A Capsule History of St. John's Parish, Mount Rainier
St. John’s Episcopal/Anglican Church and the City of Mount Rainier celebrated their Centennials within six months of each other during 2009-10. St. John’s Chapel, as it was originally known, was founded on October 17, 1909. The city’s charter was granted by the Maryland legislature the following April. The structures on the property at 34th Street and Rainier Avenue were completed in their present state by 1969, and a 75th Anniversary banquet was held in the Parish Hall in October of 1984.
Originally St. John’s, like most churches built prior to the mid-20th Century, had a membership that mostly resided nearby, but this had begun to change during the ’70’s as many residents moved to more distant suburbs or beyond. The year 1987 saw the passing from this life of the last two parishioners who had attended the first service in 1909.
Also, what had started out as an all-white congregation had gradually assumed a more multicultural character. The Rector during the late ‘80’s, the Rev. W. Thomas Engram, was an immigrant from Newfoundland, Canada, and had a particular empathy for people starting a new life in a new land. During the 1980’s the parish saw many new members arrive from West Africa and the Caribbean region, and by the turn of the new century the majority of the adult parishioners were immigrants from these parts of the world. The single largest contingent hails originally from Sierra Leone, but there are approximately 15 native lands currently represented, including the United States.
The Episcopal Church in the United States traces its origins to the Church of England and it is one of the national churches that belong to the worldwide association of daughter churches of that denomination known as the Anglican Communion. But in most other nations such churches are known as Anglican rather than Episcopal. To make the relationship clear, over the past quarter century many American Episcopal churches, including St. John’s, began referring to themselves as “Episcopal/Anglican.”
Until the 1980’s the parish was known in the community for its rummage sales and Christmas bazaars. But over the years, attendance at these kinds of “church socials” gradually declined, especially in congregations like St. John’s whose newer members were not so familiar with these traditions. In 1988, however, the parish observed its first International Day to celebrate the cultures – and especially the foods – of our various homelands. Other annual events that have been added to the calendar since then are a mid-summer Choir Festival and an end-of-summer or early fall Tea Party; members of the community are always welcome at these events.
Fr. Tom Engram retired as Rector in January of 1994 after 15 years’ service, the longest tenure of any of our clergy to date. Under the leadership of Rev. Larry Donathan, Rector between 1997 and 2003, the parish first became involved in a community outreach program with members preparing and serving meals at Christ House, a residential facility in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood in Washington.
St. John’s also now engages in two community outreach efforts providing assistance to people in Mount Rainier and neighboring communities. Unfortunately these programs have been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, although we have been able to maintain a monthly food distribution with help from the Diocese and friends of the parish. The suspended programs are: On alternate Saturday mornings beginning at 11 a.m., members are on hand to distribute packages of non-perishable foods to people in need. And on the second Saturday of each month a hot meal is served in the parish hall as part of a rotating outreach effort in cooperation with the Capital Area Food Bank. St. John’s has also been represented among the exhibitors at Mount Rainier Day festivities in several of the past years.
At the present time there are approximately 150 households represented in the membership. Less than ten percent now reside within Mount Rainier, though there are several members from adjoining towns and relatively nearby areas such as Silver Spring and Riverdale. We also have representation from as far away as Northern Virginia and Baltimore.