“One-hundred years of deferred maintenance” was how Rev. Susan Barnes described a project to repair the bell tower at St. John’s Episcopal Church at 42nd & Sheridan.
“It’s basically tilting and falling,” church member Barb Nicol explained.
So this year, church members undertook a capital campaign to fix the tower and renovate classrooms in the church basement. They set a $1.7-million fundraising goal and aimed to complete the work by September, in time for the 100th anniversary of the first service in the church.
They’re not only on track to complete the project next month, but they’ve also surpassed the fundraising goal by about $300,000. That’s also given them a jump start on a social justice fund created as part of the campaign to be used for local causes.
“We are very happy that at this place in our history we can do this work,” Barnes said. “The generosity of members at all levels of capacity has been very moving.”
It’s a generosity that’s ingrained in the church’s history, members and leaders say. According to church archives, in 1903 members donated about $36, or about $937 in today’s money, for a new hospital. They had $17 in the treasury at the time.
Later, church members were leaders in the sobriety movement and were on the forefront of marriage equality, according to member Craig Gudorf, who ran the capital campaign.
“We just feel like our tradition kind of calls us to engage and not just talk about it but do something about it,” he said.
The church has a healthy track record of service work both domestically and abroad, according to member Mark Lindberg, who is chair of the Outreach Committee deciding how best to use the new fund. Its work includes efforts related to shelter, housing and food.
Lindberg said they’d like to find a shorter-term opportunity and a medium-range goal for using the fund. He added that he’d like to engage younger members of the church in the grant-making process, citing a Minneapolis Foundation model for doing so.
The committee’s work won’t get started in earnest until closer to 2018, Lindberg said. In the meantime, church members are preparing for the construction work to be completed. They’re planning a celebration to dedicate the new bell tower and preparing for the new classrooms to open this fall. Linden Hills Child Care rents the space.
They’ll also be opening a time capsule inside the church’s cornerstone that was laid about 100 years ago, Barnes said.
Gudorf said people feel a strong connection to the church. It has a thriving youth program, he said, and people want to see their kids raised in a church that’s healthy.
“I’m not surprised that our congregation was really generous,” he said.
About 700 people are members of the parish, which is part of the American branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church’s pillars are children and service, Barnes said, and the community gathers around them.
“It’s a really warm, welcoming place,” she said.
The church began as a Sunday school back in 1897, and children have been at the center of church activities ever since, according to member Jane Gilgun, who is working on a church history. The Sunday school provided a place for parents to leave their children as they toured the area looking for lots around Lake Harriet.
The congregation bought the first of three lots on which St. John’s stands in 1904. The church was incorporated as a parish in November 1916, and building began that year. The first service was Sept. 16, 1917.
This year’s renovation work included excavating the entire north side of the building. The church is creating a new entrance there and is renovating the classrooms used by its Sunday school program. The daycare may expand into that space.