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Who We Are

the glorious and quirky history of st. john's episcopal church, mt. washington

When St. John’s Mt. Washington began in 1867, 150 years ago, there wasn’t even a Mt. Washington to speak of. Instead, there was a small mill-town called Washingtonville, dominated by the Washington Cotton Manufacturing Company, a mill that began work in 1810 and still stands. St. John’s first worship services were held back then in the Methodist Episcopal Church, because the primary denomination of church members in this still-forested, un-built rural area, some few miles north of Baltimore city, were Methodists. A telling, true story is that when the Western Run river ran high after a big rain, the priest had to wade across the creek, arriving for church services soaked. He would put on his vestments before he entered the hall, and conducted worship sopping wet.

The original Episcopal presence did not begin in earnest until 1864, when the Rev. George C. Stokes, rector of Church of the Redeemer on Charles Avenue, began to hold regular services in Mt. Washington, as this rough hamlet became known. The truth is that the history of St. John’s is inextricably intertwined with Mt. Washington’s growth and development since the beginning both of the neighborhood and the congregation.

Worship services were held in various places, such as private residences and outside in a nearby grove. St. John’s itinerant status continued until the completion of the first St. John’s Church in 1869. The year before, the congregation of St. John’s had decided to build their own church structure, started collecting funds, and had recently been recognized by the Diocese of Maryland as an independent congregation.

The Rev. Stokes had been called as first, temporary rector by the vestry of St. John’s in 1867, under the leadership of Mr. John A. Nichols, a prominent member of the Mt. Washington community. Nichols had organized the purchase of the lot for the church, and worked fervently to raise funds for the erection of the building—a daunting task. Nichols was resolute that the church building should be strictly Episcopal (many persons in the neighborhood wanted the building to be multi-denominational), and finally managed to gather enough funding for the cornerstone to be laid on April 29, 1869.

The wooden church was completed by October 1869, when the first service was held. The cost of the church, including the building, furnishings, and lot, was $8,450. At that inaugural milestone, only about four families in the area identified as Episcopal, out of the total twenty families who lived in Mt. Washington. Blessedly, St. John’s grew quickly. In an early report to the diocese, the rector stated that the congregation boasted “a Sunday School of a superintendent, twelve teachers, and seventy-seven scholars.” By 1870, St. John’s presented its first class of 18 confirmands to the bishop.

In February 1873, the vestry called the Rev. James B. Purcell as rector—the congregation’s first permanent rector. He served for eighteen years. St. John’s grew steadily as the village grew. Under his charge, the communicants increased from twenty-six to eighty-six when he left the congregation. Vestryman John Carter was the founder of the Mt. Washington Improvement Association in 1885.

By the first quarter of the 20th century, St. John’s had outgrown the original wooden church, which showed a lot of wear and tear after having been used for 60 years. Indeed, that original wooden building had to be held together with iron rods and turnbuckles, and when it was being demolished, the building largely just collapsed on its own into rubble. The red brick church building that currently commands the intersection of Kelly Avenue and South Road, was begun in 1928 with the laying of the cornerstone in a drenching downpour. Across the street was Mt. Washington trolley’s car station, and the village had become a suburban commercial hub, surrounded by several close-by residential neighborhoods.

Stained-glass windows and a pipe organ were installed at St. John’s church later, when the congregation could afford the expense. Most of these improvements were made during the long pastorate of the Rev. Lance Gifford. Additional work both to the interior and to repair heating and piping was necessitated after a fire that did significant damage in 1941. A succession of 20th century rectors were fortunate to lead a vibrant Episcopal congregation that boasted a Christian education program, community outreach programs, and regular Sunday worship.

More recently, in 2008, the Rev. Lori Babcock was called to lead the parish, first as priest in charge and then subsequently as St. John’s rector. In 2012, St. John’s, with Rev. Babcock’s leadership, began an assessment process that reached the conclusion that too much time and treasure were necessary to maintain an aging brick building with a failing slate roof and expensive upkeep and utilities, in addition to being too large for the congregation. The cost of building maintenance was a severe impediment to other ministries, especially a vibrant, crucial outreach to the homeless, called Feed My Sheep. The decision was made to leave the old building and move to Springwell Senior Living, not far away, which had a sunny, welcoming chapel perfect for regular worship. On a ceremonious, festival Sunday, the congregation left the familiar walls of the old church building, and led by Episcopal Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton, marched up the hill to continue weekly Eucharist at Springwell. Not one Sunday worship was missed in this momentous transition of worship, ministry, and mission.

