Celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, The Episcopal Church in Midland was established in 1867. For three years, services were conducted in a drafty hall in a building on Main St. In 1870, the church bought a lot on the corner of Larkin and Cronkright Streets for $400 and moved John Sias’s barn across the Tittabawassee River on the ice for their first church building – St. John’s Episcopal Church. In October 1949, Alden B. Dow prepared the preliminary sketches for a new church. After some give and take, the design was accepted by the church building committee in April 1950, with groundbreaking for the new church taking place in March 1951.
The building fits into its slightly sloping site with a central-gabled nave originally outlined with a copper fascia. The sanctuary, which from the exterior resembles a glassy ship’s prow, culminates on the interior in the chancel with its free-standing altar and integral cross. Slender windows hidden from view in the brick walls behind the altar illuminate the 13-foot cross from both sides so that it appears to rise into light and air. The sense of elevation is further accentuated by the amazing height of the doors leading into the nave with their striking triangles of red and green colored glass.
The window wall on the south side of the worship space demonstrates modern detailing that allows the windows to bridge between both floor levels without interruption, while maintaining separation between the floors. This is a technique that can be seen regularly in new buildings, but is uncommon in a structure built in the 1950’s.
A cloistered courtyard that is private from public view opens up to the adjacent spaces, which take advantage of the exposure with floor to ceiling glass. The glazed wall sections with matching interior and exterior floor elevations directly connect inside and outside space. These and many other remarkable details make St. John’s Episcopal Church a truly unique structure for its time, one so recognized in an article heralding a new age in modern church architecture that was published in the March 1957 issue of the magazine, Christian Century.
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