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How We Got Here


The Founding of St John's Church

Our church had its beginnings in late 1854 when nine citizens of the town of Sandwich gathered for the first time as a religious society to be known as St John's Episcopal Church.  John W. Jarves, son of the founder of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Factory, was the Senior Warden and services were held in Montezuma Hall located at 10 Jarves Street.  Reverend Thomas B. Flowers , Rector of the Church of the Messiah in Woods Hole, offered his services on the first Sunday evening of each month.  The Society continued to meet in public halls for the next 45 years.



The Early Years

                                                                  The late 1800's were a difficult period for the Society and the town of Sandwich.  Six villages petitioned for

                                                                  separation from from Sandwich including Bourne, Buzzards Bay, Pocasset, Cataumet, Monument Beach and                                                                             Sagamore.  The Boston and  Sandwich Glass Factory also closed making it difficult to raise the monies needed to                                                                       build a church and pay the Rector.


                                                                  In 1896, a lot was purchased at 159 Old Main Street which measured 60 feet by 123 feet.  The fundraising efforts

                                                                  of the Woman's Guild of the church, as well as, donations from summer visitors including former president's wife                                                                     Frances F. Cleveland, resulted in $1219.75 of the needed $1600.00 for the Carpenter's estimate.  The rest was                                                                           covered through pledges and they hired Robert H. Slack of New Bedford as the architect.  He designed a small         church with a nave to seat 100 parishioners, a small sacristy, and a belltower.  Construction began on March 13, 1899.  It was decided to leave the interior woodwork natural and to paint the ceiling a robin's egg blue as it was soothing and peaceful.


The Next 60 Years

                                                                  In 1919, the present organ was given by Louis A. Warren in memory of his wife Harriet, and the church continued                                                                     to share rectors.  Camp Edwards was dedicated as a Massachusetts National Guard Camp in 1938 with a large                                                                           ceremony in town that included a 12 mile long parade.  In 1940, the camp was expanded to build Otis Air Force                                                                         Base and starting  the next year, the Parish Hall was made into a canteen for the servicemen at the base.  Through                                                                   the faithful work of the rectors serving at the church, the altar guild was formed and the Woman's Guild                                                                                     expanded.


                                                                 With the rapid growth in the population of the town of Sandwich, the vestry decided to call a permanent rector in                                                                    1969.   Reverend John H. Thomas was selected and moved into the new church rectory purchased at 178 Main Street with his wife Frances and their three sons.  To make more room for Sunday School, the Parish Hall renovation started that year with the church sitting on supports while the new space was excavated underneath the existing Parish Hall.


St John's became a center for community services including Scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous, Youth Groups, and the Red Cross Bloodmobile.  Father John Thomas expanded the community services outside of the church walls by providing pastoral counseling for the Cape Cod Council of Churches, assisting with Public Housing, formation of the local food pantry. and running the Coffee House for the Community Youth Program.  


Growth and Change

                                                                 Father John Thomas began his 11 year journey to receiving a Doctorate of Ministry in 1975 and women started to                                                                    play a significant role in the church leadership for the first time with Gail Alcorn voted in as the first woman Senior                                                                    Warden, Nel Harper who was also on the Vestry and managing the church Thrift Shop, and Louise Velsor who had                                                                    served for over a decade as Treasurer.


                                                                During this time, the church eagerly embraced the concept of shared clergy leadership between Father John                                                                             Thomas and Reverend Alan Swain who began attending services in 1980. Reverend Swain came to the Cape as                                                                         Priest in Charge of the Briarwood Conference and Retreat Center in Bourne and after St John's became an anchor                                                                     for him, he began  assisting with the services and performed pastoral care activiities at local hospitals and nursing                                                                   homes.  At the same time, Reverend Thomas brought both music and drama into St John's with the church choir                                                                       and The Glasstown Players.  


In 1992, the altar was moved forward to it's current position so the Priest could celebrate the Eucharist in close proximity to the parishioners.  The Chancel floor was extended, the communion rail moved, and the floors carpeted.  


The church Thrift Shop evolved through the years through the work of the Woman's Guild.  The first Thrift Shop was located in the Parish Hall and was only open in the summer months because the space was needed for Church School.  The shop moved to the old garage in 1968 and then to the basement under the Parish Hall.  The shop moved to its current location, 2 Jarves Street, in September of 2003 where it functions year round.  The Thrift Shop is staffed by members of the parish and community volunteers who believe that the shop provides a valuable service to the Upper Cape.  


