St. John’s Episcopal Church

 

 

 

 

Photos courtesy of Edith Farrington

 

A Brief History of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Sodus, New York

by Becky McKee

 

The little white church on Main St. is the oldest structure in Sodus still used for its original purpose. “On August 21, 1826 several inhabitants of the town of Sodus met for the purpose of “establishing, organizing and incorporating a Protestant Episcopal Church”. This is the beginning of the recorded history of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Sodus. Services had been previously held in homes in the community. The committee moved quickly to get a certificate of incorporation and the cornerstone was laid on September 26, 1826. Money to erect the building was raised by the sale of pews. The building cost $3000. The walls, floor and roof were constructed but the building remained in an unfinished condition for several years due to lack of finances. On September 8, 1834 Bishop Onderdonk consecrated the beautiful little church. The exterior today looks much as it did then.

The first Rector was Dr. Albert Hoyle. During the first 25 years various improvements were made to the property but funds were very tight and at one point St. John’s lost its Rector due to lack of funds.

Of interest is that the cemetery behind the church was laid out in 1828 and at that time it cost $1.00 per family to be buried there. Thirty-five years later this was amended to cost $1.00 per person. That rule has never been changed and there is no record of the burying ground being closed.

In 1860 the church purchased the house next door for $2000 to serve as the Rectory. This was also the first time women were mentioned in the Vestry minutes. The Ladies Society had raised and donated $25 to the church. They were given permission by the Vestry to stain rails and desks and to paint walls as they saw fit. In 1863,

a bell was donated by Delancey Stowe of Clyde. Despite the fact that the War Between the States was going on, these were fruitful times for St. John’s. Between 1859-63 over 300 children attended Sunday School.

In 1866 there was no Rector so the rectory was sold and the money used for repairs and improvements to the church. ln 1874 the Vestry bought a parcel of land on Smith St. for $337.50 and constructed a rectory “with all the extras” for $1235. This house was sold in 1969 for $11,400 and the money was put toward the purchase of a home at 17 Orchard Terrace which was used for the rectory.

It was 1883 before a woman held an official position in the church. Mrs. Steward was elected as “collector”. Times were very bad financially and the church was in disrepair. The Vestry asked permission from the Bishop to tear the original structure down and rebuild. Thankfully for prosperity, the Bishop refused. The Vestry began a solicitation for funds and within two months $2000 was raised to complete the necessary repairs. The church remained much as it was for the next 100 years.

Throughout the years there were periods when St. John’s had no Rector due to lack of funds. During these lean times lay readers filled in. The salary of the Rector rose from $300 to $850 and in 1919 it was $1020 per year. The average attendance during the early 1900’s was 49. ln 1921 Rev. John Harding took his first service at St. John’s. That year began an expansion of the work of the Episcopal Church in Wayne County. During that time there was St. John’s in Sodus, Christ Church, Sodus Point, St. Luke’s, Sodus Center, St. Stephen‘s, Wolcott and St. John’s, Clyde. Our choir was vested in 1925 and for many years was considered the best choir in Sodus. There was also a Children’s Choir.

The 1926 centennial year major renovations were made to St. John’s: excavation under the church, a new heating system, kitchen, toilets and a large meeting room. The estimated cost was $5245 but the actual cost was $7760.90. Father Harding had the longest tenure so far but after 9+ years he retired and Rev. John Williamson began his tenure as Rector which lasted 18 years. He saw the church through the depression and difficult financial times with his salary often in arrears. He participated in all things for the betterment of Sodus and endeared himself not only to his parishioners but to the community. Near the end of the depression 3 large gifts and legacies were given to St. John’s. $1600 was used to buy a pipe organ. Rev. Williamson resigned in 1948. The following year Rev. Daniel Bennett became Rector. God had blessed St. John’s with three successive wonderful ministers. During Rev. Bennett’s time at St. John’s much redecorating was done. At this time the pews were painted white with stained trim which is how they are today.

In 1951 St. John’s celebrated its 125 anniversary with a daylong celebration. This began a period of prosperity for the church. It was with consternation and regret that the Vestry accepted the resignation of Father Bennett in 1953. Father Daniel Bennett was replaced by Father Edwin Bennett. Attendance began to decline and Father Bennett expressed his concern as recorded in the Vestry minutes. He resigned in 1957. Fortunately lay readers continued services for two years until Father Richard Cahoon arrived in I959. Our parish hall was built in 1959 at a cost of $43,000.

Throughout the 60”s the Sodus Cooperative Nursery, Board of Education and the Cub Scouts met at St. John’s. After a school fire the primary grades met there too. In the early years there had been 3 Women’s Group but they combined to become the Women of St. John’s which is still very active today.

