St. John St. James Church, Roxbury

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Church History & City Trends

Excerpts from "Church in a Changing City" Boston Globe, Feb. 10, 1967

As part of a four-part series, in 1967 (the year before the St. John St. James merger) the Boston Globe religion reporter wrote about a citywide decline in church attendance in the 1960s, followed by a very visible rise in social activism and renewed vitality in churches. While St. John and St. James are not mentioned in this article, the article provides valuable insight about about the changing city environment during this time.

At least 12 Boston clergymen direct nonprofit housing corporations as a means for solving one community need.... [for example] Rev. Michael Grodon, Catholic Curate of St. Joseph's Church in Roxbury is ironing out the wrinkles in a cooperative housing venture in Washington Park.

Reverend Virgil Wood, through the Blue Hills Christian Center, feels his responsibility is to.... "help train a cadre of community leaders." His work touches approximately 1500 people in the area.

The Reverend Royden Richardson of Tremont Street [Methodist] wrote in his annual report: "Never before have so many persons, groups or has a community looked to us for leadership... (as now) ... in the growing pains of today's society. The gospel must speak relevantly to this day."

St. John St. James was formed by the merger of two churches in 1968 and moved to 149 Roxbury Street. Two years later the sanctuary was dedicated, in September 1970, now fifty years ago. What was our church like in the 1960s and 1970s? What were churches in Boston like during the 1960s and 1970s? What elements of this history are relevant to the life of our church today?

Study Group Discussion

For this study group, we will look at some of our church history, in the context of trends in city churches in the 1960s, trends today, and biblical concepts about the role of churches.

We can define some follow-up actions related to this very rich history, including work towards an art exhibit (probably with Roxbury Heritage Park) of Allan Crite artwork from that time, interwoven with the history of our church (and others) in that era.

During the 1960s, the churches in Boston were very active and visible in civil rights and social action. Both of the merged churches, St. John and St. James, were very visible and active in this work. Both churches provided youth programs, including childcare, after school tutoring, art classes and black history classes, dances and dicussion groups. Both churches were involved in the civil rights movement. At St. James, Fr. Neal Hastie and Canon James Breeden, and at St. John's, Fr. Gilbert Avery, traveled South for Freedom Rides in the early 1960s and then became involved in the school desegregation movement in Boston. With Noel Day from St. Mark's Social Center, Rev. Breeden founded an organization that led the first "Stay Out for Freedom" days and the first Freedom Schools in that movement. Canon Breeden was one of the leaders of Boston's chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), involved with MLK's rally on Boston Common in 1965. With this foundation, it was natural that the newly merged St. John St. James would provide a home for social activism.

Read the following articles on our website to learn more:

Readings: The Role of the Church

Consider the following readings.

Hebrews 12:1
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

Context: This verse follows a chapter about people from the Old Testament who were examples of great faith, and so the "cloud of witnesses" refers to people who have gone before us.


2 Timothy 1:5-7;14
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Context: In this letter, the Apostle Paul is writing to Timothy, a younger church leader. Paul knew Timothy's mother and grandmother, who had great faith.


1 Corinthians 12:4-7;27
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Context: In this letter, the Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Corinth. The theme of the chapter is one that Paul has written about in many of his letters: the idea that there are many different gifts from the Spirit, and each gift is important and each contributes to the life of the church, which he refers to often as "the body of Christ." This chapter comes right before the famous chapter about love, 1 Corinthians 13, which describes love and states that it is the greatest of all spiritual gifts.


Ephesians 4:11-12
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ

Context: In this letter, the Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus. The message of these verses is similar to the theme of the 1 Corinthians 12. There are many different spiritual gifts, and each is important to the life of the church.

February 8, 2020