St. John’s history can be divided into two periods. The ancient period dates from 1828, when the congregation was founded. The modern period dates from 1981, when our building was seriously damaged by fire. In both periods, the desire for greater lay participation in the life of the church was a driving force behind the church’s development.
On November 12, 1828, members of the Methodist Episcopal Church who disagreed with the church’s refusal to grant voting rights to lay members met at the former St. John’s Protestant Episcopal Church on Liberty Street in Baltimore to form the Associated Methodist Church (AMC). St. John’s became the mother church of the AMC and the center of the reform movement. In 1830, St. John’s hosted a convention at which the name was changed to the Methodist Protestant Church (MPC). The constitution of the MPC provided for a single order of ministry (elders), the right to appeal an oppressive appointment, no episcopacy, the election of church officers by the congregation, and lay representation at the annual and general conferences.
In 1843, St. John’s withdrew from the MPC to protest the appointment of pastors by the MPC, rather than their calling by the congregation, and arbitrary limits of a pastor’s service to his congregation. The congregation changed its name to St. John’s Independent Methodist Protestant Church of Baltimore.
In 1886, Rev. Klein, a Methodist missionary, established a congregation in Yokohama, Japan. St. John’s donated a bell to the new congregation. We are still in touch with our sister congregation in Yokohama.
With the growth of the downtown business district, the congregation decided to seek a new location. The new building at the corner of 27th and St. Paul Streets was dedicated on December 8, 1900.
In 1908, St. John’s returned to the MPC and once more became St. John’s Methodist Protestant Church.
On May 10, 1939, in Kansas City, Missouri, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church merged to form the Methodist Church.
In 1968, the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren to form the United Methodist Church. Our congregation became St. John’s United Methodist Church of Baltimore.
On December 16, 1981, the building was seriously damaged in a five-alarm fire.
In the years after the fire, three ministries defined our work: justice in Central America, outreach to the LGBT community, and service to our homeless neighbors.
Central America: The Sanctuary Movement was a religious and political campaign that began in the early 1980s to provide a safe haven for Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict in Guatemala and El Salvador. The movement was a response to federal immigration policies that made obtaining asylum difficult for Central Americans. At its peak, Sanctuary involved over 500 congregations which committed to providing shelter, protection, material goods, and legal advice to Central American refugees. For several years, St. John’s hosted a refugee from El Salvador in our second-floor apartment.
In 1985, former Peace Corps volunteers Nan McCurdy and her husband Phil were commissioned by St. John’s to serve in Nicaragua. They eventually affiliated with the UMC’s Board of Global Ministries. We continue to support Nan today.
That same year, members of our congregation helped to found Casa Baltimore de Limay, a sister-city project with San Juan de Limay, Nicaragua. Casa Baltimore has built and supported a clinic, dug wells, built latrines, and provided end-of-the-month food for senior citizens, among other projects.
LGBT Outreach: For many years (most of the 1980’s), we shared our building with MCC, the Metropolitan Community Church of Baltimore. This was a time when few churches welcomed their ministry.
In 1985, we became the twelfth Reconciling Congregation in the nation and the first in the Baltimore Washington Conference (BWC). Reconciling Congregations welcome all people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression and work for their full inclusion in the life of the church. St. John’s has been a strong voice for justice in the BWC and throughout the UMC.
Homeless Ministries: Heart’s Place Shelter was founded in St. John’s basement in 1988 and served the community for 25 seasons, closing in April 2012. Now known as Heart’s Place Services, the program provides homeless Baltimore City School students with a weekly backpack containing enough non-perishable food to feed the child and two family members over the weekend.
In 2004, a St. John’s member founded Unchainted Talent, an after-school performing arts, youth development, and mentoring program at Lake Clifton High School. The program ended in 2016.
About the same time, a group of St. John’s folks founded the Friends of SIDAREC to raise funds for the Slums Information Development and Resource Centers, which works in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. This work was inspired by a member from Nairobi who was a student at Johns Hopkins.
In 2007, St. John’s partnered with Red Emma’s Bookstore to found the 2640 Project, a noncommercial, cooperatively-managed space for radical politics and grassroots culture. 2640 has become an integral part of the progressive community in Baltimore.
In 2017, Rev. Irance’ Reddix McCray opened the Adullum Community Healthcare Center, a primary care and behavioral health center welcoming all patients, whether insured or not. Adullum moved with her to Old Otterbein UMC in 2020 and to New Waverly UMC in 2021.