On June 29, 1946, sixteen Episcopalians in the White Rock Lake area, weary of the journey to St. Matthew’s Cathedral for Sunday services, petitioned the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth to start a mission in East Dallas. St. John’s first celebration of the Holy Eucharist took place at Reinhardt Elementary School with 65 people in attendance and with Bishop C. Avery Mason presiding. The altar was an arrangement of two card tables covered by a table cloth and adorned with a wooden cross that had been made by Arch Harris.
The founding group called the Rev. Theodore Harper McCrea, then an assistant priest in Rhode Island, as the founding vicar of St. John’s. Prior to his arrival in Dallas, Fr. McCrea wrote to the vestry and congregation about his three emphases for the newfound mission:
- “First, and always foremost, [we] must be devotional. The prime purpose of the church is the worship of God. It is only by constantly returning, day after day, week after week to our Lord’s altar for strength, inspiration and wisdom that we can hope to forward His work in this world.
- The second emphasis should be educational. Our confused and troubled world is crying out for churchmen whose lives are solidly founded on the fullness of the Catholic Faith, who know what that faith is and why they have committed their lives to it.
The third emphasis will be missionary. There are thousands of unchurched people, desperately in need of our Lord and His church, whether they know it or not. They are our responsibility. It must be the unwearying, cooperative effort of priest and people to meet this responsibility with devotion, zeal and intelligence under God’s direction.”
With Fr. McCrea in place in October of 1946, the church rented a small frame building which was immediately christened the “chicken coop.” The small building actually was constructed as a brooder house for chickens but never used as such. In March 1947, with more than 80 communicants, the church purchased a one-acre lot at the comer of Tiffany Way and Lake Highlands Drive, and in January 1948 St. John’s transitioned from mission to parish status. A new church building was dedicated on September 15, 1948, and a month later the first choir was organized.
As the area grew in homes and families, so grew St. John’s in numbers, spirit, and dedication. St. John’s Episcopal School was established in 1953, primarily through the efforts of Marie Moseley and Fleta Burke. Initially, there were 28 preschool and kindergarten students with three teachers. A first grade became a reality in 1954, with Dorothy Patterson serving as its teacher. A second grade followed in 1956.
In 1960, a ten acre tract of land on Harter Road was purchased from the Harter family for $30,000. Groundbreaking for the present church was held on the Feast of St. John the Baptist, June 24, 1961. Construction of the new church, designed by O’Neil Ford and Arch Swank, began in May 1962 by the O’Rourke Construction Company. Unfortunately Fr. McCrea was called away from St. John’s before the new building was complete; at the diocesan convention in October 1962 he was elected suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Dallas.
The Rev. Eugene G Malcolm of Kansas City began his ministry as the second rector of St. John’s in January, 1963. In 1965, St. John’s school expanded to third grade, and continued to add grades four to six in subsequent years. Fr. Malcom’s five years were characterized by a caring pastoral ministry; he was quick to respond to any human need, not only to church members but anyone in the community.
Following an extensive search process, the Vestry extended a call to the Rev. J. Robert Maceo Jr., then Rector of St. Paul’s, Oak Cliff. Fr. Maceo was installed as St. John’s third rector on September 1, 1968. Thus began a dedicated service to the
church, diocese, and community that would endure for twenty-six years.
Fr. Maceo was known as a brilliant theologian, a devoted liturgist, an outstanding preacher, and a gifted teacher. Christian education flourished at St. John’s during his tenure. A genuine asset to his ministry was his wife, Charlotte, a gifted and personable lady who provided planning and leadership in many aspects of parish life—spiritual, educational and social.
In 1982, a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Parish Hall was held with Bishop McCrea. This project was substantially funded by a generous gift from parishioners Dee and Jody Brown. As the result of the work of a building committee headed by Nabil Hadawi, construction was completed in 1983. The new building was named Bishop Mason Hall in honor of the third bishop of Dallas and was dedicated to the memory of John Charles Brown, son of Dee and Jody Brown, who was killed in action in Vietnam.
In 1987, St. John’s Episcopal School added a seventh grade and eighth grade was added in 1989. The school has since had a capacity of 500 students, pre-K through eighth grade.
In the summer of 1994, Fr. Maceo announced his plans for retirement. Just after Easter in 1995, a call was extended to The Very Rev. Nelson Wayne Koscheski, Jr, then Dean of the Cathedral in Charleston, South Carolina. A few weeks after his arrival, Fr. Koscheski addressed the people of St. John’s in the parish newsletter, The VOICE:
“Judy and I, in the twenty-four years of my priesthood have never been so “well-welcomed” as we have at St. John’s. Thank you for your love in Christ. People often ask a newly arrived rector about his “vision” for a parish and its ministry. My hope is to join the stream of worship, learning the service which is already here and to be a proclaimer and challenger as we see together what God’s will is for us in our part of his vineyard at this time.”
In his five years, Fr. Koscheski established himself as an outstanding preacher and as a gifted, resourceful teacher.
In 2000, St. John’s called the Rev. Terry Jordan, who had been serving St. John’s as an assistant, to become the fifth recor of the parish. During his tenure, Fr. Jordan oversaw many major improvements to the campus. A new lower school building was constructed for St. John’s Episcopal school, new parish offices were built, the Aeolian-Skinner organ was purchased from the Julliard School of Music in New York, and the undercroft was dramatically renovated to provide first-rate Christian Education class rooms and a rehearsal space for the choir. Lay ministry grew as congregants stepped up to develop a strategic plan for St. John’s. Parishioners developed door-to-door invitational initiatives in the neighborhood and volunteered to serve as counselors for the Billy Graham crusade in Dallas. Fr. Jordan is remembered as a consummate pastor who cared for every member of the church.
In 2003, the parish honored the ministry of Fr. Emmett Waits, a loving and well loved priest who began his ministry at St. John’s as an assistant under Fr. Maceo.
On The Nativity of St. John’ the Baptist, June 24, 2006, the Rev. David Houk began his ministry as rector as the parish celebrated its sixtieth year. Much like the founding vision of Bp. Theodore McCrea, Fr. Houk wrote the following in his introductory article for the church’s newsletter:
“When you get right down to it, whether you’re talking about a parish located on Harter Road in East Dallas or on the other side of the planet, the Church of Jesus Christ has three, and only three, purposes: worship, discipleship, and mission.
- Worship is about keeping the Great Commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37) Worship is about offering God the praise and adoration he’s due, and offering it up as well and as beautifully as we can.
- Discipleship has to do with our transformation into the likeness of Christ. It’s about the way we “renew our minds” (Rom 12:2) through study and education, and it’s also about how we gather together in Christian fellowship, putting into practice the love of God.
- Mission is about bringing Christ to the world and bringing the world to Christ, whether we’re doing this through deeds of mercy and service (down at Austin Street Centre, for instance) or by telling others—yes, telling others!—about the hope we have in our Lord and God.”
Running through St. John’s history is the threefold desire to be a people of devotion, discipleship, and service. You are invited to be part of the story. Come and see St. John’s, where our mission is to nurture faith, inspire hope, and grow in love.