St John’s Episcopal Church
The Episcopal church of St. John the Evangelist has been in the Mission since 1857. The building that currently stands on 15th street was built in 1910, after the original church was demolished with dynamite to serve as a firewall after the 1906 earthquake.
Since the beginning, the church has had a role in helping the people of the Mission. In the late 19th century, it played key roles in founding schools and hospitals, including St. Luke’s. More recently, starting in the mid-20th century and going up to present day, St. John’s has been establishing itself as a safe place for refugees and a champion of the disenfranchised. In the 1980s, during the Salvadoran civil war, St. John’s became aware that Salvadoran families fleeing the war were now at risk of being deported. In response, St. John’s painted its doors red, a symbol that historically signifies that a church is a safe haven for those pursued by the law. Later in the ‘80s, during the AIDS epidemic, the red doors also came to symbolize a safe haven for the gay community. Most recently, St. John’s has become a sanctuary parish in an effort to prevent the current government from tearing immigrant families apart.
As a church, St. John’s mission is “to follow Jesus”, but that can be interpreted in wildly different ways. St. John’s chooses to interpret it as “welcoming everybody”. This can be seen at mass on Sundays; according to St. John’s vicar, the Reverend Richard L. Smith, Sunday mass sees “professors in mathematics from Berkeley sitting next to people who…pushed their shopping carts through the door”. Some of their ministries reflect this belief. Both the Gubbio Project and the Julian Pantry are geared towards helping and welcoming the homeless.
The Gubbio Project started about a decade ago at St. Boniface in the Tenderloin. St. Boniface held weekday masses at the front of the church while the back of the church was empty. At the same time, there were homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks. So the church decided to invite them in during mass to sleep so they would have a safe, warm, dry place to sleep in the mornings. This became the Gubbio Project, which is a 501(c)(3). Then two years ago, Fr. Richard came across the Gubbio Project, and faced with the homelessness around St. John’s, decided to try the Gubbio Project there. At first, only four or five people showed up, but now the church is at capacity every weekday morning from six to noon. So, every morning, homeless people have a safe, quiet, dry place to sleep, and on Fridays, breakfast that includes loaves of bread from Tartine and donated gourmet coffee from Four Barrel Coffee.
On Saturday morning, the Julian Pantry shines. As early as five in the morning, volunteers come to the church to help set up. Then once the doors open, volunteers pass out food to up to two hundred fifty homeless and struggling people and families. The Julian Pantry is in its ninth year and going strong.
St. John’s participates in other ministries that support other facets of the community. One of those ministries, in tandem with other faith communities of the Mission, is a bi-monthly walk through the Mission called Mission Nightwalks. On these walks, participants stop at places where people have died from violence and remember their names and stories. Their message is simple: “we care, stop the violence”. One of the sites they stop at is the place where Amilcar Perez-Lopez was killed. Amilcar Perez-Lopez was a young Guatemalan immigrant who came to the States in hopes of finding a job to support his family back home. On February 26, 2016, he was shot six times in the back by plainclothes officers. Since then, St. John’s has been keeping in touch with Amilcar’s family in Guatemala, as well as pushing the DA to take the case to trial. Unfortunately, the DA will likely let the officers off, but St. John’s is still committed to remembering Amilcar’s story. They even hope to one day have a mural (done by Precita Eyes) painted at his place of death depicting his story. In the meantime, they continue to fight gun violence and police brutality.
Recently, the church has been struggling. Their building is over a hundred years old, and in need of repair, but they struggle to find the funds necessary to uphold the building. They were able to get enough money to redo the stone wall outside the church. At the same time, they plan on adding an accessibility ramp. Their goal is to apply for grants to help get the money they need, but unfortunately, there is no one currently helping them who knows the process behind applying for grants.
St. John’s always wants to be more connected to the neighborhood, so as to always know how they can help the community, and they always appreciate help doing so. Furthermore, they always welcome people interested in helping in their ministries – so someone interested in the Mission Nightwalks, or in immigration reform, or any of the other causes St. John’s holds dear, is always welcomed to help them out in any way they can. The banners on the church are an invitation to all – not just Episcopalians – to join them as they fight for what they believe in.
Want to learn more? Visit www.saintjohnsf.com .