by Clara Yetter
“ Where’s the Parish House?” is a question many Kenyon students have asked when trying to find their way to Friday Café. Built between 1890 and 1900, the green-painted house located at 201 W. Brooklyn Street also plays host to events for various campus groups on a weekly basis.
A few weeks ago, the top floor of the house was in the process of being converted into a home for the family of Rachel Kessler, the new priest-in-charge of Harcourt Parish and chaplain at Kenyon College.
“We tried to spruce it up with new carpet, new paint on the walls, retiled bathrooms and more,” Anna Duke Reach said; Reach is director of programs for The Kenyon Review and a member of the Harcourt Parish subcommittee formed to revamp the apartment for the Kesslers. Before Kessler, Lee Schott, assistant director of career development, lived in the home.
Once inside the entrance hall, the house splits off in two directions. The first floor includes a main area large enough to seat more than 100 people, a large kitchen and dishwashing room and a small lounge area. The first floor of the house can be reserved for student-run events, whereas the upstairs is allocated for private living.
Rachel Kessler and her husband, Leeman Kessler, both of the Class of 2004, found it strangely comforting to be back at Kenyon. After double-majoring in English and philosophy, Kessler attended grad school and seminary school at the University of Toronto and was ordained by the Anglican Church of Canada in 2011. “It’s kind of surreal being back, but it’s really home,” Kessler said. “There aren’t a lot of jobs like this one.”
The previous parish house stood where Gund Commons is today and was torn down for the Commons construction, according to Tom Stamp, College Historian and Keeper of Kenyonia. Stamp said Harcourt Parish Episcopal Church purchased the building in 1968; it was previously a private residence.
Harcourt Parish hosts Friday Café, a $7-a-head lunch organized by Joyce Klein, each week. Klein said she and her friend Peggy Turgeon started the café about 20 years ago. “At first we were doing a fundraiser to raise money for scholarships on the front porch of Farr Hall,” Klein said. Over the years, demand grew, so they moved the café to the Parish House. “Last week, we had 140 people at Friday Café. We never know how many to expect,” Klein said. All of the proceeds from the café go toward maintaining the building.
Today, many student organizations reserve the Parish House for events for a fee of $15. Canterbury Kenyon, the Episcopal student group on campus, uses the space to host biweekly dinners paired with engaging discussion topics, in collaboration with other Kenyon groups and professors. PEAS (People Endorsing Agrarian Sustainability) also hosts a popular local foods brunch in the space during Family Weekend each year. In the past, the Parish House has been the site of activities ranging from craft sales and movie showings to wedding receptions and other religious events.
As a temporary home and gathering place, the Parish House is open, spacious and sits in the middle of the Village. So maybe next Friday, wander down to this under-appreciated home for some homemade food and enjoy being a part of its eccentric history.