The following is a brief history of St. Johns Episcopal Church, Royal Oak, from its founding as a mission in 1902 before Royal Oak was a city until now.
o Origin & Early Years: 1902-22.
o Original Woodward Church & The Rev. Charles Jatho: 1923-1960.
o New Woodward Church: 1958-73.
o Outreach to the Needy & The Rev. Robert Eidson: 1974-96.
o Current period & The Rev. Linda Northcraft: 1997 to Present.
St. John's Becomes a Parish Church 90 Years Ago - (new page)
Origin & Early Years - 1902-22
St. John’s began as a mission of the Episcopal Church in the summer of 1902 with the gathering of three families in the basement of the old Royal Oak school building at the corner of 4th and Williams Streets. At that time Royal Oak, a township with a population of less than 500, was a mere whistle-stop for interurban trains running between Detroit and Pontiac.
The early years of the mission were fraught with difficulty. Lacking permanent clergy and worship space, services were discontinued from 1911 through 1914. In 1917 St. John’s gained its first full-time clergy person and had its own building to hold services. The building, the old Royal Oak Township Hall, a two-story wood frame building, had been built in 1874. When it was no longer in use for township business, the parishioners of St. John’s bought it and moved it to a permanent location at Seventh and Center Streets. With a permanent home the parish flourished. Many of the groups and organizations that make up the fabric of St. John’s today, such as the choir and altar guild, began during these years. Also, the lay leaders of the mission were very active, handling services when clergy were not available.
St. John’s grew along with Royal Oak for the next few years, becoming a full parish church in 1920, the year before Royal Oak formally became a city. In addition to a burgeoning church school, several choirs and very busy adult organizations, parishioners were active in ecumenical gatherings as well as outreach to the larger community. St. John’s was also on the forefront of racial equality, holding joint programs with St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church's African-American congregation in 1922. (In 1971, St. Matthew's merged with St. Joseph's to form St. Matthew's and St. Joseph's Episcopal Church on Woodward Ave. in Detroit.)
Original Woodward Church and The Rev. Charles Jatho - 1923-1958
By 1923 it was clear to the leaders of St. John’s that their small wood frame building was no longer adequate to serve the congregation. On Easter Monday of 1923, the church purchased property at the corner of 11 Mile
Road and Woodward Avenue from the estate of George Hendrie, a Detroit lumber baron. The first service in the new building was celebrated in 1926, three years before The Rev. Charles Jatho became the rector (he served until 1960). This building now houses the New to You Resale Shop, the church offices, the library and the choir rooms.
The Great Depression severely tested the parish as it did all Americans. Despite nearly losing the church building to creditors, the people of St. John’s continued to run ministries for those in need. Unemployed men were put to work in a cobbler’s shop making and repairing shoes, which were given away to those who could not afford them. Every member of the parish scavenged for shoe-making materials. A milk bottle was placed in a prominent location in the church for those able to put in coins to provide milk for needy children. In 1938 the parish approved a resolution to remove any impediments to the election of women to vestries. In the years before and during World War II, the parish held services of special intention for the persecuted Jews in Europe. During the war St. John’s assisted the Red Cross in its war relief efforts.
New Woodward Church - 1958-73
By the 1950s the parish had again outgrown its building size. Even as plans and fundraising for the new building got underway, a new education wing was built to provide desperately needed space for the church school. The library, choir room and cry room are now located in this wing. In 1958, the new church building, with it’s distinctive A-frame construction fronting on Woodward Avenue and the current worship space, complete with an open altar, was completed. St. John’s was also active in resettlement of European war refugees. St. John’s in the 1960s experienced the dramatic and often traumatic transformation of society that shook America. Divisive as these changes were, the people of St. John’s were committed to improving race relations and worked to create relationships with inner city churches. The first Antique Show was held in 1964.
Outreach to the Needy & The Rev. Robert Eidson - 1974-96
In 1974, with the call of the Rev. Robert Eidson to be the rector, St. John’s expanded its concern for the issues of peace, justice and the protection of the environment. We also began and enlarged ministries to the poor and needy, including the New to You Resale Shop and the Open Hands Food Pantry. In recognition of our leadership in outreach ministries, in 1984 the National Episcopal Church honored St. John’s with the designation of “Jubilee Center”.
Current period & The Rev. Linda Northcraft - 1997 to Present
In 1997, The Rev. Linda Northcraft became the present rector of St. John’s, the first woman to hold this position. Linda is a consummate preacher and a wonderful liturgist. Through the work and support of Linda and the Worship Committee, St. John's has added a liturgy based on resources from Iona, Scotland. Our traditional Sunday morning worship has also been enlivened and enriched with the use of supplemental liturgies and lively music.
The legacy of our large and now 50-year old building has required much work and money. Through capital fundraising we have dramatically improved the lighting in the sanctuary, made the parish hall a very inviting and more modern facility. We have worked very hard to make St. John's a welcoming and affirming place, especially through the work of the Welcoming Committee who greet members and visitors with friendly enthusiasm.
The people of St. John’s remain committed to engagement in the local community and larger issues. In 2008, we erected a Peace Pole on the front grounds along Woodward Avenue as a symbol to all who pass by that we are committed to the work of peace and justice. Through dynamic lay and ordained leadership and ministry, St. John's continues its long tradition of commitment to social justice, outreach and openness to diversity and change in the world.