Parish Profile

A Hidden Gem in Baltimore County

Welcome to St. John’s Church, Western Run Parish. Thank you for visiting our Parish Profile — we look forward to sharing with you our vibrant and thriving community through the information, stories, and photos that appear below.

Our Mission

The mission of St. John’s Church, Western Run Parish, is to be a caring, Christ-centered community committed to encouraging discipleship and service within our congregation and beyond.

About Us

An Episcopal church in the Diocese of Maryland, St. John’s is an energetic parish empowered by God’s grace to strengthen our faith and to nurture a Christian community here amongst our neighbors and throughout the world.

In the Gospel of John (1:46-49), Nathaniel asks Philip, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” At the time, Nazareth was thought to be too lowly a place for a prophet. Yet Philip responded, “Come and see.” Then Nathaniel went to Nazareth, where he found Jesus, the Son of God.

At St. John’s Church we, too, are seekers.

We always seek to deepen our faith in God. Through our faith, we seek answers to local and global challenges.
We seek to nurture an active Christian community, both here and abroad.

At St. John’s we believe that discipleship is a participatory process that calls us to do more than read the Bible.
We must seek to live out the lessons of Christ in our daily lives. In this way, we strengthen our faith as individuals, which empowers us to improve our parish community and our world.

We invite you to come and see the beauty and faithfulness of this vibrant parish community.

Christian Formation

Christian education is a vital feature of parish life at St. John’s. We offer many opportunities for our members of all ages to deepen their understanding of our Episcopal faith and inform their journey to the fullness of life in Christ.

Between our Sunday services, parishioners gather to discuss some aspect of our faith. These popular sessions may center on a book the group has read or a topic of interest to our members as they grow in faith. The discussions are led by a cleric or visiting speaker, who often has credentials in theological study and Christian education. No question is out of bounds, and the conversation often includes moments of humor and light-heartedness.

Mission & Outreach

As part of our baptismal covenant to “respect the dignity of every human being,” St. John’s dedicates significant energy and funds toward serving others. We are committed to reach out as partners in ministry with those in need and those serving them, whether they are in the valleys of Baltimore County, in the inner city of Baltimore or in other countries around the world.

HAITI

St. John’s has a deep connection to the people of Haiti. We provide financial support to St. Etienne's Anglican Church and School in the mountains above Leogane, as well as Holy Trinity Music School in Port-au-Prince. Before Covid and the recent unrest in Haiti, the parish would send a contingent of younger parishioners to help teach music and provide other support, such as planting trees and building an internet cafe. We have also been blessed to have the choir of Holy Trinity Music School visit St. John’s and accompany our Sunday worship.

Paul's Place

We have an historic and ongoing relationship with Paul’s Place, Baltimore, which a previous rector and parishioner helped to found. The organization provides hot lunch, an emergency food pantry, a computer lab, a health and wellness clinic, clothing, and workforce development. St. John’s supports Paul’s place with regular donations and hands-on assistance through volunteer work.

The samaritan community

We support The Samaritan Community, which provides assistance and support in the Baltimore neighborhood of Bolton Hill to those in crisis who wish to improve their lives. This work is done through a food pantry, clothing and household goods shop, individual and group counseling and other services.

st-etiennes-choir

United Churches assistance network (UCAN)

Another important part of our mission is supporting the United Churches Assistance Network (UCAN) in Northern Baltimore County. UCAN is an emergency-assistance cooperative that offers financial and referral help to community members in need, often preventing evictions and utility turn-offs.

Episcopal Refugee and Immigrant Center Alliance (ERICA)

The most recent addition to our mission work has been in partnership with ERICA (Episcopal Refugee and Immigrant Center Alliance). We have taken in a young husband and wife who escaped from Afghanistan in a harrowing journey. They currently reside on the property of one of our parishioners, and we are helping them settle in the U.S. by providing whatever we can to support them in their journey.

In addition to these ongoing relationships, we have provided numerous other organizations with financial help where we have seen a need, including Reach High Baltimore, Lutheran World Relief -Ukraine, Center for Hope, HIPS-DC, The Samaritan Women, and others.

Pastoral Care

Our parish survey revealed that St. John’s seeks a leader who is skilled in pastoral care. Having a rector who can respond effectively to a parishioner in spiritual or emotional distress is of particular importance to our congregation.

Our Pastoral Care Commission was established with the mission of “building a caring community.” The group includes several ministries designed to enable parishioners to help one another during difficult times.

In God’s Hands is a ministry of folks who knit, crochet and do other handiwork making mini-prayer squares and prayer shawls to share with those in need and in the wider community.

