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by Audrey Partington
Special to The Greater Olney News
Located at the crossroads of Olney – Georgia Avenue and Route 108 – St. John’s Episcopal Church not only seeks to be at the center of the Olney community, but to extend its outreach ministry to the world.
“A church is not a church unless it’s looking outside of its front doors,” said the Rev. Henry P. McQueen, who became the 21st minister of St. John’s Episcopal Church in the spring of 2016.
One of his first tasks was to accompany a delegation to Tanzania, the beneficiary of the church’s sale and North American distribution of African palm crosses.
A second project was to begin planning for the church’s 175th anniversary celebration in 2017. The year-long celebration included two community concerts, the use of all four of the Books of Common Prayer used throughout the church’s history, and a special service on Nov. 5 to mark the anniversary and All Saints Day.
“Thanks to those who helped make it to this day,” said The Very Reverend Ian Markham, dean of Virginia Theological Seminary, who delivered the sermon. “Through the Civil War and the Depression … those unheralded heroes gave their life in service to this congregation. Our faithfulness today will make the future possible.”
Moving from ‘transaction to transformation’
“History is wonderful, but it’s also important to move forward,” McQueen said.
Specifically, he would like the church to move “from transaction to transformation.”
That means not only giving gifts, especially at holiday time, but performing random acts of kindness.
For its part, the church has begun a project to furnish apartments on a quarterly basis for newly arrived refugees. The project is through the International Rescue Commission with approval of the State Department. St. John’s hopes to partner with another congregation to carry out that mission.
McQueen was drawn to St. John’s Episcopal Church in part for its outward focus and its many business aspects, which include the operation of St. John’s Episcopal School, founded in 1961.
While engaged in a successful business career in Pennsylvania, McQueen continued to feel drawn to the ministry.
“I couldn’t say no to God any longer,” he said. “When you say yes to God everything falls into place.”
“It was a God moment,” Diane McQueen said, recalling that they left everything when her husband entered Virginia Theological Seminary.
Not everyone in their lives understood their decision, but the couple never looked back.
St. John’s Episcopal Church was organized on June 22, 1842, as a separate congregation in St. Bartholomew’s Parish.
The church and cemetery were built on land donated by Ignatius Waters and his wife, Eliza. The 11 founding members, men and women, subscribed certain sums of money to construct a church building and elected a committee to carry out the church’s mission.
Dedicated in 1845, the church building is the oldest Episcopal Church building in continuous use in Montgomery County.
The original church building had four windows on each side and was situated on what is now the lower side of the church cemetery. In 1910, when more land was acquired on Olney-Laytonsville Road, the original church building was moved on rollers by a mule team to its present site.
Many notable people from the area are buried in the adjacent cemetery. Local schools and roads have been named for many of them, including Col. Zadok Magruder, Dr. Bird, and members of the Hines, Finneyfrock, Cashell and Nicholson families, to name a few.
A ‘loving and supportive community’
Today, the St. John’s congregation is a mixture of longtime members and those who found a church home there later in life. Many have come from Anglican churches overseas.
“We have a wonderful multicultural view,” said McQueen, who noted that last spring’s feast was attended by congregants from three dozen countries.
The 175th celebratory worship service drew many longtime members as well as alumni.
“Church has been an integral part of my life and my family’s life,” said Patricia Lansdale-Rice, who joined the church as a teenager when her family moved to the area from Illinois in 1942.
The family of her late husband, Tom Lansdale, has been members for many generations. They were married in the church, as were several of their children. She sang in the choir for 40 years and appreciated the addition of a pipe organ as well as the school.
Nancy Winchester was active in the church while her former husband, Jack Scott, was rector from 1970 to 1993. The congregation was more homogenous back then, she said.
“There’s a marvelous cross-section of people now, which is really great,” she said.
Gail Rucker, who has been a congregant since 1973.
“Historically the church has always promoted outreach in the greater geographic area and the world,” she said.
She recalled that in the 1970s, it was often described as a “small country church” in an agrarian community.
“But Rector Scott said repeatedly that we were not just a country church,” Rucker said. “The church had a world view.”
This was demonstrated when St. John’s became the North American distributor for the African Palms program in 1976.
Rucker’s husband Leslie invited his second cousin, Anne Beverly Kerr, to the service. Kerr is the great-granddaughter of Peter M. Boyden, the eighth minister of St. John’s, who served from 1897 to 1907. Boyden was related to John Hanson, the first president of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation, who served from 1781 to 1782. He has been referred to as the country’s first president, but the position was not established until the Constitution was ratified in 1789.
Shari Shambaugh was active in the church from 1995 to 2005, when her husband Benjamin served as rector. The couple now lives in Maine. Their children attended the school, where their scout troop also met.
“We couldn’t have asked for a more loving and supportive community,” she said. “We laughed together, cried together and figured things out together.”
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