History does not reveal the names of all who had a part in the early days of St. John's Chapel, but it does tell of the untiring efforts of two persons who contributed their time, talent and treasure. They were the Reverend Alexander W. Marshall and Mrs. Sarah Dehon.
Mrs. Dehon, the widow of Bishop Theodore Dehon, devoted her life to spreading the Word of God. A study of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina prior to Bishop Dehon's consecration in 1812, shows a period of great weakness, likened by one as "40 years of wandering in the wilderness." One of the Bishop's first acts was the establishment of the Society for the Advancement of Christianity in South Carolina. The great impact that this society had upon the Church can be read in its history.
His devotion to spreading the Gospel, particularly through missionary work, was one of the many good qualities that were reflected in the life of Sarah Dehon. After his death in 1817, she gave her untiring efforts to the work of the church. Like her husband, she too was instrumental in founding a society, The Female Domestic Missionary Society. History does not begin to record the many deeds performed by the members of this society. One of its landmarks was the carrying of the Gospel to the poor. A result of these efforts was the establishment of St. Stephens in 1822 and St. John's in 1839-the first two Free Churches in Charleston.
The Rev. Paul Trapier, missionary, with his assistant, the Rev. R. T. Howard, in connection with their labors centering at St. Stephen's on Anson Street, began holding services in Hampstead in February, 1839, in a school room rented for the purpose. Very soon again, as in case of St. Stephen's, under the patronage of the Female Domestic Missionary Society, it was decided to build a chapel of wood. The Society had, in 1831, acquired a lot in Hampstead Village, then beyond the city limits, used in part as a burial ground for the city mission. This lot was selected as an appropriate place for the chapel together with a contiguous lot now added. The cornerstone was laid by Bishop Bowen on April 9, 1839. The chapel was completed at a cost of $4,000.00-only $300.00 remaining unpaid. It was opened for services October 12th. At first, the attendance was small, but the prospects considered good. From the first, the mission was called St. John's. On Sunday, October 12, 1839, the first services were held in St. John's Chapel on Hanover Street about a half mile north of the City Wall. St. John's was the second "Free Church" in the Charleston area. The term "Free Church" meant that worshippers were not charged pew rents as they were in most other churches at that time. The Rev. Mr. Howard withdrew from the mission in May, 1840.
St. John's was consecrated on July 14, 1840 by Bishop Gadsden-the first Episcopal act of the new Bishop of the diocese. He was assisted by the missionary, Mr. Trapier, and the rectors of St. Michael's and St. Paul's. The rectors of the four Charleston parishes constituted an Executive Committee (St. Michael's, St. Philip's, St. Stephen's and Cathedral Parish) who appointed the minister on nomination by the Bishop. Three days later, the chapel became a separate charge under Rev. Cranmore Wallace. He reported in February, 1841. At first its membership numbered only 23, 10 of which were black. Under the leadership of the Rev. Alexander W. Marshall, a rapid growth began. The Rev. Alexander W. Marshall succeeded Mr. Wallace after a few months, beginning his long and faithful services in this chapel and among the poor of the city at the city almshouse. In 1869, it reported 114 communicants and a Sunday school of 105.
In 1852, the Church was repaired and the fences rebuilt. In 1857 the fence on two sides (south and west) of the chapel yard was replaced by brick walls and hand-cast iron costing $1,185.00.
Mrs. Dehon worked diligently in an area served by St. John's and contributed much to its growth. Bishop Albert Thomas, in his, THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN SOUTH CAROLINA, likened her death in 1858 as a great loss to the Church, and marked the fall of a Mother in Israel for St. John's.
The Reverend R. T. Howard assisted by the Reverend Paul Trapier was the first rector of St. John's; however, he only served for a brief time, withdrawing in May of 1840. The Reverend Cranmore Wallace was the first Rector who given St. John's as a separate charge, it having been consecrated on July 17, 1840. His stay, too, was a short one; he resigned the first part of 1841.
The Reverend Alexander W. Marshall, DD became rector in March of 1841. This was a step of great significance for St. John's. Although it was not known then, Dr. Marshall was to serve St. John's longer than any other minister. Under his leadership St. John's began to grow. The communicant list in 1841 was 23 persons-13 white and 10 Negro. In 1859, it had grown to 79 white and 44 Negroes. In 1859, it had 79 whites and 44 Negroes on its roll. The whole number of services including the Almshouse was 222. There are many of you present today who do not remember the "almshouse", the common name given the Charleston Home which was located on Columbus Street about 2 blocks from St. John's. It was a home for the poor and indigent of Charleston left in a destitute condition. Even in the late 1930's the Rector and Choir of St. John's held evening services at regular intervals.
