In Wisconsin, An Enduring Sanctuary Was A Pioneer Dream A Wisconsin church built entirely by hand from the forests around it has been operating continuously since 1853. St. John Chrysostom is an example of the "carpenter Gothic" style.
NPR logo

In Wisconsin, An Enduring Sanctuary Was A Pioneer Dream

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
In Wisconsin, An Enduring Sanctuary Was A Pioneer Dream

In Wisconsin, An Enduring Sanctuary Was A Pioneer Dream

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


There's a small, red church in southeastern Wisconsin constructed of wood with an ornately trimmed roof half-hidden on a hill. It was built in 1851 by the city founders of Delafield in a style known as carpenter Gothic. It's St. John Chrysostom. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places. And it's still in use. It's also the hometown of Jacki Lyden, who sent us this audio postcard.


JACKI LYDEN, BYLINE: Even as a girl, the quaint, wooden church nestled up on its hill intrigued me - St. John Chrysostom - strange name with its wooden bell tower and pioneer tombstones staggered in the churchyard. I was lucky enough to meet Father Steven Peay, who fills in here sometimes, and ask him about this 4th-century bishop of Constantinople.

STEVEN PEAY: The patron saint of preachers - his name was John. Chrysostom was a title that was given to him. And it comes from the Greek for golden-mouthed. And so St. John Chrysostom was the golden-mouthed one.

LYDEN: Steven Peay is an emeritus dean of nearby Nashotah House Theological Seminary, renowned as an influential, high-church, Episcopal seminary. In the 19th century, Ralston Cox was a seminarian there when he decided to start his own mission church in Delafield. He traveled from Wisconsin to Philadelphia to consult with the renowned church architect Richard Upjohn. Then on the return trip - tragedy. Cox drowned in the Ohio River. His family built the church as his memorial of oak trees so tall, there are no knotholes anywhere.

PEAY: This is all wood and lathe. And then the doors, especially the doors to the side, were all done by a local blacksmith. And as you can see, these large hinges - those are all handwrought hinges. And those are all handwrought nails.

LYDEN: The village blacksmith, a man named John Luther, made those nails and hinges - also original, the pews and pulpit.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Do you believe in God the Father?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: I believe in God the Father Almighty.

LYDEN: And there've been some illustrious golden mouths in the Delafield pulpit like Arthur Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury. He taught at the Rashotah House seminary, which still has the 10-gallon gallon Stetson his students gave him. Father Peay says when he preaches here, he feels what he calls a thin place.

PEAY: Where you know that the space between you and God is very thin - you feel very, very close to God here. And I think, as you talk to parishioners, you would discover, you know, that they feel the same way.

LYDEN: A thin place because of the connection to the past - Melissa Eriksen grew up in the church.

MELISSA ERIKSEN: My husband was baptized here. We were married here. My kids were baptized here. My sister's buried here. So it's a very, very personal connection to this parish.

LYDEN: One of those connections is the graveyard. Like "Spoon River Anthology," all - all are buried together on the hill. There's Charles Delafield, who gave the land and the city its name, Nelson Hawks, who had a stagecoach inn. The church sexton is buried by a side door. There's the Cox family and their in-laws, the Markoes. Mary McGlinchey, a parishioner for 50 years, takes me outside.

MARY MCGLINCHEY: When I go in through the cemetery and I see their families, you know - and I think they had a vision. And here it is, you know? A hundred and 60-plus years, it's still standing. I don't think we can appreciate it enough. I just don't think that this world can appreciate the effort and what that church stands for.

LYDEN: Her young daughter is buried here, too. The St. John Chrysostom Church of 1851 is, after almost two centuries, indeed, a fine place - my hometown of Delafield, Wis. For NPR News, I'm Jacki Lyden.


Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.