In the early 1980's, there was a need for childcare in Sandwich and that fall, David Thomas began an after school program in the Parish Hall.  The community childcare ministry was expanded to the Sandwich Village Preshool when the church purchased the property at 163 Main Street in June of 1983.  Under the direction of Louise Pola, the Preschool continued to grow and provide important services to families.


Reverend Dr. John H. Thomas retired in June of 1993 after 34 years as Rector of St John's.  The search committee brought in a new rector, Reverend John E. McGinn, to the church in October of 1995.  Reverend McGinn moved to Sandwich with his wife Marian and his two grown children.  


Planning for the Future

                                                                The growth in the church and the community continued.  The church and Sunday School were filled to capacity                                                                          each week, and the Sandwich Village Preschool and Thrift Shop were thriving.  In 1996, the land adjacent to the

                                                                 church was up for sale and the decision was made to expand the existing church and stay in Sandwich Village.                                                                          While the architectural drawings were developed, the church continued to receive generous gifts including the 900                                                                  pound bell from the Netherlands to fill the empty belfry, and the handmade needlepoint kneelers that were                                                                              lovingly designed with biblical flowers.


                                                                A capital campaign drive was kicked off in 2000 to fund the $1.4 million expansion, chaired by Tom Moon and Jos                                                                     Schermerhorn.  With $600 thousand raised in the campaign, the expansion was split into two phases, with phase                                                                     one including increasing seating capacity to 300, increased sanctuary and choir space, expanded undercroft, new fire suppression system, gas heat, and 6 new stained glass windows, three of which were donated by Jos and Skid Schermerhorn.  


For six months during construction between October 2002 and April 2003, Saturday evening worship was held at the First Church on Main Street, and Sunday worship services were held at the Henry T. Wing School, with average weekend attendance of 205 parisioners.  The new church was dedicated by Bishop Cedarholm on October 26, 2003.


Continuing Vitality

                                                                 The church continued to thrive with increased service and Sunday School attendance, and an increase in the                                                                              number of weddings, baptisms, funerals and confirmants.  New church ministries evolved including the Caring                                                                          Ministry or Home Communications, chaired by Gail Alcorn,  which brought church bulletins and communion to                                                                          parish shut-ins.  The Prayer Chain celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2012, receiving over 1,000 requests since                                                                      it's inception in 2002.  The Junior Choir was formed with 24 youth members and five girls were installed into a                                                                            Junior Altar Guild.  Monthly healing services became a standard offering and our Columbarium was installed in                                                                         2008 with 84 niches for members' cremains.


                                                                The first St John's Golf Tournament was held in 2005 and proved to be a highly successful fundraiser and fellowship                                                                 event.  The annual Christmas Fair continued  to be a highlight and was expanded to become a substantial                                                                                   fundraiser for the church.  The addition of the Annual 4th of July Pancake Breakfast created a fun fellowship event for the church which also made St John's an important part of the July 4th traditions in Sandwich.  


Community outreach was also expanded with the Preschool at full capacity under the direction of the new director Larry Smith, and the Thrift Shop at 161 Main Street had record sales.  The monthly Gathering Meal was moved to St John's where the parishioners from Corpus Christi and First Church join the St John's parish in preparing and serving a free lunch time meal.  The church provides continual support to Alcoholics Anonymous, local Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops,  Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, local Food Pantries, Noah Shelter, Safe Harbor, Cape Cod Youth Empowerment Initiative, Hyannis Street Reach, Youth Leadership Academy, and Helping Hands of Hyannis.


St John's is thankful for all of our faithful stewards who continue to give their time, treasure, and talent to create a flourishing faith community where we enjoy spiritual liturgy, warm fellowship, opportunities for spiritual growth, and activities to serve our neighbors.


St John's Choir - circa 1928

St John's Church 1969

Church expansion in 2002

Blessing of the Animals 2014

The Historians

The early church history up to 1899 was written by Elizabeth Durham, Josephine Sterns, Carol Albright (daughter of Reverend Dr. J. C. Ayre, Jr.) and Gail Fryer.  Gail Fryer continued the church history up until 1995 and Louise Stupack completed the history through 2011.


     Download the complete History of St John's Episcopal Church 



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