St. John's Episcopal Church has survived over 180 years despite natural disasters, floods, economic hard times and a great citywide fire. Yet its parish has flourished, devoted energy to outreach, contributed four bishops, and remained dedicated to the celebration of the Word.
Located at the corner of Liberty and First Streets in downtown Troy, St. John's is full of history. Its remarkable brownstone steeple, one of only a few left standing in the country, houses a splendid Meneely 11-bell chime; its Tiffany and other stained glass windows are treasures; and its large parish facilities and lovely gated garden are truly gifts. It is important to note that, through the many years of floods and fires, it was the generosity of members of the parish that renovated, restored and refurbished the facility every time disaster occurred.
While the church is beautiful, it is the works of this parish that mark its history. Its beginnings reflected a parish focused on missionary efforts, an open and diverse gathering of families who have always had great concern for community outreach. In 1831, the second year of the parish, for example, the parish contributed to the support of a struggling Black church in Fayetteville, North Carolina, at a time when doing so was unpopular.
Throughout the history of the parish there have been times of great financial concern, particularly after fires that, on several occasions, damaged various parts of the church. The flood of 1913, which ravaged the city, also did great damage to the church and virtually destroyed its organ. The Cluett family, whose shirt collar business later became the Arrow Shirt Company, restored the organ. Their efforts were gratefully received considering the importance of music to the parish. Other parishioners made contributions that are memorialized throughout the sanctuary. In the early 1900s, the parish, plagued with financial woes, was severely affected by World War I, losing many young men in the conflict.
St. John's has long-standing ties with area educational institutions. Emma Willard, a major figure in the movement to educate women, was an active and devoted member of the parish, as was Palmer C. Rickets, longtime Director of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the early 20th century. Mrs. Willard encouraged students at her Troy Female Seminary to attend St. John's Church, teach in the Sunday School and sing in the choir. The church's brownstone spire is dedicated to the memory of her niece, Jane Porter Lincoln, church organist and founder of St. John's music program. Mrs. Willard was also responsible for spearheading efforts to build a missionary school in Athens, Greece, actively supported by the Women of St. John's for many years. The church also sponsored a number of satellite churches in the area until they became strong enough to survive on their own.
St. John's can claim to have given early training to at least four bishops of the Episcopal Church: Henry Codman Potter (1859-66), Nelson M. Burroughs (1930-39), both former rectors; William Morris Barker, who served as an assistant (1878-80); and, most recently, Supply Priest Fr. Mike Chapman. Burroughs' rectorate was particularly important in the history of the parish because of his active role in the Depression era to assist families and particularly unemployed men.
St. John's has an enduring tradition of outreach, from that 19th century missionary school in Athens to today's, active partnership with the Church of the Holy Spirit in Lascahobas, Haiti. At many points the church has sponsored satellite churches in the area until they were strong enough to survive on their own. Nelson M. Burroughs, rector during the 1930s, guided the church in assisting victims of the Great Depression, particularly families and unemployed men. (Outreach to the area's less fortunate continues today through a popular thrift shop, The Basement on First Street, Inc., serving as a small, low-cost clothing and housewares outlet for the neighborhood.)
Burroughs is also remembered in the diocese for his work to establish summer programs for youth. A spirited Youth Group is encouraged to perform service by cooking periodically for a local homeless shelter and delivering food pantry collections. The Church also reaches out to the community through music. The choir sings, the magnificent Aeolian Skinner organ is exercised in concert and the Meneely chime is rung for the community.
The traditions of encouraging education, outreach and service remain alive and well at St. John's today.