Anglican Church of St. John the Evangelist (Ottawa)

Anglican Church of St. John the Evangelist (Ottawa)

The Church of St. John the Evangelist is an Anglican church found in the heart of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, at the corner of Elgin and Somerset Streets. The church is named in honour of John the Evangelist.



In 1853, the Duke of Newcastle, in a letter to the Earl of Elgin, then Governor General of the Canadas, deeded a piece of land on the corner of Sussex Drive and Mackenzie Street for the construction of a chapel for Anglican soldiers stationed in Bytown. In 1861, a small school and “chapel of ease” was built, under the direction of the parish of Christ Church. Dr. Lauder was the first Incumbent of this house of God.

By 1871, the chapel of ease was named St John’s and Bishop John Lewis wished to establish it as the pro-cathedral of the Diocese of Ontario. St. John’s soon became known as The Bishop’s Chapel, a name it was to have until 1874. In that year, when the congregation of “goodly and godly” people was sufficiently large, the Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist was consecrated and the Reverend H. Pollard was installed as the first Rector.

Growth and Present Location

In 1889, a furore erupted in St George’s Church which was to have a dramatic effect upon the life of St. John’s. A small core of thirty people left St. George’s over a dispute centering on the liturgy, and this group bought a piece of land at the corner of Elgin and Somerset Streets from James McLaren of Buckingham, Quebec. Mr. J. Hames was hired as the architect and construction began on a new Anglican church. The total agreed cost of the new church was $20,000 and the cornerstone was laid on October 21, 1890.

Within three months, a small congregation was worshipping in the unfinished structure. The first baptism was held on May 15, 1890, when the Rector, John Gorman, christened his son, John. At the annual Vestry of 1891, Father Gorman agreed not to tamper with either the theology or the liturgy of the parish without a two-thirds agreement from the parish. In March, 1891, the church was completed and consecrated as Grace Church.

At this time, St. John’s (Sussex Drive) established a small mission church in Lowertown and this was known as St. Augustine's, Anglesea Square. The church and property were sold in 1921 and the mission was soon demolished. In 1907, the federal government offered to purchase St. John’s in order to erect new government buildings. The people continued to worship at St. John’s until January 12, 1912, when fire destroyed the building. After the fire, it was suggested that St. John’s join with St. Luke’s on Somerset Street, an idea which did not appeal to either congregation. A union was then proposed between St. John’s and Grace Church, and on November 3, 1913, a new parish was constituted by Vestry and became known as the Church of St. John the Evangelist. The Reverend J. Gorman was Rector, assisted by Canon Pollard as Rector Emeritus.

Interior Design

The interior construction of the building is unique in that it is entirely of wood, although the outer walls are stone and brick. The sombre interior of the church accentuates the beauty of the many stained-glass windows. Above the Elgin Street entrance is the Ascension window. It complements the window above the main altar which depicts the life of Christ. Each of the windows in the church has been given by parishioners as a thankoffering and they range in age from the Angel (1891) right up to 1990. Each speaks of the mystery and joy of Christ and of the church's commissioning to be Christ's ministers and disciples.

The organ, located in the northeast corner of the church, was built in 1977 by Gabriel Kney of London, Ontario. It contains some 2,000 hand-made pipes, including a unique rank of fanfare trumpets which project horizontally into the church. The area beside the organ is believed to have been the original chapel of the church. This area is now mainly used for choral and instrumental presentations. The Warriors’ Chapel, completed in 1950 on the site of the old parish tennis courts, stands as a memorial to those of the parish who died in the wars of the twentieth century. It is described as a “quiet and lonely place” for meditation and prayer.

Recent history

St. John's describes itself as "a large progressive church with emphasis on liturgical renewal, music, and social service."

The parish's current liturgy is based in the Book of Alternative Services (1985), and music for worship is taken from the broad repertoire of sacred music, representing everything from renaissance and baroque motets to contemporary spirituals and songs of praise.

St. John's has a long history of being an open, welcoming church for gay people. The first rector, Canon Gorman, had a son, Eric (1892-1958), who was gay. Remembering him, one elderly parishioner commented, "back then we didn't talk about it, but everybody knew and loved him just the same." In the 1960s and 1970s gay men living in Centretown were active members of St. John's. In the mid 1980s when Allen Box was the rector, the AIDS epidemic struck, and gay people and their families came to the church looking for support. Under Allen's direction, a ministry to people with AIDS was begun.

In 1991 Garth Bulmer became the rector of St. John's Church, and he has been an outspoken advocate for gay people. He has been featured in church publications and in the secular press as a strong proponent of the blessing of same-sex relationships by the Church. His leadership has resulted in growth in both membership and active ministry at St. John's. The parish is frequently associated with this issue because it actively and publicly support the participation of gay people in the Church, and the participation of the Church in the lives of gay people.

While not a direct ministry of the parish, The Well is an Anglican Community Ministry. It offers a drop-in day program open to all women and their children. The Well enhances each woman's ability to function independently in the community, to the best of her capabilities, through the use a facility, practical services and support. The Well is housed at St. John's and supported by parishioners and clergy.

External links

* [ Official site]

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