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Community Roots - Churches

St. John's Church

St. John’s Heritage
Contributed by Addie VanderMel

                In 1853, 22 members were dismissed from London Bridge Baptist Church for the purpose of constituting the new congregation known as St. John’s Baptist Church of Holland Swamp Road.  We do not know who these people were as the early church records were destroyed by fire.

                A few of the family names that were members in the early days were:  Sawyer, Hewitt, Toxey, Litchfield, Seneca, Whitehurst, Gilbert, Brown, Spratley, Widgeon, Luxford, Miller, Gilbert, Flanagan and Woodhouse.

                A recent “Family Tree” has been prepared of families who have ties dating back to several generations.  Many of the same names appear with the addition of Price, Harrell, Jurgensen and Hargrove.

                The church originally had plastered walls with beaded pine ceiling, canted on all sides.  The pine ceiling still remains.  The ceiling was done by Walter Woodhouse.  The original flooring was wide 6” pine floor board.  A pump organ was used during the service and a small boy pumped it for playing.  Members arrived on unpaved roads by horse and buggy-tied up to one of the big oak trees in front.  A hitching ring used for this purpose was uncovered when the tree was removed due to damage from a lightening strike.  Slaves used an outside stairway to reach the gallery.

                During the Civil War years members were scattered and many lost to death and the church struggled to remain open as the war progressed.  Interest rekindled in 1869 and by 1889, there were 25 members and they shared Pastor Frank Clark with London Bridge.  After the Civil War, the gallery for slaves was removed and the vestibule and steeple added.

                In 1904 L.D. and Annie Bateman (Malbon) sold the parsonage (Venner Property) to St. John’s for the sum of $1.00.  This was used as a parsonage until 1941.

                Gas lights were added in the early 1900’s.  Gas was manufactured on site by use of carbide pellets placed into a large storage tank housed in a small building “outback”.  Heat was provided by a pot bellied stove in center of sanctuary which was later replaced with coal stoves on each side of the building, which were tended by members on Sunday morning.

                A new organ was purchased in 1908.  “Music school” or choir practice as we now call it was conducted by a retired gentleman who would come out weekly from Norfolk on the train and stay overnight with families.

                The wooden floor was carpeted around 1910.  In 1913 four oak collection plates were ordered along with “note” hymnals.

                In the 1940’s, Rev. Walter J. Meade who was pastor of Norview Baptist Church held worship service in the afternoon, after preaching at Norview in the morning.  Our Sunday School was also held in the afternoon.  There were no Sunday School rooms so Sunday School was held in the sanctuary with the ages meeting in various corners and in the center.  Pews were in three sections, with center pews and two aisles reaching to the side walls.  For the worship service, men sat on one side of the church and women and children on the other.  Sometimes in winter, everyone gathered around the coal stove for the worship service.

                Wings were added to both sides of the original building in the early 1950’s.  The wings included rest rooms, classrooms and a kitchen on the north and classrooms on the south.  In 1966 new pews were purchased for the sanctuary.  The education building was built in 1968 with renovation and addition to the building in 1998.

                St. John’s has had its ups and downs like most churches.  We feel that we are on the upswing now.  Plans are being made to build a new sanctuary in the future but the old sanctuary will be moved and preserved.


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