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Transitions at St. John in the Wilderness

By Dasha Morgan

With the Assistant Rector, Rev. John Roberts, moving to become the chaplain at Christ School at the end of this month, St. John in the Wilderness church in Flat Rock is having to deal with another change.

Fr. Kirk Brown and Rev. John Roberts at a recent service in the Christ School Chapel

There have been four retirements: The Rev. John Morton, the Rev. Alex Viola, Priest Associate, the Rev. Joyce Beschta, Retired Deacon,  and now Rev. John Roberts becoming the full time chaplain to replace Rev. Kirk Brown at Christ School, who is retiring.  The church is certainly in transition. The Rev. Bill McCleery is the Interim Rector at St. Johns.

 

Rev. John Roberts

The Rev. John Roberts was the chaplain at Canterbury School, a Pre-K through 8th grade independent school in Greenboro, North Carolina.  He originates from Akron Ohio, studied for the priesthood at the University of the South—Sewanee, and moved to this area,  when his wife, Hannah-Marie became a medical resident here. Rev. Roberts finds St. John to be “a special place”  and is only leaving because he feels his calling to be a school chaplain. 

He is looking forward to living on the Christ School campus with the faculty, boys and staff.  He hopes to focus on the students and build sustaining relationship there. He will hopefully start with a few quiet summer, which will gives him time to plan and prepare his religion courses.  Christ School is currently building them a new house.

Christ School is an Episcopal affiliate school with approximately 290 boys who study college preparatory programs in grades 8 through 12.  Paul M. Krieger is the headmaster of this private highly thought-of school— with athletic teams known in the area as The Greenies, whose prowess in many fields is becoming quite well known.  Approximately 75% of the students board at the school and come from 19 state and seven countries.

From its founding in 1900 the lovely stone St. Joseph’s Chapel on campus has played a central role in helping members of the school community make sense of the seemingly disconnected elements of our studies, society, and lives.  Above all else, the Chapel is a place of hospitality to all people of all faiths. Father John will have many weekly services to perform there, as the Chaplain plays an integral role in all aspects of the campus community and provides much of the leadership for their residential curriculum by attempting to bring to daily life the Christian concept of servant leadership.  For more information on the school, go to www.christschool.org.

St. John in the Wilderness

St. John in the Wilderness is one of the oldest Episcopal Churches in Western North Carolina.  It is still very active in the Flat Rock community.  There is an active Outreach Program which supports many local organizations and gives hands-on assistance to needy families.  The production will be followed with a pot luck luncheon.

Recently Sandy Hunter Jones a photographer, businesswoman and St. John church member, donated a photo collection to the church. The photographs now on display in the conference room show visitors the beauty behind the history in this Flat Rock church and its cemetery.  On Sunday, April 28th, potters and artisans of Henderson County will sponsor an Empty Bowls dinner benefiting the church’s school Backpack Program.  The dinner will be held in the recently built Parish Hall. (For more information, see https://thehendersonvilletribune.com/blog/empty-bowls-benefit-for-flat-rock-backpack-program/ ).  On Wednesday May 1,  the church will welcome the Kenmure Show Chorus, who will entertain those present with songs from a variety of artists.  The church has worked hard to bring in more young families and to expand to meet the needs of a growing and changing congregation.

St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. It was built as a private chapel on the grounds of Charles and Susan Barings’ home, Mountain Lodge.  During the antebellum period, Flat Rock became known as the “Little Charleston of the Mountains,” due to the large number of Charlestonians who summered there, escaping the oppressive heat of low-country South Carolina. In 1827, the Barings, a distinguished family of Charleston bankers, purchased and developed Mountain Lodge, their Flat Rock summer home. 

In 1833 fire destroyed the wooden structure. Shortly thereafter Baring began construction of a brick church. In 1836, the small community of South Carolinians formed a congregation and donated the completed church to the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. The church was deeded to the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina in 1936.

Many well-known members of southern aristocracy have family plots in the churchyard; those names include: Christopher Memminger, first secretary of the Confederate treasury; Rev. John Drayton, developer of the world-famous Magnolia Gardens of Charleston; members of the families of three signers of the Declaration of Independence; Major General Edward P. King, Jr., of the United States Army who led the defense of the Bataan Peninsula in the Battle of Bataan against the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in World War II. 

Many of South Carolina’s best known and most powerful families, including the Grimkes, Pickneys and Middletons, had pews at St. Johns. Church vestry meetings often were held in Charleston during winter months. For decades, St. John remained open only during the summer months, as the church supported no year-round congregation. However, in 1958, a full-time rector was hired, and the number of year-round communicants since has risen from 58 to nearly 400.   For more information about the church, visit www.stjohnflatrock.episcopalwnc.org. oard”

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