New spiritual leader has ambitious goals for historic parish

The Rev. John Leach discusses future of 187-year-old St. John’s Church
Updated: Feb. 17, 2021 at 6:05 AM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Montgomery has had only 16 spiritual leaders throughout its 187-year history. This year it welcomed its newest.

The Rev. John Leach was installed as the church’s latest rector earlier this month. He says he aims to keep this historically significant church a vital part of the city’s future.

St. John’s was founded in 1834--well before the Civil War--and it was the church’s unique history that drew Leach to Montgomery.

“The church has resisted moving from downtown. It has borne witness to God’s love and God’s presence from this very location for nearly two centuries,” Leach said.

Now Leach is looking for new ways to bear witness. He says he’s not focusing just on his own congregation, but on the community at large, especially those who live and work downtown.

“That could translate into 15-minute concerts during the week. It could be art shows,” Leach explained. “It could be in the form of various ministries to those who are on the margins.”

St. John’s location and longevity also make it an appropriate place to host citywide, non-denominational services, Leach said.

“Where the community can come together with all the various traditions, all the various faiths, and mark important and significant occasions.”

A prayer service marking the presidential inauguration was among the church’s first forays into citywide worship. Gov. Kay Ivey and Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed were among the speakers.

Historians often remind visitors that Confederate President Jefferson Davis was among those who worshipped at St. John’s in the past. Leach says that history informs the church’s future.

“What we look for going forward is not to deny the past, but rather to be transformed into a community that responds to the needs of today,” he said.

St. John’s is currently working to become a resource for religious groups that want to visit Montgomery’s historic civil rights sites. Leach says the church receives phone calls from churches around the country that have questions.

“We are developing what that tour might look like and what our role may be in sharing that story from a faith perspective,” he said.

Leach says St. John’s is not looking to take away from the offerings of other downtown churches. He says his goal is simply to provide the community with perspectives and resources that are unique to his church’s nearly 200-year history.

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