WESTPORT, Conn. — St. John’s Episcopal Church was established in 1707 as an Anglican congregation and moved to Bridgeport with the city’s founding in 1801 — making it among the oldest congregations in Connecticut, and the oldest church in the city.
Once once home to the city's most prominent families, St. John's now “is actively involved with the poor in our community,” its rector, the Rev. Geoffrey Hahneman, told Westport Sunrise Rotary recently.
“We are a thriving community of care in the poorest but largest city in Connecticut in the wealthiest county in the country," he said.
Bridgeport grew throughout the 19th century and became the center of manufacturing. Companies such as Remington Arms, Colt, Singer Sewing Machine, and later GE and Sikorsky, provided the jobs that attracted a huge immigrant population.
St. John’s growth paralleled Bridgeport’s, as it became home to many of the most powerful of the city’s leaders. Its fourth, and current, home, a grand, ornate stone structure designed by the architects who designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, was built between 1873 and 1875, at Park and Fairfield avenues.
But after World War II the city’s fortunes declined. Its industrial base moved out, its leaders followed. By the 1970s whites were leaving the city, and their churches followed. As a consequence, St. John's traditional members started driving from nearby towns, while its newer and nearby parishioners walked.
Hahneman became St. John’s rector in 2005, when, he recently said, it was ”probably about five years from going over the cliff and ending.”
Today it is as much a social agency as a house of worship, Hahneman said.
It offers weekly services in English, Spanish, French and Creole. It served almost 7,000 meals last year, its Pantry provided food enough for 44,000 meals, and its Clothes Closet gave donated items to 450 people.
St. John’s hosts a Family Center, a Child Care Center, an Hispanic Boy Scout troop. Its After School program’s computer lab is used by 82 fifth-graders. And Literacy Volunteers of Greater Bridgeport holds weekly classes that help some 50 immigrants learn English and prepare to become US citizens. Kathy O’Shea, ESOL coordinator for Literacy Volunteers, said she always needs more tutors for the program.
“We are at a 30-year high in attendance, yet we have no more money than we had 10 years ago,” Hahneman said.
For more information on St. John's Church, visit its Facebook page .
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