Background, History, and Setting of St. John's
by Robert Millberry, Sr.
Edited by Father Leo M. Joseph and Alethea Eason
Early Episcopal Life in Lake County
In the late 1800s there were a number of “gentleman farmers” of English heritage and Anglican faith, who lived in the San Francisco Bay area and built summer homes on rather large land holdings around Clear Lake. The concentrations were in the north Lakeport-Nice area, at Buckingham Park on the south side of the Clear Lake narrows, and in Lower Lake-Burns Valley vicinity in the south county.
The Trinity Mission, under the jurisdiction of Bishop Wingfield, Missionary Bishop of Northern California, was established in 1876. For five years, Father W.S. Neals conducted regular services in the Odd Fellows Hall in Lakeport, as well as frequent services in other Lake and Mendocino County locations.
There were no complete roads around the lake until the 1920s, but water transportation was commonly used between Lakeport and the south shore. Despite the barriers to transportation, the Episcopal clergy have always served the entire county.
The Building of the Church
The Reverend F.W. Crook of Cloverdale made occasional visits in 1898, holding Episcopal services at the Baptist and Methodist churches. In May of that year, the Right Reverend Anson R. Graves, Bishop of the Missionary District of Sacramento, which later became the Diocese of Northern California, met with local Episcopalians to discuss the establishment of regular services. Evolving from this meeting was a major campaign to finance the building of a church in Lakeport, led by Mrs. Mary Blackwood Collier. The Colliers, were one of the English-Anglican families who had earlier purchased land around the lake. Captain William Bell Collier, a cousin of Winston Churchill and a renowned specialist in navigation, was the superintendent of the United States Warehouse for Indian Supplies in San Francisco. In San Francisco they were members of Trinity parish, one of the Episcopal oldest churches in San Francisco.
Their first family summer home was on the heights overlooking the Clear Lake mouth of Scotts Creek, on what is now known as Robin Hill, a few miles north of Lakeport. A tragic fire destroyed the original home on March 1, 1896, and resulted in the death of five year old John Pierre Collier. Mrs. Collier's leadership in the construction of St. John's Episcopal Church was largely influenced by their young son's death, and the church is a memorial to him. The church was completed in early 1899, and was consecrated by Bishop William H. Moreland, of the missionary district, on July 9th of that year.
Following the completion of St. John's, the pastoral leadership changed frequently. The first priest to conduct “regular” services at the mission, the Reverend D.B. Sinclair, served only two months. Assignments continued to be of short duration, usually sharing Sundays with nearby missions and often with gaps between residencies.
The Reverend John Partridge
By far, the most influential leadership in the first half century of St. John's was that of the Reverend John Partridge. He conducted regular services and attended monthly guild meetings, traveling the 100 miles from his home in Petaluma. His early trips by stagecoach included at least one highwayman holdup. He was a pillar of faith for the community and the congregation for nineteen years, from 1912 to 1931.
Ministerial assignments continued to be of variable duration, but the church grew with the community and contributed to it. Following the sudden death of the Reverend R.G. Witt, who conducted Sunday services in both Ukiah and Lakeport, St. John's was held together for the years 1950 through 1952 by Mr. John M. Lee. John was a long time stalwart supporter and communicant, and as a Lay Reader he faithfully conducted the service of Morning Prayer and assisted the infrequent clergy visitations.
The Reverend Gordon C. Ashbee
In 1952, the Reverend Gordon C. Ashbee came to the mission as the resident minister. Within the congregation, Father Ashbee soon had a newly formed choir, junior choir, men's group, acolyte guild and ladies' guild auxiliary. He became scoutmaster of the church sponsored Boy Scout Troop 42, with several laymen of the church serving as adult leaders. He brought a heritage to Troop 42 unique in American scouting, as young Gordon Ashbee had been a scout in England in 1909 under Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the scouting movement. Many physical improvements were made to the church by Father Ashbee in his years at St. John's which were greatly beneficial. His bombastic character and sharp humor was a major contribution to the congregation and the wider community.
The Reverend Grant Stuart Carey
Two years after Father Ashbee accepted the call to St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Auburn, The Right Reverend Clarence R. Haden, Bishop of the Diocese of Northern California, assigned the last minister to St. John's, Father Grant Stuart Carey. After 62 years, Father Carey led the congregation from mission status to being a parish in 1961. Freshly graduated from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and newly ordained as a deacon, St. John's was Father Carey's first church. While at St. John's, he was ordained as an priest by Bishop Haden in 1958. Father Carey, like Father Ashbee, recognized that the Christian ministry must concern itself with both church and community.
He served as rural dean for the four county Sonoma Convocation and as a registrar for the Episcopal Camp Noel Porter at Lake Tahoe. His community participation included 4-H leadership, DeMolay advisor, Rotary Club directorship, and county Parole Board. The church continues to speak lovingly of him as they recall his devoted ministry to St. John's. He was the moving force behind the remodeling of the physical structure of the church, the building of the basement with classrooms, and the addition of the parish hall, Carey Hall, which was named in his honor in October 2010.
1980s to the Present
Since Father Carey's tenure, the church's attendance and fortunes has waxed and waned. In the late 1980s and mid 1990s, the church was led by The Reverend Edwin A. Watts. Father Leo M. Joseph, O.S.F. began his association with the church during this time, beginning on Pentecost Sunday, June 1990. Ordained a Mariavite Old Catholic Franciscan priest, Father Leo assisted Father Watts with home visits and gradually became more active in the parish. In 1997, The Right Reverend Jerry A. Lamb received him as a priest in The Episcopal Church. He continued to serve the church in various capacities until he was called to become interim pastor in St. Michael and All Angels, Ft. Bragg in 2004, which was followed by an assignment to Christ Church in Eureka.
In June, 1996, The Reverend Harry R. Allagree became the Regional Missioner for St. John's, Holy Trinity, Ukiah, and later, St. Francis in the Redwoods, Willits. The church found healing under his sterm and a stable foundation was laid. Father Harry retired July 1, 2007, and the church continued with its commitment to Shared Ministry. The congregation under the direction of the Vestry ran the church for a period of approximately two years. Father Leo had returned to Lake County in 2008 and resumed serving St. John's as a supply priest. In November 2009, he was appointed Priest in Charge for St. John's by the Right Reverend Barry L. Beisner and continues serving in this role.