Our Flower Ministry provides delivery of Sunday’s altar flowers to parishioners who are ill, bereaved or otherwise need cheering.

Each of our parishioners is prayed for throughout the year at our Tuesday morning prayer service. We have a caring group in our Card Ministry who send out a card to inform those who were prayed for that week.   

Our Parish Pantry provides meals to individuals and families who are dealing with illness, infirmity, bereavement or perhaps have a new baby.

Once a year we have a Service of Remembrance to provide a friendly, caring setting where those who are grieving over the loss of a loved one, or perhaps other losses, come together to share with one another.  There are special prayers in the church  followed by a light meal in the parish hall. 

Music

saint-johns-choir

Music is an extremely important aspect of worship and community life. St. John’s is blessed with a choir of four professionally trained singers. Under the leadership of our Music Director, this ensemble performs inspiring choral pieces from a broad range of liturgical traditions. Choral services include the 10 a.m. Sunday service, occasional evensongs, and liturgies for Christmas and Holy Week. At any of these services, worshippers are just as likely to hear spirituals and original compositions as they are the works of Tallis, Howells, and other English composers. In addition to anthems and motets, the choir regularly sings Anglican chant, hymn arrangements with descants, and special service music. When the occasion calls for it, additional singers and instrumentalists are brought in to enhance the musical offering.

In an effort toward racial reconciliation, the St. John’s music program makes an annual contribution to the Diocese of Maryland’s Reparations Initiative to fund disparity-reducing, racial equity projects in impoverished Black and African American communities across Maryland. The amount of the St. John’s music program contribution is greater than the amount paid for a general music license to use the hymns in the Hymnal 1982.

Worship

At St. John’s, gladness reigns because the Gospel is preached. From the pulpit we hear week in and week out of God’s faithfulnes, first to Israel, then to all of humanity to rescue us from sin and death and everything that weighs us down—loneliness, fear, despair, isolation, and the struggles of daily life. Our faces light up to see each other, to pray together, to worship and break bread together, to sing and hear the good news that God is faithful to us and all creation. We are humbled and joyful to be a covenant people, heirs to Abraham because of the messiah Jesus, who obediently gave himself for us on the cross, rose to new life and empowers us with the Holy Spirit. Grateful to God, we strive to open our hearts and hands to help mend a broken world.

ALTAR GUILD

With a large contingent of volunteers, our altar guild prepares the church for Sunday services and proper liturgies, as well as weddings, funerals, and other special services. Their handiwork is second to none and beautifies the altar as the focal point of our worship. The altar flowers are often donated by parishioners in honor or memory of a loved one.

USHERS, LECTORS, AND LAY MINSTERS

With the guidance of the Worship Committee, our ushers, lay readers, and lay Eucharistic ministers support the services at St. John’s in indispensable ways. Like any busy parish, we rely on these dedicated volunteers to make visitors feel welcome, to proclaim the Word, and to help administer the sacraments.

coffee hour

Following the principal Sunday service at St. John’s is perhaps the best coffee hour in Christendom! With a delicious assortment of sweet and savory fare, as well as hot and cold drinks, coffee hour is a much-loved occasion for refreshment and fellowship. Each coffee hour is hosted by two or three of our dedicated volunteers, who provide the food, which is often homemade. Our recently redecorated parish hall provides the perfect setting, where adults can sit and visit while the children of the parish play on the adjacent terrace and lawn.

cemetery committee

The Cemetery Committee ensures that our historic graveyard remains a place of beauty and dignity for our beloved dead and those who come to visit them. Made up of hard-working volunteers, this group of unsung heroes restores grave markers with gentle solvents and prayerful elbow grease. Some of the graves date back to the 18th century and reflect the parish’s storied history, which includes several families who helped found the Western Run Valley.

blessing of the hounds

One of our most beloved traditions at St. John’s is the blessing of the hounds on Thanksgiving Day. After the morning Eucharist, clergy and congregation process across Butler Road to bless the pack of dogs assembled to lead a traditional fox hunt. Flags of Church and country catch the morning breeze as horns are blown and the riders in their scarlet coats set off on horseback behind the calling hounds. The event strengthens our community by attracting neighbors and parishioners alike, many of whom tailgate nearby, offering warm drinks and fellowship.

saint-johns-western-run-parish-aerial-view

Facilities

A unique characteristic of St. John’s is its exquisite buildings and grounds. Set on just over 11 acres in a rural part of Baltimore County, the church grounds are often cited as a draw for parishioners, many of whom note feeling closest to God in nature, and especially on the grounds of the church. During the recent pandemic, the lawn around the church became the location for outdoor services and activities, providing vital continuity and comfort.