Many members of the congregation had left the city on account of the bombardment, the work and worship in the chapel was otherwise normal in May, 1864. During and after the war, the chapel fell into considerable disrepair. It was reshingled at a cost of $362.00. Communicants reported in 1869, 114, Sunday school, 105, services, 204, including those at the almshouse. The colored communicants in the city had now largely gone to Calvary and St. Mark's churches. In 1870, through an appeal to the city churches and a contribution of $120.00 (total $657.00) by the city clergy, the chapel was put in thorough repair. In 1874, 121 communicants were reported. Part of the silver of St. Helena's, St. Helena Island was loaned to St. John's. After 35 years of self-sacrificing labor in St. John's and among the poor of Charleston, having "the reverence of all who knew him", Rev. Alexander W. Marshall, D.D., died on November 7, 1876. However, he and the Rev. W.H. Hanckel had assisted in the parish since almost a year before Mr. Marshall died. Mr. Green resigned January 31, 1880, becoming superintendent of public schools to Charleston.
The communicant strength was then 119. From the Diocesan Journal of 1877, we read these words of tribute paid him "A meek and patient man going about doing good on foot, and on horseback by day and by night, knocking at some lonely door-kneeling at the bedside of the sick, ministering to the temporal and spiritual wants of every sorrowing soul." A tablet to his memory was erected and hung on the south wall of the church. This tablet was moved along with the other furnishings when the church moved to its site in Oakland. It was lost in the fire which destroyed the Church (Oakland site) in 1959)
The Rev. J. M. Green was appointed to succeed Dr. Marshall in February, 1878. However, he and the Rev. W. H. Hanckel had assisted in the parish since almost a year before Mr. Marshall died. Mr. Green resigned January 31, 1880, becoming superintendent of public schools in Charleston. The Rev. R. W. Membinger had charge in 1881 and then in March, 1882, the Rev. J. H. Tillinghast succeeded. The old Ladies' Missionary Society was still assisting this missionary Church, as well as was other Church societies in the city.
In 1883, a neat vestibule costing $40.00 was added to the Church. Mr. Tillinghast resigned in 1884, when Dr. Robert Wilson took charge in June of this year, having charge until 1892, in connection with his rectorship of St. Luke's. Dr. John Johnson assisted in the work in the summer 1884.
In 1884, as a result of the economic depression following the Civil War and the Reconstruction Period, the Church faced a crisis. The main supporter of the church, the Charleston Female Missionary Society, found its treasury almost depleted, and was forced to withdraw its aid. On May 11, 1884, Bishop Howe informed a meeting of the male members of St. John's that their minister was to be removed, and that they would not be given a replacement. It seemed as though St. John's would close its doors. However, this was not the will of God as seen by the members and friends of St. John's. Mr. J. M. Pringle Smith, who was the registrar of the Diocese, offered his services as layreader and rendered a long and efficient service to St. John's. The years 1884 - 1893 have been termed the "Era of Layreaders". He was in sole charge from 1892-94. He carried a large share of the burden of the work in this chapel in these years. He was succeeded by Mr. A. F. DeJersey, who was also treasurer. Organizations in St. Philip's and in St. Michael rendered much assistance as well. The Rev. A. E. Cornish, city missionary, took charge in 1893. There were 166 communicants at this time. The property of St. John's was conveyed to the trustees of the diocese by the missionary society on April 6, 1894. In 1897, the active organizations of St. John's included St. John's Friendly Society, Brotherhood of St. Andrew, Woman's Auxiliary, Industrial School, and Relief Society. In 1899, the Rev. John Henry Brown assisted Mr. Cornish; the Rev. James Joyner did so in 1901 and 1902. Under the Rev. A. E. Cornish, who took charge in connection with his position as city missionary in 1893, the work in St. John's was enlarged. In 1906, 111 families were reported with 798 individuals, 44 baptisms; 262 communicants; 125 in Sunday school, with 16 teachers; services Sundays 156, other days 190; Holy Communion, 79, including private, 4; J. J. Horres was warden and H. C. Gill, treasurer.
The Rev. A. E. Cornish, City Missionary, became rector in 1893. On April 1, 1907, the Rev. Joseph Jenkins Cornish succeeded the Rev. A. E. Cornish in charge. The Rev. R. Maynard Marshall assumed charge in March, 1900. Soon after a building on Amherst St. was purchased for $3,000.00 and adapted for a parish house. This was to be influential as it soon became the center of much activity in the work of St. John's. Several clubs were organized. Miss Caroline Preston, a trained Christian social worker, was a leader in these clubs, especially the Girls' Friendly. The Rev. Henry Hope Lumpkin had succeeded Mr. Marshall in 1912. In 1914, J. J. Horres was warden; L. M. Salvo, treasurer; and J. L. Stroeker and C. C. Pundt, lay readers. The total offerings in St. John's in this year were $1,936.00 The Rev. G. Croft Williams succeeded Mr. Lumpkin in 1915, continuing in charge until November, 1918. Then the Rev. A. R. Mitchell, Archdeacon, had charge for a short time, assisted by the Rev. W. B. Guion and the Rev. A. E. Cornish. The Rev. Willis P. Gerhart took charge May 1, 1919, but only for a very short time, being succeeded by the Rev. A. E. Cornish. St. John's was now organized as a parish and admitted into union with the Convention on May 11, 1920. The Cameron Gregg Richardson became the first rector July 15, 1920. J. J. Horres and H. M. Bunch were wardens; Cecil R. Bold, treasurer; and Richard Williams, lay reader. Since that time the layreaders of St. John's have always been active in the worship of the church and a period of constant growth began, continuing until 1950 under the leadership of such faithful rectors as the Rev. H. H. Lumpkin, the Rev. Alexander Rich, and the Rev. John Seagle, and the Rev. Floyd Harding.
