple — now an American Legion hall — until a church was built at the corner of Norwalk Avenue and Ellenwood Drive. Today's church, paid for entirely by private donations, was built in 1924.

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"I started going as a teenager," Britt, a retired child psychologist, recalled. "My mom was buried there in 1990. My daughter was married there."

She's lived in Eagle Rock on and off for more than 30 years and said she considers St. Barnabas to be an integral part of Eagle Rock.

"I could walk there," Britt said.

Britt, who said she recently counted 15 people at a Sunday service, said that the rectory is now a halfway house because St. Barnabas has no priest — the diocese considers the congregation to be too small — so the Episcopalian Church provides priests every week.

"St. Barnabas fell below the threshold," said Britt, citing controversial issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and female clergy as factors in declining church attendance.

"Everything was changing and people became disillusioned," she said.

If attendance continues to decline, she said, the property may be sold.

That would be unfortunate to at least one resident who is not Episcopalian. Eric Warren, vice president of the Eagle Rock Historical Society, described St. Barnabas as "the prettiest little church in Eagle Rock" during a recent interview.

"I'm not a believer," he said. "But my childhood best friend's mother was very active at St. Barnabas and I'd see her embroidering beautiful altar cloths and ceremonial dresses worn by priests. So, besides being a nice piece of architecture, it's part of Eagle Rock's history."

Warren said that the historical society is cooperating with the history project.

"Of course, we're interested in seeing this lovely little church preserved," he said. "The interior is graced by a number of [artisan] windows by the Judson Studios in Highland Park, where they've manufactured stained glass windows for over 100 years."

Church windows include a depiction of the landmark eagle rock, Britt said, adding that stained glass research is in progress.

"We have a couple of saints to identify," she said, noting that scenes include loaves and fishes, the enunciation and the virgin birth.

"We're trying to find out more about the pipe organ," she said.

Britt's efforts, she said, are bearing rewards.

"I'm going through boxes of old clippings," she said. "We know basic things — that Eagle Rock was all farmland, and my house was probably an avocado orchard — and that priests went out on horseback inviting people to come to church."

Britt said that the church's namesake remains a mystery. "All I know is that Barnabas wrote some of the New Testament and was a cousin to St. Paul," she said, noting that saints are not as revered in Episcopalian faith.

At the church, weekly meals are served to the homeless and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings have been held there for the past 27 years, so St. Barnabas provides private charity, she said.

However, she said that a bulletin board needs fixing, restrooms need painting and an upstairs meeting hall needs work. So, she figures that generating interest in the church's past might somehow secure its future.

"For me, it's a connection to history — it's connected to everything in Eagle Rock — with building materials supplied by Eagle Rock Lumber, outreach programs such as AA and Head Start that use the church and the halfway house. I care a lot about this building."

Holleran is a contributor to Times Community News.

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