The Early church
While the first gatherings of Merrill's Episcopalian community were held ca. 1877, the congregation was officially recognized by the first Bishop of the Diocese of Fond du Lac, the Rt. Rev. Henry Hobart Brown as an organized mission in 1882.(History of Lincoln, Oneida and Vilas Counties, Wisconsin; official Ascension Documents of Record). Construction on the church that is still in use today (located at the corner of Third and Pier Streets) was begun in May of 1895, and completed and dedicated into service in October of the same year.
A number of notable and beloved leaders formed the early history of the Church, including the Rev. Frederick Waldo Barker in 1901. It was Rev.Barker that built the large vicarage located next to the church, which was used as the Monastery for the Society of St. Francis, established under the the leadership of Father C. Crookston (later becoming Fr. Joseph). As the first Anglican church in America to take on this holy order (a split dating back to King Henry the VIII and the split from the Roman Catholic Church), the establishment was both historic and significant to the Society of St. Francis.
In 1922, the Order of Poor Clares of Reparation and Adoration was founded at Ascension as well. The official date of founding was September 15, 1922 - the Feast of Our Lady's Sorrows (part of the Roman Catholic Calendar). They were established as a "semi-cloistered, contemplative order, devoted to the life and work of prayer." - p. 406, An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church; D.S. Armentrout & R.B. Slocum, editors.
In 1928, both the Society of St. Francis and the Order of the Poor Clares of Reparation and Adoration moved to new quarters at the Little Portion Friary (in the case of the Society of St. Francis) and to properties once known as St. Clare's Convent Maryhill (in the case of the Order of the Poor Clares) in Mount Sinai, NY. While the Society remains active, the last of the Order of Poor Clares of Reparation passed away in 2003, and therefore the order and its work passed along with her. The former vicarage and monastery was eventually sold to secular uses including a funeral home, and is now used as apartments.
Remembering father barker
It is said that Fr. Barker "had a love for souls and spent himself without stint" for his three missions of Merrill, Tomahawk and Mosinee. In fact, his death in 1908 is often attributed to exposure and overwork. The people both outside and within the Church remembered him with love, and for many years, a Year's Mind Mass of Requiem was celebrated in his honor. - AnglicanHistory.org
Latter half of the 20th century - Today
Church of the Ascension has been a mission church since its inception, with ebbs and flows in numbers of congregants and service attendees. Current congregants match what was considered historic highs: +/-70 congregants, with an average weekly attendance of around 25-30 persons.
Though small, we have long been seen as mighty. With a deep-rooted history in giving thanks for our poverty, our little mission church has set an eye to serving the poor and needy in our community, understanding that the LORD WILL PROVIDE as we engage in our work and mission.