Things Change: The First Sanctuary Renovation in 1947

By Doug Robinson
St. John’s Archives Committee

Some things change; some things stay the same. St. John’s is an excellent example of that maxim.

For example, members are regularly added and removed from the church roll. We change the events we produce, the religious studies we offer, and the fellowship opportunities we provide. The composition of our choirs changes. And, of course, our church staff and pastoral leaders change over time as well.

The most visible change, however, is the ongoing maintenance and enhancements to the inside and outside of our buildings, the addition of new buildings and features and the constant upkeep of church grounds. With that in mind, and in conjunction with the kickoff of our G2G Phase 2 campaign, the next several Archives articles will center around St. John’s past projects to renovate and enhance the interior and exterior of our 1927 sanctuary.

Fundraising for the sanctuary’s first major renovation, or redecoration as it was referred to then, kicked off in 1944, and work was completed by Easter 1947 at a cost of $40,000. Work primarily consisted of a facelift to the sanctuary interior and included installation of a new altar, made of Italian marble and reredos (wallcovering) above the altar made of Vermont Verdante marble. An altar triptych (three panels) was hand painted by J. Olaf Olson, incorporating scenes of the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and Pentecost. Other additions included a new lighting system, wooden wainscoting in the chancel; decorative painting of the interior (including a banner above the since removed wainscoting that read “Believe On The Lord Jesus And Thou Shalt Be Saved”), credence shelves, and vases for the altar. A unique feature was the addition of two hanging shields of Luther’s Rose above the altar. The shields served an aesthetic and practical benefit, as they hid lights that continue to spotlight the altar area.

This month’s Archives Snapshot was taken prior to the initiation of project. You’ll notice some very obvious changes: light sconces were added throughout the sanctuary; the handbell loft wasn’t raised as it is today, nor were the organ and choir lofts; the reader’s lectern was a large brass eagle, which gave way to a more permanent, carved wooden eagle; the altar was once made of carved oak. The new marble altar was raised several feet above everything else. Notice that the radiators are behind the palm plants to obscure heat marks left on the wall above them. The pulpit is much lower than it is today, and the baptismal font was placed in front of the lectern until the carved and ornamental wooden baptistry was completed in the far right corner. Of note: the old altar, pulpit, and brass lectern have been preserved in our archives.

Changes? Absolutely. The 1947 project was just the beginning of several sanctuary projects to come. St. John’s members have always recognized that continuous upkeep of our facilities is essential to achieving our mission and helps us reach out to the community in ways that heretofore haven’t been possible.

Phase 2 of our G2G Campaign celebrates our sanctuary as a “house of worship for all.” We will address much-needed deferred maintenance needs in the sanctuary building, including the replacement of HVAC units, all of which are 25-45 years of age, and add two handicap accessible restrooms on the chancel side of the sanctuary level. If funding allows, we will replace sanctuary carpeting and the 25-year old sound system. Thank you for your support!


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