The heart of the campus is the Gothic revival stone church topped by a 100-foot spire. The original church was built in 1815 and reconstructed in 1869 after a tragic fire on Christmas Day. The interior is noted for its scissor arches, stained-glass windows depicting the Gospel of St. John, and beautiful wood carvings. The church has undergone numerous renovations, notably in the 1920s and again after the completion of the $5 million Cornerstone Campaign in 2016. The church’s renowned music program is anchored by its Taylor & Boody tracker organ.

A short stroll from the church takes visitors past a small contemplative fountain where the 8 a.m. Eucharist is frequently held in warmer months, and on to the Parish House, an important location for hospitality and parish gatherings, but also open to the community. Completely reconstructed in 2003, the Parish House comprises the church offices, a library, multiple classrooms, a chapel with a lovely etched glass window, and a large hall, which has been the scene of everything from Music in the Valley chamber concerts to memorial service luncheons, AA meetings, church celebrations, and the St. John’s annual meeting.

The recently renovated rectory was built in 1842, and today is the oldest rectory in the Diocese of Maryland still used for its original purpose. The rector’s home was made more glorious with the addition of the rector’s garden, well tended by a professional gardener. Campus amenities also include a playground and grassy play lawn enclosed by a fence for the safety of the youngest members of the congregation. The entire grounds are embraced by a stone wall punctuated by a lychgate.

Community

When we asked our parishioners what was most important to them in the next rector, the third most common response (42.7 percent of responses) was a sense of humor. St. John’s takes its mission as a Christ-centered community very seriously, but we do not take ourselves too seriously.

From laughing at minor gaffes from the pulpit, carving and displaying pumpkins on the stone wall every Halloween—and encouraging congregants to arrive at church in costume—and embracing the more creative arrangements of the choirmaster (the Te Deum Laudamus set to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” is now a favorite of the repertoire), this is a congregation that prizes its history and traditions but also appreciates a certain level of informality.

Hospitality is an important part of the St. John’s identity, with coffee hour playing an integral role in Sunday worship, allowing for intergenerational socializing and the creation of lasting relationships. More than 70 percent of respondents to the recent parish survey state they have close friends in the congregation. That hospitality extends outside the church walls, with congregants opening their homes to visiting Haitian musicians, participating in interfaith outreach events, and welcoming the community at large with refreshments at the annual Thanksgiving Day Blessing of the Hounds.

The same parish survey revealed that the congregation of St. John’s is almost equally divided between men and women (no participants responded “other”), with the majority (63 percent) having been members for more than 10 years. Although 74 percent of respondents are married and 51 percent attend church with a partner, the vast majority have grown children who do not attend church. An educated congregation, 25 percent have a bachelor’s degree and more than 60 percent have an advanced degree. A highly engaged congregation, just nine percent of those polled said they had never participated in a special event at St. John’s, such as the Blessing of the Hounds, adult forums, or yoga therapy. Just 11 percent reported never having participated in parish leadership as a vestry member, usher, lay minister, or other committee member.

Though St. John’s sits in the rural Worthington Valley, it is part of the larger community of Reisterstown that, as of 2020, had a population of 27,800 people with a median age of 39 and a median household income of $71,851. There are nine public elementary schools, four middle schools, and two high schools serving the Reisterstown area, as well as a robust offering of parochial and private schools. The church is also close to Hunt Valley, an industrial center that is the location of global headquarters of the spice company McCormick, among many others and home to a large retail center. From the State Fair to wineries, golf courses to horse racecourses, classical concerts to kayaking, Baltimore County is a dynamic location with many things to see and do. The heart of Baltimore City is just a 30-minute drive away.

thanksgiving-day-procession
st-johns-annual-meeting
halloween-costumes
%

How satisfied are you with Sunday services?
89 responses

Very Satisfied 76.4%
Generally Satisfied 22.5%
Generally Unsatisfied
Very Unsatisfied

%

Do you have a strong sense of belonging at St. John's?
89 responses

Yes 80.9%
No 19.1%

History

Founded in 1800, “St. John’s in the Valley” was constructed in 1816 and consecrated in 1818. The first church was an offshoot of St. Thomas Church (still active in southern Reisterstown/Owings Mills) and shared a minister with that church on alternate Sundays. In 1842, parishioner John Johns financed the building of the rectory, a stable (currently a garage), and the stone wall. The rectory is now the oldest building on the grounds.

The first church burned down on Christmas Day 1867, destroying everything but the bell in the spire. It is believed the bell used today is original to the first church. Almost immediately after the fire, plans were put in place to rebuild the church under the leadership of local cabinetmaker and design-builder Joshua Shorb. The new church was completed in 1871.

