History

An organization called St. John’s Episcopal Society was formed on June 15, 1820 to lay the groundwork for building an Episcopal church in Ashfield.  The work of this group was undertaken with the essential guidance of Rev. Titus Strong of St. James Church in Greenfield.  The first service was held at St. John’s on December 23, 1827, immediately following the building’s completion.  It was consecrated by Bishop Alexander Griswold on Friday, October 3, of 1828.

Early 20th century photograph of St. John's

St. John’s as it looked in its early days.

Over the years this small parish has incubated a number of important initiatives that have benefited our local community.  They include:

  • Ashfield’s Fall Festival
  • The Ashfield News
  • Candidates’ Night
  • The Town-Wide Telephone Book
  • The Human Relations Commission
  • The Hilltown Churches Food Pantry
  • Creation of a MotherWoman Support Group

In addition, St. John’s was the first parish the diocese to call a woman priest – Susan Crampton – and the first parish to offer a blessing on a same-sex couple, following Bishop Fisher’s conferring this right. The history of St. John’s from 1960 to 2010 as it appeared in third volume of The History of Ashfield can be downloaded here. The details of the remarkable history can also be experienced by understanding the list of artifacts within the church – each with a story deeply tied to its past — as described in our Self-Guided Tour below.  Please come to St. John’s and take this tour for yourself.

The Johnson Organ at St. John's

The Johnson Organ at St. John’s

Self-Guided Tour of St. John’s Church

  1. tour_historywallThe Wall of Bishops and Rectors.  Over the years all the bishops and vicars serving since 1828 are recognized in a framed photo on this wall.
  2. The Burial Stone.  Several parishioners, including young children, were buried under this building – here and in the chancel area.
  3. The O’Donnell Plaque.  The O’Donnell Family generously donated the land immediately adjacent to the church – providing outdoor space for our gardens and warm weather gatherings.  The O’Donnells also sold the town the land for its Common.
  4. tour_commandmentsThe Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer, and Apostles’ Creed. These framed words used to be at the very front of the church, before the chancel (where the altar is) was added. (The robing room was behind it.)
  5. tour_chandelierThe Chandelier.  The story is that this chandelier used to be at the First Church and was whisked away for St. John’s.  It was given to them by Mr. Chester Sanderson, a Congregationalist, who later joined St. John’s.  When that happened he asked two parishioners to go up the street and bring it down and install it here!
  6. The Baptismal Font was donated by Mrs. Loyall Farragut, daughter-in-law of Admiral David Farragut (“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead”).  She thought the old font, which was broken “looked like a hitching post.”
  7. tour_organThe Johnson Organ.  This organ has been at St. John’s since 1860 – though originally placed in the balcony. It was purchased for $800. It is the oldest Johnson organ to have remained continuously in the same place. Notice the pump to the left – we once used it when the basement was flooded and the electrical unit was damaged.
  8. tour_peacecandleThe Peace Candle.  The wooden stand for this peace candle was brought back in 2010 by a group of St. John’s parishioners on a mission trip to Mafi Dove, Ghana, to bring a computer lab to the school there.
  9. tour_ambrycandleThe Ambry Candle.  The brass holder for the Ambry Candle was made by Steve Smithers.  It provides constant light by the wooden Ambry, which contains consecrated elements for the Holy Eucharist and oil for the Healing Service and Baptism.
  10. tour_crossThe Cross from Ghana.  When Nell Todd was in the Peace Corps in Ghana, Peter Elenois suggested she ask a wood carver to make a cross to replace the temporary one that had been there for many years.  She asked a man named Christian in Accra to replicate the design that we faxed to the American Club there. (Note that it replicates the design of the brass cross on the back table.)  Nell carried it back on the plane in 1999.  It was refinished by Ann Judson and hung by Arnold Jones.
  11. tour_trianglewindowThe Triangle Window.  Apparently this came from St. James’ Church in Greenfield, when they tore down their old church.
  12. tour_alterThe Altar was given by St. Stephen’s Church in Pittsfield.
  13. The Bishop’s Chair.  When the bishop visits St. John’s, this chair is reserved for him – or, someday, her!
  14. tour_shepardwindowThe Good Shepherd Tiffany Window was given by Mrs. Henry Field, in memory of her mother, Mrs. Anne Combe Owen, in 1921.  It is different every moment of the day, depending on the light. Notice the butterfly at the bottom right-hand corner.  It’s there because right after Mrs. Owen died a butterfly was said to enter the room.
  15. Mosaic in Memory of Frances Williams Hall.  Frances died of influenza when she was just 20 years old.  This beautiful mosaic was created in her memory by two women – summer residents from New York.
  16. A Poem by Mary Priscilla Howes.  Mary Priscilla wrote this poem for her friend Frances Gray, both beloved St. John’s parishioners.  It reminds us of what is most important and to endure.

The carpenter for St. John’s was Jonathan Lilly. The church was consecrated in October of 1828, but the first service was held on December 23, 1827.  Jonathan wrote in the clerk’s book that day: “On the opening of this church for the worship of Almighty God, for the first time, many were the sensations that rushed upon the mind when reflecting upon the few individuals which commenced so great an undertaking, the limitations of their means and the difficulties and opposition they had to encounter, and now to see it completed – they could not but exclaim, ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.’…”