By MARY WALLER
Saint John’s Episcopal Church
In spite of a year of challenges, the Saint John’s Episcopal Church community is feeling very positive and looking forward with anticipation. In February, the church welcomed the arrival of a new rector (the Episcopal term for a head priest of a congregation) and entered the seventh decade of worshiping in the first church constructed at 4200 S. Atlanta Pl.
The Reverend David Bumsted accepted the call to lead the parish and moved to Tulsa recently with his wife, Beka, from Orlando, Florida. Bumsted brings an abundance of energy and experience working with youth and families to this midtown church. This position brings him back to the state of his birth after many years away.
The Saint John’s family is more than 700 individuals residing throughout Tulsa and the surrounding area and a growing number of friends online across the country. The latter is due to the recent installation of a permanent audio-visual system to deliver worship, choral music and Bible studies online.
The Episcopal Church is a liturgical tradition, which means it is rooted in an ancient rhythm of prayer. Saint John’s offers services seven days a week, though some activities are temporarily modified due to the pandemic. Service details can be found at the website – sjtulsa.org – and on the Facebook page – Saint John’s Episcopal Church. This congregation believes it is important that persons of faith with different backgrounds and viewpoints unite to serve Christ in a spirit of mutual love and respect.
Though Saint John’s first church services were held in 1951, its roots go even deeper. They begin in the 1940s with an ambitious Episcopal vision of growing four new churches to serve a growing city. In December of 1948, Trinity Episcopal Church downtown helped purchase five acres of a cotton farm situated in “far south Tulsa.” The land was part of an original allotment conveyed in 1902 to Sarah McIntosh, a Creek Indian.
The first building on the property was a vicarage (home of a vicar) at the northeastern corner of the property. It was occupied in February of 1950 and was soon the nexus for prayer and a great deal of planning. Construction of Saint John’s first church building began within months and was modest in scope, overseen by the church’s first vicar (then rector), the Reverend Calvin Clyde Hoggard. The first church, now called Powell Hall, was completed the following year and the first Sunday Holy Eucharist services were held on Nov. 18, 1951.
With a burgeoning parish membership, ground was broken in 1956 for a larger church building farther south. The church was oriented east to west, with the sanctuary to the east catching the morning sun over the altar and the entry doors looking west from the hilltop. Like many large churches, Saint John’s worship space is comprised of four “parts.” In Episcopal parlance they are, from entry doors to altar: the narthex, nave, chancel and sanctuary. The space where the parishioners sit is known as the nave and the area with the altar is the sanctuary. The year was a whirlwind of construction on this large, modern gothic church with massive beams, vaulted ceiling and massive slate roof, a baptistry and balcony, thick limestone rock walls and many magnificent stained glass windows. It was completed in 1958.
Father John Vruwink became the second rector of Saint John’s Church in 1960. It was during his time leading the parish that a central, three-story addition (basement, plus two floors) was constructed to connect the first chapel to the new church. Its third and fourth rectors were Father William Weldon and Father William Maxwell. And, paying forward the blessings shown to them, in 1964 Saint John’s Church family helped raise funds to buy the land to establish Saint Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, the first area parochial mission.
The Reverend David Fox was the fifth rector at Saint John’s, leading from 1979 until 2004. Father Irving Cutter joined the parish in 2006 and served until 2018. It was during this time that an exceptional Schoenstein Company organ was commissioned and installed. Through the years, several other minor and major restorations of Saint John’s Church buildings and grounds took place.
Lest you are left with the thought that “church” is just a building, this parish family says it is the people – gathering in person and online – who are the church and do the work of ministry in the world. Saint John’s is the volunteers, the lay leaders, the employees in all professions, the assisting clergy, the neighbors, the rector, and all the non-profit community partners.
Saint John’s “Church” is now delighted to welcome its seventh rector.