From its earliest days, St. John’s had influences far beyond its size and rural location. Most of its 19th century rectors ministered to African Americans (both free and enslaved) and local farmers, not just the congregants in the church. Ministers also worked cooperatively with other churches and institutions in the area. With the dawn of a new century, however, the church entered a time of decline.

St. John’s had a renaissance in the 1920s and ’30s as affluent horse owners began to move into the valley. This was also the era when the tradition of the Thanksgiving Day Blessing of the Hounds began. The church underwent a reorganization with the creation of a vestry in 1927. At the same time, parishioners undertook a “beautification” of the church and grounds. Among the many additions of the period are the stained-glass windows depicting St. John’s Gospel, the chancel window, a new pulpit, and many decorative symbolic carvings. This is likely when the lychgate was added, too.

The history of St. John’s has been extensively documented. A short history was written in 1992, and a more comprehensive history was written to mark the parish’s bicentennial in 2000. In 2020, the church chose with intention to revisit its history to better document the buildings and grounds. This was also an opportunity to embrace the Episcopal Church’s commitment to racial reconciliation by exploring what, if any, connection the church and its construction had to enslaved people.

Under the guidance of preservationist Jonathan Poston, that examination was completed, including documentation and cleaning of the gravestones in the old cemetery and extensive review of diocesan records. Although some early leaders of the original church were slave owners, the reexamination of the history did not uncover the use of any enslaved labor in the church’s construction. Jonathan Poston’s complete presentation is available online.

Background photo shows congregants passing through the new lych gate on Thanksgiving morning, c.1931, prior to the Blessing of the Hounds. Photo courtesy of Center for Maryland History and Culture

Financials

St. John’s is committed to strong financial stewardship and is on sound footing thanks to collaborative work among the rector, treasurer, vestry, and staff, as well as a targeted and thoughtful annual giving campaign.

(in $000s)
2019 2020 2021 2022
2023
budget

     Pledges

$463$481$476$566$500

     Other revenue

470380319356320

Total revenue

933861755922820

     Compensation

403411431535448

     Ministries / outreach

169159195202210

     Other expenses

245211255192176

Income (loss)

$116$80($86)($7)($14)
(in $000s)
2019 2020 2021 2022

Funds / investments (1)

$3,927$4,262$4,754$3,907

(1) Funds / investments are assets owned and held by St. John’s in various endowment and investment funds.  These funds generally allow for a 4% to 6% annual draw to support operations and specified initiatives, ministries, and outreach expenditures within St. John’s operating plan each year as summarized above.  St. John’s also has an available revolving line of credit of $300k, which is used to help maintain consistent cash levels throughout the program year.

altar

The Rector We Seek

In the parish survey three things emerged as consistently important to the congregation: good preaching, exceptional music, and a sense of humor. St. John’s is a place of deep tradition and strong community. We are proud of our history and grounds, but always looking to the future. We put a high value on pastoral care, mission, and outreach. We prize intergenerational interactions and want to build the church to be inclusive of both its oldest and its youngest members. We are always looking for opportunities to learn about and deepen our faith and our connections in the community. Words that are frequently spoken when parishioners discuss the new rector are inclusive, accessible and—overwhelmingly—humble.

As one congregant put it in the parish survey, our next rector must “preach the love of God and deliver it to the congregation in a warm, joyful and loving way—and always be able to bring a sense of humor to the pulpit.”

If there is one focus at the center of many responses to the question of what we seek in a rector, it is this: growth. Over and over members of the congregation have stated that new leadership needs to be able to expand the congregation, particularly with young couples and families, who will be the next generation of stewards for the church and the discipleship that has been built here. We seek someone who can advance community service—including service projects in addition to monetary contributions—with local organizations. And we seek a preacher who can make the scripture relevant in the 21st century and challenge people to pursue deeper understanding through faith.

As a church we offer both Rite I and Rite II, a tradition we wish to continue. At various times we have had a single rector; at other times a rector and an associate. The new rector must be nimble enough to work independently and, if the church's needs and budget allow for a staff expansion, collaboratively with an associate.

While we wish for a strong leader who can help the church stay fiscally and spiritually sound, it is important that our new rector be a community builder. A community builder means many things. It is someone who can develop relationships that will help grow the congregation and who will expand our presence in the community through outreach and mission. While many members of the parish state they are looking for a progressive priest, the congregation has many different perspectives. A community builder will also develop bridges among parishioners in this unique moment in our country.

Perhaps the best candidate for St. John’s is simply a good listener. As a small, strong, faithful community, we seek someone who will take time to get to know and understand the congregation so we can grow and learn together through mutual respect in faith.