A Brief History

A Brief History of St. John's Episcopal Church



St. John's Episcopal Church, Decatur, Illinois, was organized in 1855. In the early 1850's, several Episcopalians of Decatur began meeting regularly in each other's homes and desired to establish a parish. By 1855, their number was sufficient to petition the Bishop of Illinois to that end and on September 10th of that year, fifteen men and women signed the Articles of Organization.


The new parish called the Rev. Stephen R. Child to be their first Rector and the first service was held in November. Child, unfortunately, died before the second service could be held. Two years later, the Rev. William Bostick was called, by which time the communicants numbered twenty-two. In 1858, the vestry determined to build a church and authorized a structure to cost "not less than $1500." The building design chosen for St. John's was a simple, wooden Gothic design from a plan of Mr. Upjohn, in his book, Rural Architecture.


The parish had barely moved into the new church when two other events called the community's attention to St. John's. Mass was held on Christmas day in 1858. This marked the first time Christmas had been observed as a Holy Day by any church group in Decatur. That year also marked the first time a Christmas tree was placed in a public area in Decatur when the congregation set up a children's Christmas tree in the nave. A tradition still followed to the present of decorating the church with flowers and evergreens.


On August 20, 1877, the Diocese of Illinois officially reorganized into three new Dioceses to allow churches in Central and Southern Illinois to have more authority over how their churches were maintained. Decatur was now in the Diocese of Springfield.


In 1884, St. John's first pipe organ was installed at a cost of $1800. The need for a new church building had been emphasized by the rector for several years. In 1888, two laymen had purchased several lots at the corner of Church and Eldorado Streets for $5000, informing the vestry that they would hold the property and offer it at cost when the congregation was ready to build. The decision to build was made in March 1890, with actual construction beginning later in the year. Henry F. Starbuck of Chicago was chosen as the architect. His design for St. John's combined early English and Decorated Gothic and was to be built of Wisconsin and Iowa red sandstone.


St. John's observed its centennial year in 1955, with activities through the year highlighting the history of the parish. In one hundred years, the parish had grown to over 500 communicants, almost a dozen parish organizations, and into one of the finest church plants in the city. The 100th Anniversary of the present building was celebrated with musical events, special speakers, fellowship activities and a special organ concert held during 1992. The Anniversary Evensong and Rededication of St. John's structure was held on April 19, 1992.


St. John's continues today as it has since 1858. Father Robert Harmon said it best in his short history of St. John's in the 1970's. "There is no way to number those whose lives have been nourished in the 145 years of our parish's life and ministry. In marriages and burials, in baptism and confirmations, in visitations and sick communions, in seasonal observances and daily masses, in youth classes and activities, in stewardship of time, talent and resources, and in its service to the larger community." St. John's continues to be, as stated in our original Articles of Incorporation, "deeply sensible of the truth of the Christian religion and earnestly desirous of promoting its holy influence in our own hearts and in those of our families and neighbors." We are very proud of our past and are eagerly looking forward to handing down St. John's tradition of faith, love and dedication.


This brief history is taken from the 2000 history of St. John's written by Janice and Aaron Akins.