With the resignation in I962 of Father Cahoon, Christ Church, Sodus Point and St. John’s became separate parishes. In 1968 the last full time Rector came to St. John’s, Rev. Thomas Dixon. Attendance increased at both church and Sunday School. His last wedding was performed in 1977 in which he married William McKee whose family is on the first list of communicants in I826…John SwaIe—Elizabeth Swale Preston—Mary Preston Gaylord—-W.T. GayIord—CasteIIe Gaylord BoIler—CaroIine Boller McKee-Wlliam McKee. In I994 Rev. Thomas Gramley baptized Connor Rutledge the 8th generation of that family to be baptized at St. John’s.

Rev. Don Parker was the next Rector but during I979-80 there was great financial strain and differing theological viewpoints between Father Parker and the congregation. The Bishop was asked to intervene and in I980 Father Parker resigned and the Vestry voted to go to a part time Rector. In March of I981 St. John’s hired its first female Rector. Rev. Christopher Steele, who served as Interim until I982 when Rev. Bonnie Vanderlinder took the job. She stayed until I986. Saundra Cordingley became Rector that year. Youth and ChiIdren’s Groups were very active. The Acolyte Program was bustling. Cub Scouts and AA, AIAnon and AIATeen were meeting at St. John’s. In order to save money the Rectory at 17 Orchard Terrace was sold for $54,000. Through these years many upgrades and repairs were made to the church. Curtains were purchased for the Parish Hall and new choir robes were purchased. In I990 Rev. Cordingley took a position in Jordan, New York and the Rev. Thomas Gramley became Rector.

Our first mission statement was written in 1991. A 1996 questionnaire revealed that 66% of the total church membership attended church. Of that 66%, 70% were women, 66% were married and 69% were over the age of 50. During Rev. GramIey’s time at St. John’s the Sunday School was very active and each year we confirmed many children. The Grange, Eastern Farm Workers and Girl Scouts were added to those using our facility. When Fr. Gramley left on leave the Rev. Daniel Pope became Interim Rector in I995. After a year the Vestry and Diocesan Staff decided to end Rev. GramIey’s leave of absence and call a new Rector. Fr. Dan Pope became our Rector. This was a time of division in the church, half of the congregation wanted to wait for Fr. GramIey’s return and the rest wanted to move on. There was much controversy. Fr. Pope was able to help us heal and encouraged us to move on with what needed to be done as a church. Our Sunday School was small but active under the leadership of Diane Kush. The most outstanding accomplishment was the Vestry deciding to make the Parish Hall and lower level of the church handicap accessible by installing an elevator. $75,000 was raised to have this installed.

Rev. Dan Pope continues on as one of our Associated Rectors. He is much loved. In 2001 we prepared for our 175th Anniversary. A Penny Quilt was made by parishioners to be displayed with one done in 1901. In September we had a catered dinner in the Parish Hall to celebrate our anniversary. A number of past priests attended, history was revisited and a beautiful booklet was presented with a detailed history of our church. 2004 was a watershed year for St. John’s and the Episcopal Churches of Wayne County. Bishop McKeIvey decided that because of the shortage of priests and the lack of funds in each church for supporting a full time Rector that a cluster of churches, sharing one Rector should be established. This became known as NPEM (Northeast Partners in Episcopal Ministry). A covenant was approved by St. Mark’s, Newark and St. John’s, Sodus. The Rev. Carmen Seufert was called to become Rector of NPEM.

In 2007 Christ Church, Sodus Point, a summer chapel became part of NPEM and in 2009 Grace Church, Lyons joined. During Rector Seufert’s tenure St. John’s began their numerous outreaches that continue today. Unfortunately our Sunday School ceased and attendance declined. This has been a difficult transition for each of the churches and we have not established a NPEM identity. This is one of the problems facing our new Rector, Fr. Andrew D”Angio White who joined us as Associate Rector in 2012 and was installed in 2013 as the full time Rector of NPEM in a beautiful service on the same day his infant daughter, Margaret Rose was baptized.

In October we dedicated a new Sunday School Room in memory of Caroline McKee whose memorial money was used to renovate and furnish the room. Caroline’s Place is open every Sunday at 10:15. Michelle Chace and Betty Pine are our teachers and each Sunday we have 2-13 children in attendance. Our Children’s Closet is opened 2 times a month, we serve free dinners to the community twice a month and lead Bingo at the local nursing home three times a month.

Fr. Andrew accepted a call from a church in Maine and left NPEM in November 2016. At that time it was decided that St. John’s wanted to resign from NPEM. Throughout this time the Rev. Catherine Lewis and the Rev. Dan Pope continued to lead our services. This was a very unsettled time because of financial strain and not having a Pastor. When Fr. Pope became the interim at St. Mark’s the Rev. Mary Ann Brody came on board to help with our services along with Rev. Lewis. Thanks to our Vestry under the leadership of Bill Hoehne we got through this period. We are so grateful to the Rev Brody and Rev Lewis for their services to our congregation. In September of 2017 The Rev. Dr. Michael Laver became our Deacon. He was ordained as a Priest and installed as our Rector in December. We are so thrilled to welcome Michael, his wife, Dr. Annie Laver and their delightful sons, Ben and Ham. A sense of joy, hope and a real feeling of community has returned to our wonderful little church.