St. John’s Timeline
In 1769, land was set aside by the Church of England on the site of the future St. John’s. In 1796, a foundation was laid for a two-story building measuring 42′ x 51′. Around 1804, the Church was near completion as bids were obtained for flooring, gallery, pulpit with canopy, and pine table.
After years of growth followed by years of financial problems, St. John’s was closed in 1831, sold and rented as a studio for the German sculptor Ferdinand Pettrich. (Read more here or download a short bio here.) In 1838, a group of young ladies from the parish raised $50 to purchase the church building and return it to sacred use. A year later, improvements were made, including a new organ, a new tower entrance and a brick wall topped with a fence on the north and west sides. Additional Enhancements followed in 1843 with the enlargement of the church, the addition of a basement lecture room, and a baptismal font in the center front. Six years later, the parish commissioned a new pulpit, began improvements to altar rails, added a reading desk, a communion table of black Egyptian marble, a replacement organ, and a bell in the steeple.
In 1853, the church was reconfigured to increase chancel space. Two years later, a baptismal font was placed in front of the first pews, and carpeting, new cushions, and curtains were added. A major and much-needed addition occurred in 1865, when the Sunday School (now the Parish Hall) building was constructed. The year 1870 brought a major church renovation, of which the Washington Post noted, “nothing has been used of the old structure except the walls.” During construction, services were held at Georgetown Presbyterian Church. In 1875, the Rectory was built and occupied.
In 1886, the organ and choir were relocated from the rear gallery to the front of the church. The side galleries were removed, a painting project was undertaken, and the baptistery of the carved oak reredos with an attached altar and removal of the center painting from the oil and canvas triptych, which was returned to the artist, Johannes Oertel. Between 1888 and 1909, the center aisle mosaic floor, the mosaic floor in the chancel area, and the stained glass windows were installed.
A Tower-belfry redesign was completed in 1924, closely followed by the renovation of the Parish Hall, an interior decoration redesign of the church, and the installation of a previously used organ. Major improvements were completed in the post World War II era between 1945 and 1949. This included the renovation of the rectory and the renovation of the church and Parish Hall, during which the altar was moved away from the reredos to allow clergy to face the congregation during Eucharist, and the choir was moved to the location of the former baptistery. In 1951, the Vestry approved a campaign to fund the construction of the Chapel of the Carpenter, the furnishing of the Addison Room, smooth stucco exterior, rectory improvements, carpet in Rector’s office and balcony, and new sub-floor for balcony. In a separate initiative during the year 1965, the organ was renovated.
In 1995, as part of the Bicentennial celebration, the Third Century Campaign was launched to repair and renovate many spaces: structural underpinnings of the sanctuary, second floor design for a new pre-school, the new atrium, a new choir room and offices on the lower level, and moving the Chapel of the Carpenter and Columbarium. The organ was repaired in 1998, followed by a major parish hall renovation in 2005 which created Blake Hall. During 2009, the focus was utilities, as the boiler was replaced, a dedicated air-conditioning system for the sanctuary and Blake Hall was installed.
A major renovation of the church chancel was completed in 2012. The centerpiece of the renovation was the installation of the new pipe organ dedicated to the honor of Dariel Van Wagoner by her Husband, John, and children in honor of her 50 years of participation in the choir and music programs of St. John’s. Additionally, the sacristy was renovated as well as crucial repairs and renovation made in the kitchen and other areas of the church to assure the safety and continued structural soundness of the 200 year-old church.
Welcome to St. John’s, Georgetown!
In 1796, a small group of visionaries stood at the corner of O and Potomac Streets, a few blocks up from the Potomac. They decided it was the perfect spot to set down roots for the Episcopal Church in Georgetown.
St. John’s has kept watch on that corner now for almost 225 years. Its bell tower has been a landmark to the neighborhood that has grown up around it. Even now, people mark the day with its bells, and the seasons with its rhythms.
What is the spirit of St. John’s? We have been described as “traditional, but not stuffy,”which captures us beautifully. We embrace the traditional worship of the Episcopal Church, with its balance of Scripture, strong preaching, outstanding music, and the mystery of Holy Communion. Sundays during the school year (from September through May) you’ll find a relaxed, family-style service at 9:00, with a shorter sermon and easy-to-sing music led by a cantor. At 11:00, you’ll find a more liturgically rich service with a full choir that is truly among the very best in Washington. You’ll find friendly people of all ages at both services who will smile and help you find your way. Between services you can get good coffee (in real mugs) in our parish hall, or go to our adult faith forum in the chapel. Activities for elementary-aged kids happen then too, though children are also welcome to stay with you or play in our atrium with our friendly nursery staff. During the summer months (Memorial Day through Labor Day), we have one service at 10:00, with lemonade and Popsicles on the lawn afterward.
And while we embrace traditional worship and do it very well, we sometimes do it with a bit of flair, as we work to provide a range of worship experiences to feed the souls of all who come to us. We have Jazz services and theme Sundays, including Star Wars Sunday, Harry Potter Sunday, and this summer’s Sound of Music Sunday. And to show that even historic parishes can learn something new, we also have a weekly podcast called The Irreverends that explores the coming Sunday’s readings with just a dash of humor. But even though we love exploring new ways to reach people with the Good News of God’s love, we also love our ancient roots. Over four Sunday nights in March, the enduring words of Compline – the ancient night prayer – chanted by the choir by candlelight, have transformed St. John’s into a place out of time.
Outstanding music is another way we feed the hearts and souls of those who walk through our doors. Our music program is amazing. Not only are our acoustics grand, our choir superb, and our organ a treasure, but we host the Georgetown Concert Series, which brings world-class music to the neighborhood! Groups including the Vienna Boys’ Choir, Chanticleer, the King’s Singers, and Voces8 – and even acclaimed baritone Nathan Gunn – have performed in our concert series and greeted concert-goers in the reception afterward.
The people of St. John’s have been praying and singing and laughing and crying together on this little corner for more than 200 years – a witness to the timeless message of the love of God, and the vision of those who gathered there so long ago. Join us, and be a part of something bigger than those visionaries ever imagined!
The Rev. Gini Gerbasi, Rector