The Rev. Alexander M. Rich became rector in 1922, James W. Almeida becoming junior warden and also treasurer. A handsome pulpit was given in 1926 in memory of Andrew Earnest Cornish, twice rector, by the Junior League. A handsome new Mohler organ (two manual with 398 pipes) was installed in 1929 at a cost of $3,000.00. Mr. Rich, reaching the retiring age, resigned January 31, 1931, after nine years of active ministry in this Church. St. John's now numbered 420 communicants with a Sunday school of 145, total Church members 787. Mr. Rich was immediately followed in the rectorship by the Rev. John Creighton Seagle. The wardens now were J. J. Horres and S. B. Jones; secretary, Harry Mitchell; and treasurer, Thomas Lewis. During these years, the parish had to meet heavy assessments by the city for street maintenance.
The old parish house on Amherst Street was sold and a new one erected in the yard of the Church in 1939 after plans given by Albert S. Tomas, Jr., Architect. The building was dedicated on October 15, 1939, by Bishop Thomas in connection with the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Church. Mr. Seagle retired on April 15, 1940, going to live in his old home near Hendersonville; N. C. Mr. Seagle was succeeded by the Rev. Floyd Harding, first deacon in charge for some months, then priest and rector. At this time, 1941 the wardens were J. W. Almeida and S. b. Jones (also mission treasurer); Alvyn Meyer, secretary; S. F. Burbage, parish treasurer; M. A. Todd, lay reader and Sunday school superintendent. Mr. Harding served as rector until his retirement and resignation April 30, 1953. He died less than a month later, May 1, 1953. He was succeeded May 1, 1953, by the Rev. Waties R. Haynsworth who held the charge until he resigned to become Headquarters Secretary in the summer of 1957.
In the 1950's a decline in membership was caused by the deterioration of the area in which St. John's was located, coupled with the removal to the suburbs of many city residents. It was soon realized that drastic steps must be taken if St. John's was to continue as a Parish. Under the leadership of the Rev. Waites R. Haynsworth, who was successor to the Rev. Harding, plans were made to relocate St. John's west of the Ashley River. Mr. Haynsworth resigned in 1957 to become Diocesan Headquarters Secretary, and the work he started was continued by his successor, the Rev. Franklin Martin.
On May 25, 1958, opening services were held in the new building which had been erected on Arlington Drive. Within a year, plans were made for the addition of an educational wing to accommodate the rapidly growing Sunday school. Disaster of a different sort struck St. John's in the early morning of Advent Sunday, November 29, 1959, when the Oakland site (building) was totally destroyed by fire. Services continued to be held in the West Ashley Exchange Club building, and Sunday school classes were held in a railroad coach loaned by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.
In the meantime, 1962, St. John's Chapel (original site), had now become established as St. John's Episcopal Mission Center. After a study conducted by the Episcopal Diocese pinpointed Charleston's "East Side" as one of the greatest areas of juvenile delinquency. The Center, established in the original site, now abandoned, became a program of life-giving, outreach ministry to the citizens of the Eastside until 1972.
The Center offered programs of education, counseling and recreation in three small classrooms and a multipurpose room. Early efforts included an adult night school, adopted by the public schools and serving 900 students in a nearby high school; teenage clubs involving some sixty young people who helped in determining needs of the community; and a day care center manned by one woman serving thirty families.
Needs for a larger day care center, involved parents groups, organization for the many children unoccupied in after school hours and solutions to an increasing high school dropout rate - programs for all ages - soon became evident. Also demonstrated was the need for a liaison between east Charleston and the wider community to interpret priorities in housing, jobs, education and other specified problems.
The physical plan quickly became inadequate as programs grew in number and scope. During its "heyday", some three hundred children were being served weekly in Center programs. In 1964, a concrete structure was added to the existing structure. The renovation, thus far, gives the many children previously turned away from activities a constructive and informative.
St. John's Episcopal Center (Safe Haven - County of Charleston) was closed in 1986. On May 20th 2006 this unique Center, now a church once more, will be "blessed, restored, rebuilt" by Bishop Edward L. Salmon, Jr., the Diocesan Council and plans to repair and re-open will begin under the direction of Rev. Dr. Dallas H. Wilson, Jr. (The Rev. Janie D. Wilson), & Lynda "Frenchie" Richards (Chairman of the Board of Directors).
The summary plan for "St. John's Chapel" & the African American Family Center for Biblical Dialogue (educational building) can be forwarded upon your request
Dallas H. Wilson Jr.
The Rev. Dr. Dallas H. Wilson, Jr., Vicar
9 a.m.: Koinonia (2nd Floor - Multipurpose Room)
10:30 a.m.: Gospel Rite II in the historical Church Building
7 p.m.: Public Healing and Prayer Services, Intimate Prayer Chapel, 1st
Floor AAFCBD Building
Various Bible Studies
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