On April 24, 1759, a small group of North Haveners gathered in the home of Ebenezer Blakeslee to organize the 32nd Episcopal Church built on this continent. The first church building was erected on a parcel of land where the rectory (parsonage) now stands. The dedication took place on St. John’s Day, December 27, 1761, in a church that was elaborately decorated with evergreens, an unusual custom in those days.
In 1783, Samuel Seabury became the first Episcopal Bishop in the United States. Shortly after returning from his consecration in Scotland, he confirmed several people at St. John’s on October 3, 1786. This is the oldest authenticated date of any confirmation ceremony in North America.
In 1834, the cornerstone was laid for the present church building. A steeple bell was installed in 1851 and is still rung at every service.
The next century was a period of change for St. John’s. The rectory was built in 1855, and expanded by the addition of a 3rd floor with a mansard roof in the 1880’s. In 1910, a parish house was erected and later remodeled to accommodate a sacristy, parish office, rector’s office and guild room. The chancel was enlarged to its present size in 1925.
During the 1950s, as membership grew, the Great Hall was added in 1952, and in 1956, the balcony in the back of the nave was removed. New pews were also installed on a cement floor and, for the first time, a center aisle was provided. In 1966, the Goodyear Building was added to house the church school and nursery.
St. John’s, with its tradition of warm hospitality, continues to be a place of history-in-the-making. In 1956, 23 Hungarian refugees arrived at the parish hall, where each was given shelter and assisted by members of the church to resettle permanently in the United States. In the mid-1980s, St. John’s resettled three Cambodian families and helped them become a part of the community. And, in the spring of 2004, working in conjunction with New Haven’s refugee resettlement agency, three Liberian women were resettled in New Haven.
Currently, that tradition of hospitality manifests itself in new ways. Every Friday night during the school year, we invite our neighbors to join us for Community Suppers. Also, we are part of Abraham’s Tent, a program that supports twelve homeless men through the winter by organizing churches and synagogues to provide shelter, meals and companionship a week at a time in each location.
As we look back on our years of worship and service, we salute those who formed the strong foundation that allows today’s members to build for a strong future.