The date of the founding of St. John’s Episcopal Church generally has been thought to be 1794, when John Davies Jr. gave land for a church and burying ground in what was known as Davies Hollow.
However, worship according to the rites of the Church of England began forty years earlier, when missionaries from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts occasionally visited the fifteen families living near the Davies family in what was then known as Judea, part of the town of Litchfield. In the years leading up to the American Revolution, and during the war, these fifteen families were persecuted by local patriots, and services were held in secret without clergy. (After the American Revolution, Judea separated from Litchfield and was renamed Washington – the first community in the country to be named after General Washington.)
After the Revolution, the founding families of the Parish had to rely on itinerant priests who were hired, as finances permitted, to celebrate four or more services a year. From 1754 to 1885, there was no resident priest and records indicate that from 1855 to 1885 no clergy regularly served the Parish. Morning Prayer was read by laymen, and the Psalms were sung by the congregation with occasional musical accompaniment.
Notwithstanding the lack of a priest, the families built their first church in 1794 and named it St. John’s. Twenty-one years later, because Washington had grown up around Green Hill where the Congregational Church stood, the parishioners of St. John’s moved their little frame church from Davies Hollow to a very small piece of land near where the present Church stands. The old Church Cemetery at Davies Hollow and its monument to John Davies and his family still exists. Recently, work has begun on repairing its stone walls and in the last years there have been two burials.
In 1885, St. John’s parishioners were able to call their first fulltime resident Rector, the Rev. Charles Doupe. Two years later, he was succeeded by the Rev. Dr. William Spencer, who remained until 1895. Dr. Spencer was a man of some means and at his own expense rented the house next door to the Church. This house was later purchased by the women of the parish to serve as the Rectory.
St. John’s has had a resident Rector for the last 122 years. In that time there have been eleven incumbents. The Rev. Theodore Peck served from 1905 to 1920, retiring early because of failing eyesight. He was the prime mover in the building of the new Church, convincing hesitant members of the Parish that it was possible to raise the money for a stone church. Notwithstanding the demands of the First World War, construction began in 1917. The Church was designed by the well-known architect, Ehrick Rossiter, and is one of the only two churches he designed. The first service in the new Church was held on Easter Day, 1918.
Rev.Theodore Peck was succeeded by Rev. George I. Browne, who retired after three years owing to ill health. However, during those years, Father Browne oversaw the organization of a the Choir, established the Altar Guild, and welcomed the first woman in the Diocese of Connecticut to the Vestry.
The Rev. James Carney, who arrived in 1923, created a Sunday School of seventy-five students. He was a great favorite in Washington, working closely with Wykeham Rise School and the Gunnery. With his encouragement, the Parish purchased the Children’s House from the Gunnery, which now serves as the Music Director’s home. Father Carney began a fund to build a Parish House. He made the services more formal and introduced candles and colored vestments and paraments. Tragically, he was struck by a car and killed as he crossed the road in front of the Church.
The Rev. Carney’s successor was the Rev. Floyd Tomkins, who served St. John’s during the Great Depression and the Second World War. In 1955, the Parish House was built. Father Tomkins was active in international Christian organizations and attracted many scholars and statesmen to Washington.
The Rev. Otis Charles was called as Rector in 1959 and served for ten years. He was greatly interested in the arts and brought religious drama to St. John’s with productions of “Murder in the Cathedral,” “Noye’s Fludde,” and others. With his wife, Elvira, he began a children’s day school in the Undercroft of the Church which became the Washington Montessori School.
In 1970, The Rev. Haig Nargesian became Rector, serving until 1989. Father Nargesian strengthened ties between St. John’s and the Gunnery School. He was granted lifelong dining privileges at the school, and during his tenure many Gunnery students attended services at St. John’s. Father Nargesian oversaw St. John’s during a difficult time in its history, serving with no staff and with a minimal music program.
The Rev. Robert Ficks came to St. John’s in 1989. In his nineteen years as Rector, Father Ficks established a music program with the Church’s first fulltime Music Director. During Father Ficks tenure, the Choir was enlarged, Evensongs were reinstituted, and the St. John’s Chorale and the St. John’s Concert Series were founded. Once a strong music program had been established, it became possible to raise money for a new organ, which was designed especially for St. John’s and built by the Wicks Organ Company.
Under Father Ficks’s leadership, St. John’s began a Litchfield Deanery tradition of holding an annual Lessons and Carols service followed by dinner in the Rectory for all the clergy participants. He also brought to the Parish many associate clergy whose distinguished academic and professional careers enriched the intellectual and spiritual life at St. John’s. In active partnership with many parishioners, Father Ficks revived the Sunday School, presided over the renovation and enlargement of the Parish House, and established a Parish administrative office with an Administrator and Sexton.
In 2008, the Parish called the Rev. Dr. Randall Balmer as the twelfth Rector of St. John’s. Balmer served as Rector from his installation on October 10, 2008, to June 2009.
Since July, 2009 until May 31 2018, St. John’s had been served by the Rev. Susan J. McCone.