The congregation of St. John the Evangelist has been located in its current neighborhood since 1881.
St. John’s held its first service in January 1881 in a chapel at the nearby Dayton Avenue Presbyterian Church. There were 54 people representing 15 families. The first rector was the Reverend Henry W. Kittson. Nearly five months later, the parish constructed their first church, a wooden building that stood on the northeast corner of Ashland and Mackubin. The building was expanded several times and was even rotated on its site in order to accommodate the growing congregation. Next to it was erected a granite school building, which still stands. In the early 1890s an attempt was made to purchase property on Summit Avenue on which to construct a new church, but the effort ultimately failed, in part because of the strained economy.
Over the ensuing decades, St. John’s attracted many prominent families to its membership, including railroad executives, professionals, businessmen, politicians, and even statesmen, among them Frank B. Kellogg, who served first as a U.S. senator and later as secretary of state under President Calvin Coolidge.
In 1895 the congregation engaged architect Cass Gilbert, the architect who designed the present state capitol, to erect a temporary stone church on the present site on Kent Street. In 1902, architect Clarence H. Johnston, Sr., a longtime friend of Cass Gilbert’s, was hired to add a nave to the south side of the Cass Gilbert building. To view a selection of stained glass from the church, follow this link: St. John’s Stained Glass Treasures Book.
Music played an important role in the parish from the very beginning and for many years a choir of men and boys, and later a girls choir, led the musical portions of the services, under the direction of such prominent musicians as Emil Oberhoffer, founder of what is now the Minnesota Orchestra, and George H. Fairclough, a prominent local organist. For many years the boys and girls enjoyed the summer camps that were held at lakes in upstate Minnesota and Wisconsin.
In 1914 the congregation constructed the Club House on Portland and Dale to meet the demands of its growing numbers. In addition to providing office space for the clergy, and meeting rooms for the Sunday School, the Club House welcomed neighborhood children and adults to a wide range of recreational activities led by a professional staff. The Club House eventually outlived its original purposes and was sold.
In 1956 the parish opened the new Memorial Parish House on the north side of the church. Today the Parish House is the weekday home of the Crocus Hill Pre-School.
As the neighborhood around St. John’s began to change, with a more transient population replacing older single-family homes, the parish saw the need to reassess its relationship with its neighbors, so much so that by the 1970s the congregation was active in the civil rights movement, promoting voting rights, staffing a women’s center, and housing refugees. Various programs were also established in the Parish House to answer the needs of local children, especially through recreational and reading programs.
In recent years the parish has been attracting new members, including single people and young families, who have found that St. John’s worship life, its community and outreach, have a great deal to offer a wide diversity of people, from a range of socio-economic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, who seek God in their lives and in the neighborhood.