Our History

 

History of St. Johns

 

In 1892, a little less than three years after the great land rush, a small group of Norman Episcopalians founded a "preaching station," served by St. Paul's mission in Oklahoma City. There were then five families of Episcopalians in Norman, a town of about 1200, already called the "city of churches." A special neighbor, the University of Oklahoma, was also founded in 1892.
 
The driving force of the tiny congregation was Englishman Thomas Wiggins, poet and mapmaker, merchant and gentleman, warden and lay reader, who almost single handedly built the congregation and held it together. Wiggins literally died in harness, passing away in his sleep after he lay down to rest in the minute vestry of his tiny church. 

 

The congregation grew slowly, and was still without a church in 1893, when they were visited by Oklahoma's first bishop, Francis Key Brooke. He preached in the Presbyterian Church "kindly loaned for the purpose." During this visit, the bishop named the tiny mission St. John's. 


In 1894 the little congregation bought three lots and began to seek donations for a building. Bishop Brooke laid the cornerstone in March, and in May the tiny church held its first service. The building would be called the "little church", and would faithfully serve Norman Episcopalians for many years. Its first memorial window was given by the family of young Annie Heddons, killed in a tornado the year before. It is still part of St. John's, built into a gable of the parish hall.

 

Early in the 20th Century ... 

 

For years the little congregation struggled for existence. It remained a reaching station, served from time to time by a tiny band of traveling Episcopal clergy. In 1902, served by a dedicated lay reader from St. Paul's, there were often no more than fifteen or twenty people at services. 


In time, thanks to Harold Bowen, an energetic young lay-reader who would in later years be Bishop of Colorado, the church began to grow. Many of the congregation were University students; one regular member was an English bulldog who attended with his student masters and lay at the reader's feet. "He was a gentleman," said Bowen, "but I can't say quite that about all the boys who came." 


In August, 1908, the Little Church was moved to the block where St. John's stands today. And the congregation grew, at last getting its first permanent leader, Vincent Griffith. An eastern architect in his forties, he served St. John's first as lay-reader, then as deacon, and finally as the Little Church's first priest. Father Griffith's replacement was Bernard Lovgren, young and enthusiastic. He needed to be both, for only seven people appeared for his first service. But he soon made his presence felt, and on his fourth Sunday the shabby little church was stuffed with 87 souls. 


In 1922 the little church was made substantially larger and more attractive. The Annie Heddons window was moved over the altar, the church was carpeted, and a new organ was installed. Father Lovgren continued to draw new people to the little church, and the congregation swelled to as many as 150 at services. Father Lovgren left in 1927, but he had built well. He was followed by Father Evan Edwards, a combat chaplain in World War I, and English-born John Evans. And in the summer of 1930, Father Marius Lindloff became rector. 


There was much rebuilding to do, for only three parishioners attended his first service. But the congregation grew again and began to thrive under his leadership. And at last, in the Spring of 1932, the new St. John's began to rise, a lovely building of traditional English and collegiate-gothic style. 


The first services in the new building were held September 19, 1932. Two weeks later, the first ordination at St. John's took place. By the time Father Lindloff left in 1940, St. John's had steadily grown into one of the strongest parishes in Oklahoma. Lindloffs successors in the 1940s and 1950s - Father Michael Martin and Father Joseph Young carried on his work.

 

Since the 1950's ... 

 

Father Young left St. John's in 1963 and was replaced by Father Otto Anderson. He was followed by the Reverend David Penticuff, who served until 1978. In that year, he was replaced by the Reverend Doctor Joe Ted Miller. During Father Miller's tenure, the church completed its Cloister, the Commons Patio, and the 2001 Addition.

St. John’s Episcopal Church


235 W Duffy St | Norman, OK 73069

 

(405) 321-3020

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