St. John’s has found its new home at Springwell. It has a congregation comprising residents of Mt. Washington and nearby neighborhoods, and loyal and lively parishioners among Springwell residents. A jewel of St. John’s is a splendid music program under the directorship of Melody Quah (whose biography you can read elsewhere in this program). As St. John’s celebrates its 150th anniversary, it enthusiastically looks to build on the spirit that has been evident over its long, wonderful history

Click to View the Program for our 150th Anniversary Concert!

Email us to get your own much-coveted "Mt. Washington, historically cool" car magnet!


The Reverend Dr. Neil O'Farrell

Interim Rector

On July 10, 2016, we welcomed The Reverend Dr. Neil O'Farrell as our Interim Rector. Neil is a minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is a ``full communion partner`` with the Episcopal Church. Through this partnership, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church work together in mission, and their clergy and laity may move freely between the two churches.

Neil received his Masters in Divinity from Harvard University and was ordained in 2003. Before entering seminary, he worked as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., specializing in health care and other issues. For fifteen years, he was also a hospice care volunteer and continues to serve as a part-time hospice chaplain. He lives in Mt. Washington with his husband, Stephen.

Rachel Erdman

Parish Administrator

Rachel Erdman was born and raised in the Midwest, but has lived in Baltimore on-and-off for 8 years. She has a Master’s degree in Theology, and in her free time writes articles and book reviews for various theological publications. She is married to Nathan, the assistant priest at St. Thomas Episcopal in Owings Mills. She and Nathan have two daughters.

Melody Quah

Music Minister

Melody Quah is a Yale-, Julliard-, and Peabody-trained musician, who has performed on stages all over the world. She has worked as a church organist, pianist, and music director in various settings for over eight years. In addition to playing for St. John’s, Melody is a doctoral candidate at Peabody and teaches International Music at Baltimore City Community College.

Devon Holmes


Devon Holmes is originally from Kentucky and joined St. John's when she moved to Baltimore for law school. Besides serving on the vestry, she is a part of the altar team, and can occasionally be found playing flute in church. Devon enjoys ballet, horseback riding, sewing and is always planning her next Disney trip.

Sarah Fawcett-Lee

Senior Warden

Sarah Fawcett-Lee has served as Senior Warden at St. John's Mt. Washington for the past four years. She is a voting member of the Vestry of St. John’s Mt. Washington. A native of the United Kingdom, she was born and raised in the Church of England. Between college and graduate school, she was a nanny in Cambridge, Massachusetts and lived on the campus of the Episcopal Divinity School. Sarah has lived in Baltimore since 1989 and is married to Jason, a photographer, and they have one daughter. Sarah is Vice President for Philanthropy for MedStar Health, overseeing fundraising for four hospitals in the Baltimore area.

Paul Kopelke

Vestry Member

Paul Kopelke The son of an educator and an entertainer, Paul is a master of public speaking as his students at University of Baltimore can attest. He is a longtime radio voice coach, and has been involved in broadcasting throughout his career. He most recently served as general manager of the radio station, WNST. Paul is married to Cindy, and is a father and a grandfather.

Georgia Hilliard

Head of Feed My Sheep

Georgia Hilliard met her husband, Mike, at St. John’s Mt. Washington and they were married in the historic church on South Road. She coordinates several outreach activities for St. John’s including the Feed My Sheep program, and our work in partnership with Ochan Self-Help Alliance.

Georgia and Mike live in Towson and are parents to their blended family of Colleen, Keith, Mark, and Anne (and Anne’s husband, Rob). Born and raised in Maryland, Georgia graduated from Glen Burnie High School and attended Essex Community College. She is a retired realtor and also worked for many years as a manager at Nordstrom. Georgia is
passionately devoted to her three young grandchildren and loves to travel, make new friends, and root for the Ravens and the Orioles.

Jay Williams

Vestry Member

Jay Williams has been part of the St. John’s community for forty years and has been active in all aspects of the life of the parish. Currently, she volunteers one day a week in the parish office, has put her interior design skills to good use by making the Spiritual Arts Center welcoming and comfortable. She helps make sandwiches for the Feed My Sheep program and serves as an usher at church on Sundays. A life-long resident of Baltimore City, Jay graduated from St. Paul School for Girls. She attended college in Boston, then Baltimore where she raised her son and daughter. She has three grandchildren who love to spend time with her at her Quarry Lake home.

Charmion (Charms) Worrell

Vestry Member

Charmion (Charms) Worrell was born and raised on the Island of Trinidad and Tobago. Charms and her daughter, Micha have been coming to St. John's for the past five years. Charms in involved in Altar Guild, Hospitality and Daughters of the King. Charms enjoys helping out wherever she can. Charms loves to coordinate hospitality hour after church services.