It seems that 175th anniversaries don’t come too often, but for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charlestown, the church’s 175th milestone couldn’t come at a better time.
Rev. Thomas Mousin sat down with the Patriot-Bridge recently to talk over the excitement around the coming anniversary and how it has contributed to an energy that was already building within the community for the past several years.
As with many old churches in the Boston area, there was a time when St. John’s pews were mostly empty on Sundays, save a few die-hard members who put hard work and sweat equity into keeping the ministry fresh and the buildings maintained. However, those days are gone and Mousin said there has been a renaissance at the Parish in the years leading up to the big anniversary – making the milestone even more of a compelling story.
“This is happening at a time that’s already exciting at the Parish,” said Mousin. “It just enables us to build on the momentum we’ve had here…A handful of long-time members really kept it going through a number of years when attendance was down and funding was down. However, we’ve grown quite a bit in the last 10 years and anticipate growing even more. Our growth in recent years has been the result of several factors: the faithfulness of long-time parishioners who persevered in maintaining the parish during lean times, gifted lay leadership, a strong formation program for children and worship that features the beauty and strength of the Anglican tradition, including fine music and preaching that speaks to heart and mind.”
Part of that success, said Mousin, was a decision about nine years ago to bring on a full-time rector such as himself. Previously, the rector had only been a part-time person, and it hurt the continuity of the overall program at St. John’s.
“There was a big decision made about eight or nine years ago to go back to having a full-time rector,” Mousin said, noting that he is in his fourth year at St. John’s. “The church took a vote to support that fully. My predecessor was full time and I am full time. That was a significant step…I think that was the right choice and it has shown results over the last eight or nine years as the Parish has grown.”
To celebrate all of this, Mousin and the rest of the Parish will gather on Saturday, April 25, at 5:30 p.m. in the old Charlestown Five Cent Bank Building in Thompson Square. The Gala will celebrate the years of existence and also unveil historic slides taken by former Rector Wolcott Cutler – who presided over the Parish from 1924 to 1959.
“He was the rector and was also a central figure in preserving important Charlestown sites – including the Training Field – when urban renewal and highways threatened to change the community,” said Mousin.
While the celebration recognizes the beginning of the church community – which started in people’s homes in 1840 and located in its current building in 1841 – Mousin said the celebration is meant for everyone in Charlestown.
“In many ways, we really want this to be a community event,” said Mousin. “Really, it’s an expression of our gratitude for being a part of Charlestown for 175 years. We made a specific choice to have it outside the church so that more and more community members could learn about us in terms of what we offer in our ministry and our programming.”
Part of the outreach effort to the community will include alerting folks to the rich resource that is the campus and buildings of the Parish.
In addition to the architecturally beautiful worship space – both inside and out – the church also has an expansive function hall and classroom space. Currently, they host popular musical concerts in the worship space, and have 12-step programs in the classrooms and a local soccer program in the hall. To make the facilities more warm and welcome – in the most literal sense – the Parish recently completed a full heating system overhaul.
Mousin said that through a grant and loan program, St. John’s was able to switch from heating oil to natural gas and invest in new boilers and heating equipment. It has taken a cold and drafty building and made it efficient and warm, he said.
“There were Sundays in the past when no matter how long the furnace was running, it just never quite got warm enough,” he said. “In the church, we’re definitely experiencing much more even heat this year and it’s not as loud. The old system was very loud. We had a concert here in January and people commented that it was nice to be able to hear so clearly without the furnace noise…It’s one of those less visible parts of the infrastructure people don’t think about, but it is quite critical to our well beings. Certainly, our hope and intention is these building will have more and more of a community use that is not just by the church. We hope that St. John’s can really be a place for a meeting of community groups and organizations. Improving the infrastructure is part of that goal.”
Saturday’s gala event, however, is only the beginning of a celebration that will continue.
On May 16, St. John’s will hold its 175th Anniversary concert in the church building, where Charlestown residents Nancy Armstrong (a noted Soprano singer) will perform.
“This is our main event, but we see this as continuing well into next year to mark the occasion,” Mousin said. “We’ll have other events to invite the community to celebrate this historic year.”