Section: Features

Harcourt Parish House feeds students’ mouths and spirits

Harcourt Parish House feeds students’ mouths and spirits

Guests enjoy an “Open Table” dinner at the Parish House. | COURTESY OF THE HARCOURT PARISH

Nestled along the hilly stretch of West Brooklyn Street stands the Parish House, which has humbly served the Kenyon community for many years. Owned by Harcourt Parish and now overseen by Reverend Rachel Kessler ’04, this quaint abode holds more history and charm than meets the eye. For over 30 years, the Parish House has functioned as a gathering place for members of the Episcopal community and beyond.

In an email to the Collegian, Kessler shared her thoughts and memories regarding this beloved meeting spot. The history of the house spans decades, though Kessler’s memories of it go back to the early 2000s, when two members of the community, Joyce Klein and Peggy Turgeon, hosted a “Friday Cafe” at the house, where “members of campus and around Gambier could buy a simple lunch.” The Klein-Turgeon kitchen holds a plaque in their memory. Kessler remembers the Friday Cafe fondly from her time as a student, describing it as “a really wonderful community event,” and added that the Cafe was still up and running when she returned to work at the Parish in 2015. 

In more recent years, the Parish House has transformed into a place where students and community members can find time to relax, study and join Monday night dinners, which Kessler likes to call “Open Table” dinners, as anyone in the community is welcome. Kessler described how she wanted to “explore different ways to make the parish house a service we can offer the wider community” and that she “loves seeing more students using [the house].” Some of the formats she has played with include informal communion services, community gatherings and the more recent “Bagel Breakfasts,” an easy way for students and others to connect — and what better way to do that than over a tasty, toasty bagel?

Despite the enduring community feeling that the Parish House fosters, the space was not in use during the pandemic, and the house slowly fell into disrepair. “The church had to put a lot of work into making it a space that was actually sustainable for us to keep using,” Kessler said. Once the community was able to gather again, Kessler “realized the greatest need was simply a space for students to be together. For a long time we saw the Parish House as more of a space for isolated events and it wasn’t a place people could just be and hang out.” Kessler wants these dinners and other events to “be a space where students can be fed both spiritually and literally, where they have space to share questions and gain some sense of understanding about their religious identity.”

Dinnergoers gladly offered their own perspective on the house. “As a deeply religious person, having such a welcoming and big community of youth to interact with has been really really fun,” Ellie Manning ’26, one of three Student Chaplains, said. She added that this was a delightful contrast to the lack of youth participants in her spiritual space at home. Jeremy Roberts ’26 also shared his thoughts on the space, noting that he particularly likes “utilizing the space to have intellectual and religious conversations with others [and] talk about college happenings.” Denil Joseph ’26 agreed, saying how much he enjoys “meeting new people and hanging out with people I already know,” and also being able to have “something to do, a place to be outside of school.”

The Parish House continues to evolve as a space for students and community members alike, with a newly incorporated library and ongoing community gatherings for all to attend regardless of religious background. Kessler has already done tremendous work to make this charming abode open to all. “I love students feeling at home here. I hope we can build on that. I hope all students will find the Parish House as a space where they can feel safe and welcome — even if it’s just to come grab a bagel Thursday mornings.”

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