St. John's Through The Years
St. John’s Episcopal Church here in Decatur has a rich and vibrant history that is intermingled with the Decatur community since 1855. Our 165-year-old church has stories to tell and these stories tell who we were and who we are today.
There are stories of love and laughter, heartache and sadness, spiritual growth and for some, calls to the priesthood. It has baptized our babies, confirmed our children, married young lovers, nurtured our families, and, in the end, buried our loved ones. It has supported our young men and women as they went off to college and to war, and it has always reverberated with song and prayer.
Over the years, when people have been asked why they have chosen St. John’s as their home, many say, “There is a feeling of love in this church and even in its stones.” St. John’s parish represents the “visible fellowship of those who profess and call themselves Christians.”
Beginning in the early 1850s, a few Episcopalians met in each other’s homes for worship. On September 1855, a group petitioned the Bishop of Illinois to form the first Protestant Episcopal Parish in Decatur.
In 1857, the parish under the direction of Father William Bostwick decided to buy a lot and build a church costing no less than $1500 which was an ambitious project for the small congregation. The little church, built from one of the famous Upjohn’s plans, served the parish well for many years.
Soon the Episcopal parish and Decatur community was growing, so parishioners enlisted Architect Henry F. Starbuck to design a church that would be larger and more suitable.
In late 1890, construction began and the new large stone church opened during 1892. Through the years, the church building has remained virtually unchanged other than repairs and redecorating.
In 1950s, the congregation had grown so large that plans were made to expand the church adding a Parish Hall, Sunday School rooms, and a large kitchen.
St. John’s celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1993 with a major renovation and preservation project. The intention was to preserve the church building and restore the nave and sanctuary to their original beauty. In addition, 25% of the funds were designated for outreach to the diocese and local community.
Among the most dramatic changes was the reappearance of the beautiful array of red and orange sandstone colors when the exterior of the church was cleaned and resealed, ridding it of the black soot that had almost completely covered it.
But St. John’s is more than just a wonderful building. The congregation of St. John’s have faithfully carried out their Christian mission through many rectors and community events. Over 165 years, St. John’s has been blessed with many wonderful people who believe in the Episcopalian traditions and liturgy and have given their best efforts to make St. John’s a worship home for themselves and the community.
The life of the church is simply a cycle of beginnings and endings. When one person or group leaves, others step forward offering their gifts to the parish. When a project is completed or a need is met, another project is begun or concern voiced. When times change, parishioners move ahead using their belief in Christ to strengthen themselves, St. John’s tradition, and the community.
To understand the future and what is yet to come, we must look to the past. St. John’s past is that of is Worship, Mission, Ministry, and Fellowship. We welcome all who would like to join us to carry out our mission of “Knowing Christ and making him known to others” through these avenues.
The parish met for services in the Masonic Hall. Bishop Whitehouse came
from Chicago to confirm a half-dozen people.
The first church structure was built and cost “not less than $1,500” on Water
Street between Eldorado & North Streets.
The final payment on the mortgage having been made, the Bishop returned
to Decatur to consecrate the church.
A rectory was built and the “Female Church School,” also known as the
“Decatur Seminary” was founded. It operated less than a decade.
The Ladies Aid Society was founded, which was reorganized in 1906 as St.
John’s Episcopal Church Women.
One of the first pipe organs in Decatur was installed in St. John’s.
Two laymen purchased lots at Church and Eldorado, telling the vestry
they would hold the property until the congregation was ready to build a
The new church structure was constructed at the corner of Church and
The original wooden church building was moved from Water Street to the
east end of the lot for the new church building.
During Easter Week, the 250 communicants moved into the church as the
new stone building was dedicated.
The Burrows family added a memorial brass eagle pulpit in the nave.
Greenwood Cemetery lots were purchased and donated to the church
by Lowber Burrows.
A wooden rood screen was installed between the sanctuary and nave in
memory of Lowber Burrows.
The mortgage was paid and the new church was consecrated by Bishop
A Day Nursery was founded by St. John’s to care for children.
The sanctuary tile floor was replaced and granite steps were added to
New Gothic lights were installed in the center of nave.
Flags of the Allied Nations were hung in the nave.
The present high altar was installed in memory of Sophia Shade and the
previous altar was reduced and placed on the north side of the nave.
The organ was rebuilt and the console was moved to the south side of
Renovations included tuckpointing, new steps to outside entrances, old
chimney removal and gumwood paneling in the ambulatory, sacristy,
and old choir room.
The Parish Centennial was observed and the Parish Hall addition was
completed to provide classrooms, a meeting hall, and kitchen.
The bell tower steeple was removed due to dangerous conditions and a
new cross was erected.
St. Mary’s Hall was remodeled for office space and a curate apartment.
The 1858 wooden church was demolished. The nave and sanctuary were
updated and a lounge, classrooms, and the cloister were added.
The church’s first bell was placed in the belfry and was dedicated.
The final tiffany-style stained glass windows were replaced in the nave.
The chapel was completed with memorial windows.
The organ was rebuilt and expanded.
A columbarium was approved and built in Merris Garden.
The Century II Campaign to restore, preserve, and renovate church facilities
was begun, while significant outreach efforts were expanded.
A major interior renovation of St. Mary’s Hall was completed. Memorial
windows were added to former doorway entrances on Church Street, and
the Merris Memorial Garden.
The parish hall memorial stained glass windows were completed.
St. John’s became fully accessible for guests with disabilities.
The church was closed to the public because of the Covid-19 Virus and
live streamed services began.
Eight-hundred page Definitive History of St. John’s published.