A Brief Bit of Our History

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 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. 

Submitted by our church historian, Jan Akins

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