History of St. John's
St. John's Episcopal Church in Versailles, Kentucky, was officially established on June 29, 1847. However, as early as 1813, Episcopal ministers were conducting occasional services in the area. By 1831, Versailles was a well established town with a population of about 1,000 souls. The Rt. Rev. Benjamin Bosworth Smith, first Bishop of the Diocese of Kentucky, advised the Rev. Amos Cleaver to become a missionary to Versailles to explore the possibility of founding a church here.
Between 1832 and 1847, Bishop Smith visited Versailles several times to encourage the Episcopalians in the area. Some sources report that the Bishop saw a favorable climate in which to establish a church here. By about 1841, the Rev. E.F. Berkley of Lexington and the Rev. John Norton of Frankfort were occasionally holding Episcopal services at the Woodford County Courthouse in Versailles.
After a worship service on the evening of June 29, 1847, the Rev. Norton presided at a meeting during which those present passed a resolution calling for the organization of a parish at Versailles to be called St. John's Church. Those in attendance pledged themselves to confirm the doctrines, discipline, and worship of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, and to the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Kentucky.
Following the establishment of St. John's parish in Versailles on June 29, 1847, the Rev. Norton began holding a regular monthly service. In 1848, the Rev. F.H. Laird, Missionary of the Diocese Board, became the first resident priest at St. John's church. The Rev. Laird continued to serve St. John's parish until Oct. 8, 1849.
On Oct. 20, 1851, the Rev. John Wesley Venable, assistant minister of Ascension Church in Frankfort was called to serve as rector of St. John's parish. He accepted the call on Oct. 31, and regular services were held once a month in a school room offered by a Mrs. Isett.
Construction on the first Episcopal meeting house in Versailles was started on North Main Street in 1851 and completed in late 1853. The first service was held there on Dec. 17, 1853, conducted by the Rev. James Craig of Christ Church in Louisville, and the Rev. Norton of Frankfort.
The brick church building cost $4,000, of which $2,000 was contributed within the parish and the remainder outside the parish but within the Diocese. A Bible, a Prayer Book, and a sweet-toned organ with eight stops were presented to the church by an invalid female friend who was not a communicant of the church, but who was described as an ardent friend of it. The anonymous donor was later identified as Miss Margaret Logan, a sister of Mrs. J. Dodridge Helm, one of the early communicants.
Parish records show that the new church building was consecrated by Bishop Smith on May 10, 1854. The Bishop also performed the first rite of confirmation in Versailles on that date for Hezekiah H. Culbertson, Mrs. Sarah F. Gaines, and Mrs. Clara M. Raymond.
The lot on North Main Street adjacent to the church (where the current parish hall stands) was purchased in 1856. In 1863 a large lot on South Main Street was given to the church by a communicant, and a two-story brick rectory was built there that summer. By 1884 the church had outgrown the first building. It was razed and the current building was constructed in its place. The Rt. Rev. Thomas U. Dudley consecrated the new church building on May 28, 1885.
A new parish house adjacent to the church building was started in 1929. The parish house, a gift from the Camden family, was two stories and contained an auditorium, individual classrooms for Sunday school, and an office and study for the rector. The building was consecrated on Saturday, Feb. 15, 1930. Three bishops of the church were present, the Rt. Rev. H.P. Almon Abbott, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of Lexington, the Rt. Rev. Lewis W. Burton, D.D., who had recently retired as head of the Diocese of Lexington, and the Rt. Rev. James M. Maxon, Coadjutor Bishop of Tennessee. Bishop Maxon was formerly rector of St. John's Church. The dedicatory address was delivered by Bishop Abbott in the new building.
On Saturday morning, March 22, 1930 the Rt. Rev. H.P. Almon Abbott, Bishop of the Lexington Diocese, consecrated St. Mary's Chapel, the final unit of the new buildings of St. John's Church. Bishop Abbott was assisted by the Rev. Robert J. Murphy, rector of St. John's. The chapel is said to be one of the finest in the country. The walls are of stone and the floor of tile. The altar is of Hauteville marble, and the triptych painting above the altar is an old 16th century Italian piece. The altar appointments are of bronze. A very beautiful art glass window was later installed above the altar. The chapel forms a connecting link between the parish house and St. John's Church and, like the parish house, was erected in memory of Mrs. Susannah Preston Hart Camden by the Camden family. It was designed by Robert W. McMeekin, Lexington architect, who was also the architect of the parish house.
A columbarium was built at the north side of the church in 1987. It was dedicated on Sunday, July 4, 1987.
St. John's Episcopal Church has had the honor of having two of her rectors elected bishop. The Rev. James Matthew Maxon, who served as rector of St. John's from 1912 to 1917, was later elected Bishop of Tennessee. The Rev. Addison Hosea, who served St. John's for 16 years, from 1954 to 1970, was consecrated Bishop of Lexington on May 12, 1971.
The church has had visits from two notable dignitaries during the past two decades. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of England, attended Morning Prayer on Trinity Sunday, May 25, 1986. Three years later, on May 14, 1989, the 41st President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, worshipped unannounced at the 8 a.m. service in the Chapel. Plaques have been placed where the Queen and the President were seated to commemorate their visits.
St. John's recently purchased two properties on North Main Street adjacent to the church. With this land, approximately two acres, the Church's downtown location is secure, and the ability to expand the physical plant to meet the changing needs of the congregation is assured.
Coinciding with this purchase, the Vestry established the St. John's Foundation in order to preserve the past and build the future. A number of projects have already been initiated through the Foundation, including the restoration of the magnificent stained glass window over the altar.
The Rev. Amos Cleaver was the first Episcopal clergyman to officiate in Versailles. The Rev. E.F. Berkley, rector of Christ Church, Lexington, and the Rev. J.M. Norton, of Ascension Church, Frankfort, held services in the Woodford County Courthouse for several years. The Rev. F.H. Laird, Missionary o`illness in 1925; became rector emeritus; died 1926); the Rev. William St. John Blackshere served 1925-1927; the Rev. Robert J. Murphy served 1928-1936; the Rev. T. C. Reynolds served as Priest-in-Charge 1936-1937; the Rev. Llewellyn B. Catlin served 1938-1945; the Rev. Edward Lawrence Baxter served 194?1950; the Rev. William Lawrence Gatling, Jr. served June 1951-January 1954; the Rev. Addison Hosea served August 1954-May 1970 (he was elected Bishop Coadjutor of the diocese in February 1970, and was consecrated May 12, 1970); the Rev. Henry Clay Mayer served June 1970-May 1975 (Curate from July 1968 under Fr. Hosea; served St. John's as Locum Tenens until June 1970, when called to serve as Rector); the Rev. Bernard Thomas Flynn served August 1975-March 1979; the Rev. Thomas Lee Hudson served October 1979-January 1983 (died while rector of St. John's); the Rev J. Carl Belden served July 1983-1990; the Rev. Alan W. Hansen served 1991-2002; Assistant Ministers, the Rev.Charles Edward Ford (1957-1959) and the Rev. William Faupel have also served St. John's. The Rev. Alan Sutherland served 2004-2009; The Rev. Dr. Philip Linder served September 2011-October 2015. The Rev. Phillip Haug, Interim Rector, November 2015 to present.