BISHOP WILLIAM WALKER
Walker, who began his episcopate on the Dakota prairies, was born in New York City on June 29, 1839. Ordained as a priest on his twenty-fourth birthday, he served Calvary Chapel in New York City for twenty years. He proved himself to be masterful in management, displaying “wise judgment” and great powers as a preacher. At a missionary conference during his years in New York he heard a call for men to go not only to faraway continents but “to our own wild frontier.”
It was as a “missionary-bishop of the frontier” that he was to begin, at the age of forty-four, a new life on the prairie. Upon arriving in Dakota territory in 1883, Walker noted that the area of 70,000 square miles would be a true challenge to administer. The only available transportation facilities were a limited amount of railroad services. He described the area as a “magnificent country... as flat as the poorest sermon ever preached, but vastly richer and more productive. Blizzards in winter and mosquitoes in summer constitute its only drawback.”
When Bishop Walker spoke at the 1884 Convocation he noted that in all of Dakota there were only four Episcopal Church buildings; Fargo, Grand Forks, Valley City, and Bismarck. With just one church under construction in Jamestown, Bishop Walker stated, “that what was needed was places of worship...in scattered villages” it was his aim to build many churches... “not to erect one splendid, pompous church where his throne shall stand, but to plant here and there where knots of God’s people cluster the chaste, churchly sanctuary”.
Walkers first goal was to establish churches to fill in the “gaps” along the Northern Pacific railroad from Fargo to Bismarck. At New Buffalo (Buffalo), there were no church buildings of any kind, when the bishop visited the village almost one hundred persons gathered to hear him. Soon a stone church was being built, aided by a gift of money from Bishop Walker’s home church Calvary Chapel, New York. They also sent a few pieces of furniture, one of which was the Bishop’s chancel chair (on display at the Old Stone Church), to their namesake in Dakota Territory.
Calvary Chapel in Buffalo, constructed in 1885-1886, was the first stone church built by Bishop Walker; and the third in Northern Dakota Territory. It was also to have the first stone tower, designed by Architect George Hancock, in North Dakota. Bishop Walker preferred to build churches out of stone for in his words, ”In this fire-swept, tornado-racked climate it has seemed the wisest of policies to rear such massive, stable churches as will pass the ordeal of fire and storm....I find that men and women will give more labor and love and money to the abiding sanctuary than to the timber makeshift. And so wherever a stone church is built the enthusiasm among the people is hot and self sacrificing.” Under the name of Calvary Chapel, with twenty communicants, Bishop Walker consecrated the church in 1887.