St. John of the Cross Episcopal Church, Bristol, Indiana

During the first months of 1843 believers in the Protestant Episcopal faith posted fliers about the town of Bristol, Indiana. The flier invited one and all to a scheduled April 25th meeting “to organize a Protestant Episcopal Parish.”

The meeting was successful and the Church’s first two wardens (Albert Roys and Henry Hanford) and three vestry men (Thomas Wheeler, Henry Fowler and Edward Lansing) assumed their positions of responsibility. Two days later, April 27, 1843, the newly elected group met again and signed articles of Association with the Protestant Episcopal Church; thus binding body and soul to the beliefs of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

From that time in history, events moved fairly rapidly and the vestry secured its first priest (Reverend Richard S. Adams) by July of that year. Reverend Adams, a missionary rector serving in Mishawaka, Indiana, traveled some thirty miles to Bristol, Indiana every third week and conducted mass in Tom Wheeler’s flour mill storeroom. Group leaders held their own prayer services on the interim Sundays.

On December 27, 1843, the Samuel Judson family signed over a deed for approximately one acre of land to the parish. Two days later on December 29, 1843 the Right Reverend Jackson Kemper, D.D., Missionary Bishop of the Northwest and Bishop in Charge of the Diocese of Indiana sanctified the plot of ground and laid the cornerstone of today’s St. John of the Cross Episcopal Church.

Since the property donated was in virgin woods the land had to be cleared by hand. The fallen timbers were sorted, stacked, milled and finally cut to fit into framing for walls, ceiling, and flooring for today’s existing structure. The Judson family milled the lumber and donated enough native walnut lumber to trim out the nave, sanctuary, and pews which still serve parishioners today.

Money for the project was in short supply, so Ann Jeannette Burnham Judson (wife of Samuel) took things into her own hands in 1844. Funded by her own money, Ann traveled by stagecoach east to Philadelphia, New York, and Boston to call on her wealthy friends for financial support in the construction of the Church.

Monies raised by Ann’s first trip were enough to complete the foundation and frame the structure. Ann would have to make two more trips east before enough money was raised to finish Saint John of the Cross Church.

Stained Glass window inside churchBecause of Ann Judson’s vision and fund raising ability, a debt free church was consecrated May 8, 1851. The modest sized white clapboard structure was complete with bell tower and geometrically patterned stained glass windows. Much of the interior beauty of the structure comes from the original stained glass windows and from the solid native walnut the craftsman used to finish out the nave, sanctuary and the pews. Today’s altar, credence table, front and Bishop’s chair are also as they were in 1851.

In 1875 the church secured the adjacent property to the east for a rectory to house the priest, which has now become the parking lot. Parishioners proudly boast of the structure being the only one of the kind (pre-dating 1850) in existence in the Northern Indiana Diocese. It should be noted that lying in peace just a few yards south of the church in the church yard is Ann Jeannette Judson, the original matriarch of St. John of the Cross Church in Bristol.

The next significant historical moment was recorded on St. Matthew’s day, September 21, 1891. The Daughters of the King placed the two stone stops at the front door of the Church, that remain in use today.

The next major change in the structure occurred in 1968 when it became apparent the building was literally falling into it’s Michigan-style basement. Parishioners launched a $30,000 multi phase project. The first phase would secure the structure’s foundation and add a small kitchenette, parish office, furnace room and restroom in the basement.

Phase Two included the addition of a sacristy or annex that was complementary to the original Greek revival architectural style. This section of the building was dedicated as a memorial to the Rev. Henry Streeter (1907-1917). Almost all of the labor was supplied by his sons; Edward, Charles, Gilbert and Henry.

In June of 1980 the church, cemetery and rectory were placed on the national Registry of Historical Places.

The Right Reverend John Tinsely, Bishop of Bristol, England acting under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was present and ceremoniously re-consecrated the site.

With the need to expand, the help of an architectural firm was sought that could build on the present style. A simple white clapboard Greek Revival Building, accented by a steeple and lancet windows. The additions were so well incorporated the distinctive silhouette has been maintained, and the close family atmosphere has been enhanced.

During construction, Deacon Alvin Zunkel utilized the original walnut and fashioned holders for the processional candles and the Cross carried in processions as well. Also seats for the Acolytes and other servers at the Altar. Another craftsman, Robert Streeter, used the original hand made nails and fashioned crosses for all parishioners.

In the midst of planning expansion of the Church here in Bristol, the parish committed to building a church for a small parish in Honduras. Raising money for both projects was an arduous but uplifting task.

St. John of the Cross Church has moved into its third century, in continuous use as a place of worship and fellowship through the 1800’s, the 1900’s, and now the 2000’s. Generations of people have been baptized, married, and buried in the church. St. John’s is a congregation which respects its past and can incorporate that into the future as it continues to grow and draw new members and ideas in the forward thinking.

Throughout its history, St. John of the Cross has drawn a congregation dedicated to the people and their home for faith, people willing to roll up their sleeves when renovation was needed, both physically and spiritually.

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